No time to kid about

2010-02-20 12:59

I HAVE always been Miss Know-It-All. Well,

at least I’d like to think so. As a young girl raised by a school- ­teacher,

everyone around me ­expected me to know things. I learned as much as I could and

lived up to every expectation.

So it was only natural for my head to grow bigger and bigger as I

grew older.

Let me give you an example by taking you back to 1988. No one was

surprised in primary school when I volunteered to recite the Lord’s Prayer in

front of hundreds of students.

Dressed in my khaki uniform, I confidently went up to the podium

and asked everyone to close their eyes. Mimicking my Sunday-school teacher, I

cleared my throat and shouted “A-VA-CA-DO!” Before I could add “WIT-AR-TIE

HAVEN”, everyone was rolling around with laughter.

My tiny mind could not understand what was going on. What could be

so funny about the Lord’s Prayer?

No one bothered to tell me that it was “Our Father” and not

“avacado”, so I left the school-yard that day more confused than ever. And to

add to my miseries, I had a new nickname which stuck around for a long time.

It took me years to learn the prayer, because admitting that I was

struggling with the words, meant that I was lowering my very high


I was only six years old, but my already oversized ego would not

let me ask for help.

So I walked around school with everyone calling me an avocado with

a big mouth.

I blamed my parents for the mess that I was in. Why did they expect

so much from me at such an early age?

While my peers were busy playing in the mud, I was at home cooking,

washing clothes, reading books and helping to raise my nephews and nieces.

I was a lonely and depressed kid – with a big vocabulary.

Kids today are no different; their days are filled with too many

things. Too many standardised tests, pre-tests, quizzes, marching orders, too

much structured time, too many planned after-school ­activities, too many


Already in Grade 1, my nephew takes an hour’s nap before he does

his homework.

The poor child is so stressed by magazine cuttings and shape tests

that he doesn’t have time to laugh any more. It also doesn’t help that he still

cannot pronounce his ­teacher’s name: Miss Van der Westhuizen.

The other day he came home with his pants wet because he was afraid

to ask to use the bathroom.

He was worried that the other kids would laugh at him if he

mispronounced the teacher’s name. But then the worst happened?– he couldn’t hold

it in any longer and wet his pants – and now he doesn’t want to go back to


While teachers, parents and the government are busy trying to groom

future doctors and engineers from an early age, they must remember not to kill a

child’s sense of childishness.

Imagine a world where children’s feelings are welcomed as

expressions of their needs? What if we supported them to express the whole range

of their feelings, from joy to anguish?

What if a child’s natural capacity to heal from stress and hurt was


As they cried, raged and laughed, they would grow into adults at

home in their bodies and with being intimate with themselves and ­others.

I wish I had had that opportunity, as it would have saved me many

years of running around and seeking approval and standing ovations.

I would have realised that I didn’t need approval to feel clever,

beautiful and good. I hope you never deprive your child of that.

  • This is Jackie Mapiloko’s final


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