from the mouths of babes…

Today, Roz and I went over to the city for a little adventure.

We were in one of the shops when Roz looked up at the mannequins in the women’s department and asked,

“Mummy, are they dead?”

I must say I was a bit shocked. She’s two years and nine months. I really didn’t think I’d be having this question asked of me for a few more years.

Now, one of the things I’m hoping to keep with my daughter and any other children I may be lucky enough to have, is that I will never lie to them. Neither will I be condescending nor dismissive of any questions they have for me.

I know that in theory telling the truth at all times sounds great but I think in any relationship worth having, you owe the other person at least that. I don’t mean blunt, harsh take-no-prisoners kind of truths, just truth. For example when I wear something and ask Krys, big grin on my face,

“how do I look?”

and he replies with with,

silence……”Do you like how you look? Is it comfortable?”

I just go and change.

or the same question posed to my sister and she replies with,

“erm….maybe if you wear it with these instead of those shoes”

then I know to just change the shoes.

I also know if I followed up with a,

“okay, what do you not like about the outfit.”

I will get a straight answer either that the red dress isn’t a good shade on me and maybe a dress in a different shade of red would be better, or that high heeled shoes go better with this outfit than flats because I tend to hunch my shoulders in flats.

D’ya get me?

Truth doesn’t always have to be blunt and gut wrenching.


English isn’t my first language. I speak it well and better than my mother tongue at this stage, but from zero to twelve years of age, I spoke Tonga first at home and with all family members and English only in school or to foreigners. If I wasn’t speaking Chitonga then I was speaking Chinyanja, the most spoken language in Lusaka which I where we lived till I was 11. I spoke Nyanja and only Nyanja when I was out playing with friends. In fact, there was a boy who lived two houses away from my regular gang of friends and we all though he was all la-di-da because he insisted n speaking English to us and said he couldn’t speak Nyanja. Turns out the poor guys actually didn’t speak nyanja. oops!

I digress

In Chitonga it took me a while to figure out what death is. When someone died, I would overhear my parents or other adults saying, ba zimina a euphemism for death that translate directly into English as he/she got lost. to say someone died in Tonga is ba hwa but no-one ever ever used that. It’s like babies don’t poo in Tonga. There is one word for pooing and one word for babies under the age of about six months when they poo. It describes that mustard yellow breastfeeding poo that babies have. Far more polite and isn’t the smelly adult sized poos that toddlers and wobblers sometimes come out with that can clear a room in sixty seconds or less.

anyway, for a very long time I had no idea about death. I just always wondered how adults got lost so often. Didn’t they know their way home? couldn’t they ask someone? I think I only realised that ku zimina meant to be dead around the age of seven or eight when my uncle, (dad’s younger brother) died and was the one and only occasion I saw my dad nearly cry. I asked a cousin why uncle Shepard couldn’t just come home if he was lost and he laughed so hard at me. I was pretty pissed off at the fact that I seemed such a baby for not realising it, and slightly betrayed that my cousin would laugh and laugh first when I had trusted him enough to ask.

But that last is a story for the therapist couch.

Anyhoo, when Roz asked me this question about the mannequins, I remembered how young she is but also how important it is in relationships to tell the truth.

“Mummy, are they dead?”
English is her language. it is direct and it is clear when you learn it as such at a young age. If she spoke fluent Tonga would I have been tempted to saw we don’t use the word dead? I don’t know.  probably. it’s not only a euphemism, it is also softer on the ears and the heart. And when you know what it means, it is the equivalent of passed away in English.

But she asked what she asked the way in which she asked it and I said,

“No, they aren’t dead because they were never alive to begin with”.

She rolled her eyes (did I mention she’s going through a teen phase at the moment? ) and said,

“But mummy are they dead?”

like god, mother just answer the question already.

no honey, they’re not dead. They’re plastic mannequins.”

She thought about this a minute, then nodding her head sagely said

“They’re only plastic, aren’t they? So they can’t move and they’re not zombzies”

Hmmmmm. I  didn’t realise the halloween adverts had started yet.

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2 Responses

  1. The questions from our children can sure keep us on our toes!

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