Zika

That was one of the first words my 15-month-old daughter started uttering before any news of the virus broke. It was her way of saying, “Give.” Whenever she wanted something, she pointed at it and in a staccato manner of speech commanded, “Zzikkaa.” As first-time parents, trying to decipher the gibberish from the coherent is a daunting but exhilarating task, because for children, everything makes sense; it is the adults who really need to find true meaning.

Every milestone an infant achieves is met with so much excitement—mostly for the people who surround the baby. The little child goes about doing its thing without realizing the joy it brings to the universe. The first smile, turning prone, magically transferring objects from one hand to another, crawling at breakneck speeds, and bumping her head into furniture that thankfully in our home is of a quality too poor to cause any serious injury. The sheepish look on her face with her lips puckered up as if to say “Oh!” as she gently massages her bruised head with her own hand, completely aware of the fact that it didn’t go as planned, is priceless.

 

It is beyond my interpretation as to what their understanding of the word ‘no’ is. We tend to use it so excessively, mixing it up with fake stern looks and wagging fingers, that I wonder if children think if we adults actually do know its true meaning. Walking towards the diva and trying to pinch the flame—no. Flinging grapes across the hall—no. Opening kitchen drawers and pulling out knives—no. Drinking wine from the fridge—no. Crawling into the toilet and pulling the tissue roll all the way into the next apartment—no. They are now reprimanded for all such activities that must make perfect sense to them, and that must be confusing. So now, my little one picks out a knife from the shelf, wine from the fridge, tissue from the toilet, and crawls to the diva—all the while shaking her head at us, saying, “No, no, no, no!” There is something to be said about comic timing and parenting.

 

However, the real achievement for them is when they start walking. I think it is the first milestone of their lives that gives them a sense of pride and ownership of their bodies. After precariously crawling over umbers and being supported by walls, completely oblivious of the crayon in their hand leaving customized Picasso imprints on living rooms painted white, they stand up on their own. That is when they become true Homo sapiens—the evolved animal. While they are already capable of showing humaneness at such tender ages, they are far from being human.

 

Meher started walking at 14-and-half months, on the last day of the previous year, after having caused enough anxiety to the family (minus, of course, her father) as to why she showed no interest in the activity way beyond the routine one-year. And when she did take her first step, she yelled, “Weeee!”—a completely appropriate French word she picked up on our recent trip to Montréal. Her first steps reminded me of images of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. Careful and steadfast. Determined and hopeful. One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind. After three steps, she landed straight on her behind.

 

Children look quite funny when they just start walking. Because of the size of her diaper, especially if it is loaded, Meher walks as if she’s just had a bilateral hip replacement. It reminds me of all the old ladies at the Geriatric Parsi ward at J.J. Hospital, which I used to frequent during my time in medical school. And she never walks empty-handed; there is always a grenade in her hand to bust anything obstructing her path of action. It could be her wooden play blocks, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, her sleeping pillow that she’s so attached to, keys, credits cards, my pager, strawberries… she’s really never empty-handed. On a philosophical note, every parent wishes that for his or her children.

 

But now that she can reach from points A to B much faster, the vigil has become sharper. Having a child at home who’s functionally and independently capable of creating disaster is like going to war. They become the enemy—ironically, one you need to protect. While occasionally it’s about warding off physical attacks, most often it’s about strategy. The heights of dangerous or endangered objects continually increase to keep these objects out of reach; the only problem is that then even my wife finds it hard to get at them. Suddenly, you might find an object being hurled at you; occasionally, the object in question is the baby itself. Sometimes the baby makes sure you’ve cleaned and tidied up the house and completed your chores while pretending to be asleep, and after an 18-hour workday, just when you decide to rest your back, she wails. I’m sure she’s in no discomfort and it’s all part of her strategy; maybe she didn’t get what she had wanted during the day proclaiming “Zzikkaa!”

 

They also learn to escape because they know we’re likely to panic. They say children are innocent but I oppose that statement vehemently. They may be sincere in thought and word, but as far as deeds are concerned, I have my doubts. Once, Meher walked out of the apartment and snuck into the elevator on the 21st floor, landing at the door step of the concierge, who luckily knew us well and handed her over. Unfortunately, her plan backfired because I didn’t even know she was gone!

 

There is much to learn from little children, the art of survival being primary among them. In a time when so much can go wrong at this tender age, so very little actually does. Being a parent only makes you value your own parents more. When they went to war with us, they didn’t have computers and iPads, making the battle even harder. And it’s true, we must never be impatient with them when they need to be shown how to use the computer, considering they were the ones who taught us to use the spoon.

 

My love goes out to the hundreds of children born who are affected by the Zika virus. They, unfortunately, may not reach their milestones on time and may not even lead normal lives. But who are we to decide what’s normal? They may have small heads, but I’m sure their hearts will be big. And in the end, that is all that matters.