The child, all of 10, is quickly segueing into the smarminess of the Know-It-All category of pre-teens. This, as you can imagine, is causing a rather permanent itch in my palm, with him just begging for one tight slap, administered hard and swift. Not that I am, in the normal course of events, a slapping kind of mom. In fact, the occasions where corporal disciplining has been used to get the critter on the straight and narrow can be counted on 2 fingers of one hand. One for each of us parents, and mine was used on the sole occasion that horrific back answering happened, back answering at the Richter level of "OH GOD HE'S AN ADOLESCENT ALREADY!"
So, it comes to pass that we would be reading something pertinent to the syllabus and I would grumble about how this is all hieroglyphs to me from some ancient script found in archaelogical digs, and he would then look at me with the specific expression a city slicker would employ when forced involuntarily into close confines, like a lift for example, with a dung-encrusted stable hand, when I cannot figure out for the life of me, what proper and improper fractions are, and why they can't let each other alone instead of wanting to be converted into each other in an incestuous, unseemly manner. "Mamma," he says, plucking the textbook out of my hands, and squinting at the page with furrowed brows and narrowed eyes which is his normal expression to indicate that he is focussing hard on the task at hand. "It is so simple, you don't even know this?" I bite back the tongue firmly from stating that I had aced mathematics at a point in time when he wasn't even a gleam in his father's eye, but I desist. Instead, I state with a calm tone that barely covers the surging disquiet that rages within, about how I had done all this a long while ago and have since forgotten it, and ergo need around 10 minutes to myself with the mathematics textbook in order to refresh my skills before I could be in a suitable position to explain it to him. I amaze myself at my willingness to go back to Mathematics, without being compelled to do so at gunpoint, when I had sworn on all that was holy after my Class X board examinations that I would never revisit the subject in my life. I also realise that sometimes, you learn to eat your words with relish, and know that you need to chew them well in order for them not to be indigestible.
I wouldn't mind this know-it-all attitude, if he did, indeed, know it all. But he doesn't. And it is my god-given duty to make him understand that, no, he doesn't know it all, and there is a hell of a lot that he needs to learn, and god help me, but I was going to make him learn it. Starting with getting rid of the attitude. But I'm doing it gently. I'm trying to make him understand, that no, Mamma doesn't know it all. And neither does he. And that isn't a bad way to be-sometimes the fun is in seeking the answers to things one doesn't know and there is no shame in stating that one doesn't know. But that there is shame in not trying to find out what one doesn't know, and not trying to learn about things. I haven't been a mother who over-praises her child; I have, in fact, been very balanced about praise and criticism, overly cautious that he could get an entirely unwarranted swollen head if I pile on the praise without reason. I have been quick on the draw with the encyclopedia whenever questions with the who/why/what/where/etc. variants have been asked. I have always been unashamed of proclaiming that I didn't know something, and that I needed to Google it, leading to the famous battle cry in our house when anything is under debate-"Letz ask Googilz."
I can see some fair battles ahead. I know, from all the parenting articles I read, that this is possibly a sign of him segueing off into individualisation, of trying to assert his identity and to have his opinion given due weightage. He is also the only child in a house with 3 adults. I also know this could be karma doing that vicious bite-back they always warn you about, given I was a smarmily obnoxious know-it-all, until well into my early adulthood when domesticity and confronting the fact that I was the world's worst cook robbed me of most of my overbearing self-confidence. This could also be the start of a phase in his life when his parents have sadly begun that irreversible morphing from being the coolest things on the planet since sliced bread, to being a source of perennial embarrassment which ensures that within a few years he will be sitting at a separate table pretending that he doesn't know us and is not biologically related to us, when we are out dining in a public situation.
I'm waiting for this phase to pass, and I'm told, it probably will by the time he enters the workforce or by the time he has kids of his own or applies for senior citizen benefits, whichever comes first. Till then, I'm bidding my time, keeping the tongue from running off with my temper, trying to be calm and rational and THE ADULT in this situation, and then going into the bathroom to punch a wall in when no one is looking. And of course, I am also realising with a heartbreaking twinge that perhaps this is the child trying to become an adult, to voice his opinions, to share the fact that he knows stuff that we don't. And that this is surely the precursor to the cutting of the umbilical cord, for if I must release him into the world to fend for himself, he needs to be confident that he knows more than I do in order to make his way through it.