Street-smart or book-smart?

They say opposites attract. Little wonder then, two souls choose the same family to be born into as siblings when they know well they won’t gel. Phew. It’s as though the sole purpose of their existence is to poke and tease the other. You can feel the drama seeping through your nerves on bad days; when the little bodies are tired, or it happens to be the day before Math exam.

As the evening turns into night, drama unfolds. The setting is the living room. The mood of girls – tired from a day at school followed by playground, tummies rumbling with hunger. And while I hang out at the most infamous haunt, the kitchen, adding a final garnish to my chutney, humming to Bollywood beats, my brain suddenly nudges me to remind the younger one that Math still has problems she needs to solve.

But her equation with Math and the Math teacher has always been complex. Blame it on her genes. I have finally understood the meaning of ‘history repeats itself’. In the meanwhile, the 10-yo figures her equation with the big sis is easier to solve. All I need to do is zoom my eyes with a serious expression and the teen caves in.

And so, the home bred, PSLE experienced teacher and her troubled P5 student settle down, argue over model diagrams, the older one throws in a little lecture and the needy student, who usually isn’t one to take them, sits through, with grinding teeth, in order to get Math out of her way. Over the years, the older one has learned how to rub salt on her sister’s wounds in fractions, sometimes going around in circles, making sure she doesn’t start thinking in a tangent; rather comply meekly, lest she leave her Math exam to fate.

In the 10 minutes that follow, big sis is able to handle Math problems with a breeze and dish out solutions faster than I bring out food. The little monkey is impressed. But she is no goody two shoes. She uses the opportunity to butter the sister and earn brownie points for a future lesson that is more amicable and sans lectures.

The naive girl pays her temporary teacher a compliment, “Didu, you should become a teacher!”

Teen teacher: “No way. Why would I want to become one?

10-yo: “Why not? You are so good. I want to be a teacher; a very kind one”

Teen teacher: “Wait till you find a couple of students just like yourself!!”

And she smirks. At that point, I lose all control. It is a legit ROFL moment. As I step out of the kitchen, sarcasm has turned into a physical fight. The 10-yo resorts to the Will Smith way of dealing with insults. Now call it timing like the movies, but our superstar fire fighter, knight in shining armor, father dear enters the scene and uses the dark horse – ‘apples’ to change the mood. Who knew talking about apples could win peace and end wars? I wonder if he should be sent to pay a visit to Putin. On the hindsight, the apple referred to a new I-Pad for the little wonder.

Coming back, dark clouds of wrath and dismay vanish. There is a positive change in the atmosphere and we start talking about a plethora of subjects as food gets pushed down the throat. But as the conversation progresses, the better half pokes fun at yours truly, knowing well a section of his jokes have the natural tendency to put me off balance. This time I am at the receiving end. I feel no differently than my 10-yo. I narrow my gaze, pout my lips and breathe out deeply; then I wisely and willfully decide not to ape Will Smith.

I look away from the face of the guffawing husband and tell my 10-yo, “I must marry you Monu. We are soul mates.”

And suddenly, her face changes, her eyes light up and with a hint of mischief all over her, she winks at her older sis and says to me, “It’s not you Mom, it’s me!!”

After a second of shock, we all laugh out loud.

P.S. Call it the influence of media, or the reins of EQ from friends at school or F.R.I.E.N.D.S on TV, children learn so much about dealing with people all the time. While as parents we focus on grades and a good future for our children, I guess it is equally important to master life skills like street smartness and firefighting to get your way. My only regret, I haven’t mastered either.

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