Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The churning within

It was late at night, but both of us were in a mood to chat. I looked at Raghav's nails (they needed cutting) and exclaimed: "Oh my!....they are almost like claws that hold meat!......maybe we should cut them tomorrow!" Instantly Raghav went into flashback mode......and wanted to talk about some things that happened in school..... I was all ears - wondering what surprises he was going to spring on me tonight.

"Amma, you know what? One time they forced me to eat egg at school", he said. I was shocked. I held my cool and with as much calm as I could muster asked him quietly :"What did you do? Did you eat it? You didn't like them forcing you?" "No, amma. I said no to them.....but they did not listen. They pushed my head towards it and made me go close to it. But I moved away. Then they got angry with me and hit me on my leg like this.....", he said, showing me how they hit him."That was the only time they hit me and I don't know why they did that. How can they make us eat egg when we are vegetarians amma?"

I was angry like any parent wold be. I was seething with anger inside. Anger at the total disrespect that had been shown to a child and his likes and dislikes and his way of wanting to be. I closed my eyes for a few moments; allowed that anger to be; but held my son close to me and kissing him, I managed to say "I understand how angry you must have been......you didn't like them forcing you....and you wondered why they hit you for something like that?" "Yes amma.....and they never gave me anything else to eat for snack that day, but they gave something to the other children who did not want egg..."

He then went on to narrate another incident. This was to do with writing. "I have one more thing to say about school........they used to make me write words which they called out, without telling me the spellings. How do they expect us to write without knowing the spellings of words first?"he said. When I asked him what kind of words they used to call out he said, "They were words like 'world', even big words like names of states or continents like 'Rajasthan', 'South America' and all." Then he laughed and said, "....and sometimes I would not even hear it properly....I would hear 'world'as 'word'....I could never write those words because I could never remember the spellings!....sometimes they used to keep a timer for two minutes and say that we had to finish writing those words by then. How was it possible?" "They have to teach us spellings first before making us write!"he retorted. "So how did you feel then Raghav?", I asked. "I felt that I would never be able to do anything with words.....that I will never be able to remember spellings", he replied softly. I held him close and said: "Do you still feel that way now?" "No amma! Now I know so many spellings - like all the names of chess coins; I can remember them.....even for big words....but not all words."

"Is there anything else pappa?" I asked. "Yes amma.....few more things....the first thing is that sometimes they used to keep me from playing outside because of writing work.....like if I did not finish writing something....even if it was already time for outdoor play, they would not let me go. All the other aunties except one aunty would get angry and say no. Only one aunty was nice to me. She would say ok...but the others would not agree. She also used to help me with spellings, but the others would tell her not to. I did not understand why." "Yeah......it was confusing for you because one person said ok or yes and the others said no? right? " "Yes amma.....I was confused.....also once I had to go to the bathroom very urgently, and this aunty said ok; but all the others said I could not go.....I had to wait for one hour to go to the bathroom.....it was very difficult for me to handle that......" he said.

What do I do as a mother? Tell my son what an unfair word this is? Allow him to wallow in sympathy for being treated this way? Allow the anger to burn inside of me leaving deeper wounds that may never heal? Proclaim to the world what kind of a school that is? Two years ago, maybe I would have done that or all of that. Not any more.

Today I know a little better how to heal myself and my son. We heal ourselves by first identifying and naming the emotion we feel and verbalising it or talking about it to someone. Most often that itself is healing. Once we verbalise or reflect it, there is a letting go that happens inside and it does not bother us any more. It is like the first aid for a wound. Time will heal the rest of the wound I hope.

Just when I was thinking that we were done with the past ......there was this churning that happened within tonight.......within him and within me. We relived those moments of despair all over again - TOGETHER. I think that is the key. Today, I am with him listening to him mindfully, which I perhaps did not do then, or perhaps he did not feel comfortable to talk about it to me then. But now, we are really together in everything that happens. There is no separation; there is connection. There is no tugging; there is a surrender. I guess that is how one heals oneself really - by connecting with one's own self deeply, surrendering to the emotions one feels, resolving all the unresolved conflicts that simmer deep inside one's being. When that churning happens, then one can be sure that in time something beautiful will rise from within and move without.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

It's Raining!....It's Pouring!

After a sweltering few days here in Chennai, suddenly today, the heavens opened up! It was late evening and my husband had just come back from work. Raghav and he were busy playing chess on the iPad.....but the sound of the rain, the cool breeze and the smell of wet earth couldn't keep them away for too long! Raghav ran from one balcony to another in jubilation! "It's raining....it's pouring!" he screamed, beaming from ear to ear.

He loves to hear the rain, smell it and watch it pour down to create huge puddles of water, in which he could later "Splish, Splash, Splosh!" like Thomas the Tank Engine does, with his cycle! But he dislikes getting wet, even in a slight drizzle. "It pokes me amma!" is his usual refrain.

My husband tried his best to cajole him into splashing about outside today. "I don't like to get wet appa!...I am like Henry in my Oswald DVD", he said. That sparked a little argument - as my husband could not understand how he wouldn't like the rain, and Raghav got irritated with him for goading him to do something he didn't enjoy. As usual, I had to intervene to make them understand each other.

"Why don't you wear a raincoat Raghav?", I suggested. That was it. He took a few minutes to find it, buttoned himself up, picked up his cycle keys and was off with his father in a jiffy! I was half-way through cooking dinner and allowed them to enjoy those rare, precious moments together without me around. They obviously had fun (as you can see from the picture)!

As I clicked this photo, I realised how they had begun this journey today - from a lack of understanding of each other over a seemingly small issue - to a joyous understanding of each other, while respecting each other's needs. And I pondered over my cooking holding this thought in my head and heart - how every little thing that we say and do in this journey together, stems out of a dead habit of thinking and believing, that we hold on to so dearly.....and only when we stop to become more aware of it, question it and find our own ways of dealing with it, do we really move on and begin to enjoy it.

We are but fellow travellers in this journey with our son......and what makes it challenging and yet very rewarding is that these little everyday things that we have taken so much for granted in our growing up years, are actually the stepping stones.....that make us constantly go back deep into ourselves.....and make our lives so much more beautiful and worthwhile.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

If I was.......

Raghav was having lunch and I was sitting with him talking. We were talking for some strange reason - about plants, when he looked outside at the money plant growing in our balcony and said, "Amma, is that a creeper?....I wonder why it is called a creeper?" I asked him what he thought, to which he replied :"I think it's because it creeps all over the place." I asked him to go closer and look for the little things (aerial roots) that help the money plant to hold on to things as it grows. He went over and counted them; running back to me he said: "Amma, see how it is growing........sooo long......hanging down.....I wish I was a money plant.....then I too can grow in any direction I want to! If I am a human being, then I can only grow in a particular way....see my legs....they cannot keep on growing long.....also my hands.....they have to grow only one way and then stop. But if I were a money plant, I can grow any way I want to!"

The conversation then drifted along to imagining ourselves to be snakes and then eagles....."If I were an eagle, then you and appa will also be eagles and we can fly wherever we want to! But we may have enemies then!.....and I will fly high up and look down at my favourite country Brazil.....it will look so beautiful!", he said beaming.

A wish....a flight of fancy.....the pure innocence of childhood!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our Language travails

Raghav started off with talking in his mother tongue when he was little.......much like any other child. He loved telling stories and long ones at that - full of  sound effects that he added, actions, questions to the audience, facial expressions......almost acting out the whole story while narrating it! It was dramatic and astounded us. They were most often shared with us late at night - just before going to bed!

But all this ended quite suddenly when we started worrying about his talking only in Tamil. The worrying mode was something that we allowed ourselves to get into when he joined playschool and teachers there started asking us if we spoke to him only in Tamil at home. I don't know why we took it so personally and decided to talk to him more in English at home....because that has seen the end of Tamil for a while now I think!

Now, he likes to speak only in English; even if we ask him questions in Tamil, he chooses to respond only in English. His English is also very good - he knows when to use which word (even if he has just seen or heard it once in a book maybe) and how. Most of his English has been self-taught by watching the CBeebies channel on TV, reading books and watching some DVDs. Although we haven't really worried so much about his not speaking in Tamil now so much, his grandparents and some extended family were and often expressed the need to know our mother tongue. But Raghav always strongly retorted that he would not speak Tamil. I often felt that he reacted like that more because he felt he was being forced to learn something - that is something he has disliked. However, many in our family could not understand this and persisted in their ways. Sometimes, we even got sarcastic comments about how we as Tamils have forgotten how to say some words in Tamil and use a mix of English. At other times we were chided about the influence of Hindi or English in some words we used. One time I remember my father asked him if he would like to learn Sanskrit as it was an ancient language. Raghav turned to us and retorted : "If you and amma speak Sanskrit, then maybe I will!"

My husband and I stood our ground together - that I think is the most crucial part of this journey of unschooling. For, if each one tugs in a different direction, we would get nowhere! Both of us firmly believe that language is just a tool to communicate with others. So as long as we can use it that way, it helps us in our journey to learn new things. The minute we give it more importance than that and put it up on a pedestal; relate it to culture, history and society in a negative way, we fail to see the beauty of a language and its purpose. But we could not get others in our family to understand our way of thinking on this. So we did nothing really but wait and  and just let things be.  Raghav found his own ways of dealing with their statements and questions - sometimes a firm no, sometimes silence and sometimes just ignoring it and changing the topic.

Raghav has been listening to all the music we usually play at home - carnatic, western classical, old Hindi songs, old English songs, Tamil movie songs, Sufi music.....any music really! We have quite a huge collection and we listen to and sing together sometimes. As a baby Raghav enjoyed listening to carnatic music or old Hindi songs and would even choose the songs he wanted to listen, to calm down or go to sleep with an "umm" sound. That was also when we spoke to him a lot in Tamil. Soon, his interests changed. He switched to Kailash Kher and to this day that remains his favourite. He has learnt the lyrics, pronunciation and some meanings of words on his own! There were days when he used to listen to those songs through the day while doing something else, whenever we went out in the car.....constantly humming to himself. Now, even after a long gap of not listening to music, he can remember and recall the words.

A few days ago Raghav expressed an interest to learn Portuguese, Spanish and Nepali in that order! Now how did this interest come up? Well it is because of an ipad app that he has been using called "Stack the Countries" through which he has learnt a lot about different countries in the world, landmarks, languages, flags and so on. One day he came up to us and told us how much he loves Brazil and that he wanted to learn Portuguese, as that is the official language there! Well we were pleasantly surprised as this is the first time he has really expressed an interest in learning a language. And yes, it was not his mother tongue, nor the official language in our country! But so what?! This is something that HE really wanted to learn and I think that THAT is most important - to develop a love for learning different things. So I did a google search and found a great website for beginners to learn Portuguese and here it is:
I was so thrilled that I had found a way to channel his interest! For the rest of the day yesterday, Raghav sat in front of his computer clicking on different words, listening to them in Portuguese and repeating them! It was amazing to watch him choose the kind of words he wanted to learn - numbers, greetings, holidays and  weather! It was his own way....his own path of learning that he was creating....and that was what was beautiful to watch as a parent. I learnt yet another important lesson as a parent - to know when to be there and when to move out of the way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The LEGO date

This is a loooong due post and do forgive me for all the exclamation marks! ( just shows all the excitement we felt)

"We stay in Auroville......we have a lot of LEGO!" :)
- words that stood out of the page for me as I was surfing the ning site today. It was not usual to find LEGO enthusiasts here, especially ones that claim to have a lot of Lego! I was thrilled and shared my find with Raghav instantly. He beamed and ran up to the computer, to see what he could....and I beamed with him too - ear to ear! What more could a mother want for her son who dreamed of LEGO the whole time?! It was a dream come true for us.....well, almost!

Raghav of course, was all set to take off to Pondicherry and Auroville as soon as possible, when my husband came back from his work trip! He was already planning in his head as to what Lego to pack and dreaming of what LEGO he would find at their place there.....I could see it in his eyes! He also had made up a little something to tell A when he met him - that when you add an "i" after the "s" in his name, it becomes "Asia"! (And could you believe it, that this was the first thing he told A when he saw him?!)

Soon I was exchanging emails with the family and we realised that LEGO was really a common passion! We could both relate to how we travel with a suitcase of our kid''s LEGO wherever we go! That truly was a sure sign of how our kids lived and breathed LEGO.....and we were dying to meet each other!

They were going to volunteer at an NGO for a few weeks, close to Chennai, and that was when we met them finally. They came home to spend some time with us and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences for me and a fun LEGO date for Raghav. A had heard from us that we had LEGO everywhere around our house.....but probably did not expect it to really be that way! He called our house a "Mini Legoland" which HAS to be a compliment! Raghav was of course so taken up by the fact that he had finally found someone he could trust his LEGO with - who understood its importance, knew what to do with it, handled it the way he wanted it to be handled, and most importantly someone who could understand the LEGO language! It didn't matter that one was 7 and the other was 11.....it didn't matter one bit! Nothing mattered more than a common passion for LEGO.

Yes, for two LEGO enthusiasts everything that they talked had to be about LEGO - the different sets, which ones each of them had, websites, games, how to build something....whew! They had so much to share with each other! And it was so wonderful to see that our patience had paid - we had both perhaps silently wished a long time ago, that we would find someone with a similar interest in LEGO someday....and let the wish sit upon a star in the universe somewhere....until the Universe decided that it was time our wish came true!

Do you want to know what happened when the two LEGO enthusiasts met over LEGO for just a couple of hours??! Well, the pictures would tell you a good part of the story.....the aftermath!

Lego on the floor......

Lego on my kitchen counter........

Lego....Lego .....everywhere!

They created stories and pretended to put out fires.....there were planes taking off and zooming past us.......they visited the Taj Mahal.....had the police chasing people.....vehicles of all kinds and sizes doing a zillion things......it was impossible to keep track of what was happening!

And when they got a bit tired of playing with LEGO, A set up a play station game that he had brought to show Raghav and taught him how to play it. In fact, A had been so excited to visit us, that he had packed his bag and kept it ready the previous night, but in all his excitement, had forgotten the LEGO game that he had wanted to show Raghav! And Raghav of course was so excited, that he could not eat lunch! Finally, after much prodding, he allowed me to sit and feed him his lunch, while he played with A.

In the midst of all this enjoyable madness, we - the two moms, managed to share some thoughts on homeschooling and our personal journeys so far with our kids. While she indulged in the hot, black coffee that I brewed for her, we managed to speak a bit. Her words tugged at my heart......

Here was a single mom leading a kind of a nomadic life with her son - moving from one country to another, finding things to do.....in the midst of all the trials and tribulations she faced from time to time.  "When I tell people where I am from, they don't look at me as ME......they look at me as an Israeli", she said. I realised from her voice and her eyes - how much that must hurt. For the first time I understood the pain of belonging to a country in this world. I hurt too with her. I could not understand why people claim to be so tolerant, democratic and inclusive, but actually aren't. Somewhere, we get stuck in the history of things and issues - stuck in the past.

Listening to her, prompted me to read more about the conflict, about the history of persecution of the Jews and many other issues that I had just not given much thought to (this despite having a brother-in-law who is Jewish!) . I realized how I was living like many others perhaps, in a glass house.....in my own little "safe" bubble......in a little world of my own.....until reality comes knocking at my door! It pained me to see what happened to people who are much like refugees - with no place to go....no place to call their home.....no permanent job....no country to live in (because of man-made passport and visa issues)....people who have to move around the world every now and then - just to find some sense of security which seems to constantly elude them....and their life in a place is in so many ways dependent on how the political stance of that country is towards their country of origin.....I realized what kind of a life that must be. I think that no matter what the history is or the conflict is, people do have a right to call some place their home or homeland. Everyone has a right to live on this planet....it doesn't really belong to any of us.....we are all just visitors here, aren't we? 

And then, I saw the happiness.......how they were volunteering for small NGOs despite everything.....the joy with which they were living in the moment, with uncertainty - their only companion and security.....with the whole world to explore...and I discovered another whole new meaning to living and being......much like a baby living free with not even the sign of its long-severed umbilical chord. How would it really be to live like that I wondered? With no history of a beginning and no hope of an end? Perhaps the way to do that is to love what is and cleanse our own being every moment - emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. As she kept saying, "....time to move on..." I don't know if I could live like that. My heart filled with gratitude for what I had and the life experiences I got. My hopes and dreams faded (albeit momentarily) into thin air. I say that because I have to work on myself a lot more....I have a lot more to let go of.

Raghav and A got along so well that we met again at a mall a few days later. There was a Formula 1 MRF car that was being unveiled there and Raghav wanted to go. So we called them too  and it was  loads of fun, despite all the waiting and the crowd that we were in the midst of. After that, Raghav insisted that we go to the toy shop - Hamley's - to see all the LEGO along with A. So we went. I didn't know that window shopping for LEGO could be so much fun until I saw the two of them! A had a smile on his lips and a spring in his step. One could see that he was really happy."I think he feels secure here", she said, ".....maybe because malls are the same everywhere!"

Then, it was time to say our goodbyes. They were travelling to other parts of India and perhaps beyond. We didn't know if we were going to see them again soon. The date had been short, yet sweet and left me with such a warm feeling within. A feeling and a connection that was going to stay with me and my son long after they leave......Strange are the ways of the Universe....how some connections are made, while some others are revoked....But then distance is in the mind isn't it? 

So, what had started off as a LEGO date, was in fact a date with myself and my own perceptions of things. Yet another bubble popped in my universe....to leave behind what was real and what would stay with me for a lifetime. Love. A connection. And yet another wonderful insight into living and being.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What is love?

I know in my gut these days when Raghav is going to say something profound......and it happened again tonight.....in the same way. He asked me to lie down with him and said he wanted to talk to me before he went to sleep. I obliged and listened in......waiting for the golden words of wisdom.......and they came softly and gently as a butterfly flitting about.......and I just have to share these beautiful words from this all but  seven year old. Many a time, he has left me spellbound at his simple and profound wisdom of living. Many a time I have been left with the feeling that he is some soul trapped in the body of a seven year old - I don't know why.

This is what he said: "Loving each other is the most important thing in life amma....especially in our life. You are the most important thing in my life. I am living for you. I love you."
I asked him whether it was loving each other as in the three of us that was important. He replied: "No, it is about loving everyone. Amma, only when you love yourself first can you even think and know about loving another person. But only with me, it is different. I started loving you and then loved myself......because God made me like that."
"What is this love that you are talking about?"I asked.
"Loving is about hugging.....feeling nice about each other...." he replied.

I love learning these things all over again from children. It feels more special and meaningful. Life is not a bed of roses....there are ups and downs.......good moods and bad ones......happy moments and sad ones.........but when there are moments like this one, I know as a mother, that no matter what mistakes I have made, I have done some things right perhaps. I felt liberated today.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Handling ourselves

I was telling Raghav how he was going to see many new faces next month - people from our family - that he had never seen before. My grandmother (mother's mom) is here and turning 90 and we were trying to get as many of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren here for that occasion.

Raghav's first question to this idea of meeting more of his cousins was this - "Amma, will they be younger than me or older than me?" I was bemused and puzzled and asked him why he wanted to know, to which he replied: "If they are younger, then I can handle them easily. But if they are older than me, then it will be a little more difficult." Now this was getting interesting for me and I prodded on with more questions....

"Why do you say that Raghav?", I asked.

"Amma, if they are younger than me, they will understand me when I tell them not to touch something - remember how R and M listened to me when we went with them to the aquarium and I did not want them to handle my sketch pens in a particular way?"

"But older children will not listen if I say something like that. They will keep on doing their own thing. They will not understand why I am saying that. That is why it will be more difficult for me to handle them."

"Yes, I understand how you feel. You feel that it is difficult to handle yourself when the kids don't listen to you isn't it? When they don't listen, you feel that they don't understand and you don't know what to do. Right?"I asked.

He looked at me and said: "Yes amma, you are right. Actually, I cannot handle myself then ."