When I was 4 years old I was being babysat by a lady who I am sure was a very well meaning adult. Sometime in the afternoon, however, I decided I wanted ice cream, and thus began one of the most infuriating exchanges of my 4 years of life.
“There is ice cream in my freezer,” I informed the babysitter. “Can I have ice cream please?”
Now, for whatever reason the babysitter decided that no, I may not have any ice cream. Except, absurdly, instead of just replying, “No,” which would have been perfectly effective (I may have demanded an explanation but I was a fairly reasonable child) she proceeded to give me vanilla yogurt and attempted to convince me that it was ice cream. “Here you go!”
I stared down at the bowl. Then I looked up at her. “Can I have ice cream please?”
“That is ice cream Nahida,” she said insistently.
I looked down at the yogurt. It was clearly not ice cream. First of all, it was not the correct consistency, and second of all, I had clearly just seen her retrieve it from the refrigerator instead of the freezer. Relatedly, it felt not nearly cold enough in my hands. Last of all, it was a different shade of white. I knew all of this at once, but unfortunately at the age of 4 I did not know how to tell her.
“I want ice cream,” I repeated. “Please?”
She crossed her arms. “Nahida, that is ice cream. Now do you want it or not?”
Apparently she was not going to stop telling me this yogurt was ice cream. I decided on a different approach. “I want that ice cream,” I clarified, attempting to reach the freezer door.
She pulled me away and pushed the bowl of yogurt toward me again. “This is ice cream.”
Her voice was condescendingly sweet. I looked down at the bowl helplessly. Why was she telling me that yogurt is ice cream? If I can’t have ice cream why can’t she just say so and explain why not? Instead there I was, at the age of 4, being told over and over that yogurt is ice cream as though I were expected to believe it because I was a child. I was frustrated and insulted.
But even though I thought all this, I could not express it.
“Please, I want ice cream.”
“Take this; it’s ice cream.”
There is a quiet hysteria to realizing how truly powerless you are. “Please? I want that ice cream.”
“This is ice cream.”
I began to cry. “I want ice cream please.”
I don’t remember what happened after that, but the frustration that arose within me was a hundred times larger than my size. I knew what was right, and I could not be tricked. I did not feel this babysitter was “doing what’s best” which I could sometimes sense from adults—I felt, quite frankly, that she was being cruel.
I don’t know if that was my first experience of my voice unjustly overridden because of someone taking advantage of a power structure, but I can say for a fact that it would not be the last.
Children are smarter than you think they are. And you’d best not be an asshat.