Kidding Around

Author: Yugal SehgalOriginally published on June 3, 2020

I encountered him at the checkout of our local grocery store, sitting in his shopping cart, sipping on his mango drink and curiously goggling around. He looked barely 2 years old and had a distinctively red sweater on, with shoes of same shade to match.

While I casually observed him, he looked at me and smirked. I could see mischief in that smile right away and knew he was about to draw my proper attention. He straightened the straw in his drink and began to squirt it around, spattering the floor and chuckling while he was at it.

When he was done, he looked at me with a puppy face and shook the pack of the drink, signalling he’d emptied it. Then, in barely a whisper, he declared, “Mum”, an Indian child’s expression for “empty”.

(For the non-Indian reader, we usually don’t address our mothers as “Mum” here, so if an Indian kid, particularly an infant, says that to you, they’re likely not calling you their mother.)

I was bewildered. Because of my lack of interactions with kids, I did what I felt was a reasonable response to his utterance; I gave him a kind smile and hoped that that was the end of our conversation. (No, I’m not a bad person, only unreasonably nervous around kids.) But boy was I in for a surprise.

A cartoon illustration by the author. © Yugal Sehgal

After the shopping, I decided to make a stop at McDonald’s. This was pre-Covid 19, but the restaurant was uncharacteristically empty that day, barely 2 tables were occupied so I revelled the idea of enjoying my food in solitude. I ordered a nice big meal and took a seat in one of the empty corners. I was excited!

As is now customary, I took a picture (or 4) of the meal to let the world know I was having it. Then I began chomping down on the fries as if it was the last meal I was going to have, little did I know that it was really going to be the last McDonald’s meal I was going to have before the Coronavirus pandemic brought the whole world to a standstill.

Lesson: Savour every meal like it’s your last, because before you know it, it might just become that.

Barely 5 minutes into it I noticed the same kid walking around the restaurant, now with an ice-cream in his hand, and of all the empty tables there, his family decided to pick the one right next to mine. So much for heavenly solitude, I thought. It was initially a little awkward for me but I decided to focus on the food instead and right then, he recognised me and came running toward me.

In courtesy, I offered him a fry but he left without accepting it. Getting rejected by an infant like that has to be one of the most deeply wounding things. Did I look like an unfriendly, evil stranger to him, I wondered. I concluded he was probably instructed in Stranger Danger, so I respected the rejection and returned to my meal.

Time to chomp on again, I thought, but Mr. Tiny was intent on getting my attention and came up to me yet again to sit right next to me. I looked at him in amusement - and internal confusion. In a surprising display, he dipped his finger in the ice cream and offered it to me in return of my courtesy.

A cartoon illustration by the author. © Yugal Sehgal

Kids are known for imitating those around them, that’s how we learn to socialise after all, which can work both ways, good and bad. I was happy that here was a kid, imitating a good gesture, and being courteous in the process of doing so, so I felt happy about offering him that fry in the first place.

I warmly declined his offer of the ice cream, barely managing to keep a straight face through it. He took the rejection well, I was very impressed with that, but then I quickly learned why. Turns out he did want that fry after all and now pointed towards it. As soon as I offered it to him, he ran away with it. The ice cream was just a bait then, I wondered.

So this kid was determined to make me question my impression of him. I felt exploited by his smart scheme. He already knew how to get what he wanted. Slyly.

After being bested by his innocent diplomacy like that (and partly impressed with it), I returned to the meal, thinking I could finally consume it in peace, but the Boss Baby had different ideas. He returned to me and demanded “chauce”, his expression for “sauce”. I had just run out of ketchup so I asked him to wait while I got a new one. His joy after getting the ketchup was quite contagious, I must admit.

An animated illustration by the author. © Yugal Sehgal

Kids have a way of adorably getting away with being so demanding of others, even strangers. I sometimes wonder if they do it on purpose. It’s intriguing how humanity can develop effective persuasion skills so early. Some of us know our way around right from the start.

He made 3 more round trips to me, asking for another fry each time, and eyeing a bit of my Pizza McPuff too. Thankfully, his family caught on to what he was up to and took him away, promising him they'd buy him fries of his own. I was able to finish my meal at last, uninterrupted.

By the end, I was positively amused and fascinated by the whole incident. I’m super nervous with kids and never share my food with anyone (don’t judge me), and yet here I was, interacting with a random infant, obeying his commands, and sharing my food with him while I was at it.

It's surprising how kids change our behavior through their cutely unapologetic and subtly powerful ways of manipulation. How we lose that as we get older is something to think about, because when it comes to getting what they want, kids aren't kidding around.

Yugal Sehgal writes about life, mindfulness, and people. He lives in India. Follow him and @drawcuments on Instagram.