Comments, In Focus, Ludotheque

Permission to speak freely

My friend just gave birth. Which is, if you think about it, pretty amazing. I’ve never even given blood. It got me thinking about all the lessons you’re obliged to teach a new human, and later, conflicting lessons.


Erica Buist


You teach a child to always tell the truth. Later, you teach them when not to. You have to, because a child has no concept of etiquette, manners, politeness or hurt feelings.

My god, how awesome was that?

Of all people, small children have the least freedom of any person – they can’t get dressed or wash by themselves, they can’t even go to the bathroom without the green light from a grown up. But who else has the freedom to say whatever thought that pops into their head (vocabulary permitting)?

When I was two, my mother took me to the supermarket and put me in the kiddie chair in the shopping trolley (or shopping cart, for our American readers). She ran into a client of my father’s; a transsexual awaiting operation, he was living as a woman for a full year, as was required at the time by those with the knives and mad surgical skills. As they chatted, I’m sure my staring at her/him sucking my thumb with my head cocked and an inquisitive frown on my face was mildly embarrassing. I kicked that up to highly embarrassing when I took my thumb out, raised my eyebrows and said “It’s a man”, quite matter-of-factly.

Yet another mystery solved by this two-year-old; now onto the matter at hand – what are those thin poles Kermit the Frog has under his arms?

Looking back, part of me admires the transsexual in question for not fixing me with a stare, smiling sweetly, leaning forward and whispering “There’s no Santa”. But I suppose s/he didn’t even think of it; while perhaps wanting to pick me up by my innocent little face and drop me in the freezer, s/he had restraint. And not standard restraint that all civilized people have – restraint from violence, rudeness and putting children in freezers, oh no. I’m talking about a deeper, darker restraint.

English restraint

Readers from all over the world, I challenge you to come to England and “accidentally” step on someone’s foot. I bet you my weekly column that person will say “sorry”. To you. The person who crossed continents to step on them. What kind of restraint is that? That’s not politeness, that’s politeness to the point of not letting an idiot feel an idiot. I’m so terribly sorry my foot was in your way. I really apologise for putting my face in the way of your swinging fist. Will you ever forgive me for my blood splashing your shirt when you stabbed me?

I had to exercise social restraint recently, which made me long for the days of “It’s a man”. After a full day of meeting clients who shook my hand much too hard, and I couldn’t say anything (no one ever shakes a two-year-old’s hand too hard do they? No. Because they’ll say something), I found myself witnessing the strangest sight.

In Kings Cross train station I saw a man with a load of La Senza bags – except he was pushing them along in a wheelchair. People don’t just have wheelchairs. Wheelchairs are usually full of people, not bags.

So where exactly is there someone sitting, waiting for a man to come back with a wheelchair and a quarter ton of bras? I found myself scanning the place for someone sitting down looking helpless and frustrated. But it’s a train station, in London, during the snow, a lot of people were sitting down looking helpless and frustrated. It seemed wrong to approach any of them and say “Can you walk?”

Two year old Eri would have done it.

I guess I just miss my youth.

(Photos: Pixabay)


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