Monday, December 31, 2012

On Exercise, Hibernation and Mindfulness

The last few days have been days with some "Wow!"moments for me with my son. After almost two months of no outdoor play or any other physical exercise whatsoever, besides the usual jumping and prancing around, or the occasional breaking into a dance to some Kailash Kher music, Raghav walked almost a kilometre today with me to a local shop and back! My feelings are those of amazement, wonder and elation!....and I had to share these through my writing!

His "hibernation" if one can call it that, started some months ago, when he had severe stomach ache on a trip to Madurai with my husband who was on work. Ever since we came back, he stopped going down to play. Initially I did not force him as I thought he was still recuperating and was tired. Soon, I had to do away with my evening "walking"time too as he did not want to be alone at home on his own. I relented finally after much hesitation and a lot of argument. I could not think of any creative way to get him to go down and exercise his muscles a bit, without getting into long, heated arguments, or long-winded explanations, that I soon got tired of. Like many other things that we have let go of so far in this journey, I let go of this too.

How did I let go? I realised finally that once again the root was in fear - fear of what would happen to one's body without exercise, whether one would fall sick, or feel lethargic, or get stiff and "not-in-shape". These were the reasons that drove me to push him to go out and play. I realised that I had pushed myself too.

There was yet another incident that happened in the last month or so, that added fuel to fire. Some weeks ago, after the few showers that we had here, the Corporation had started fogging some areas. Twice, we were down when that vehicle came into our apartment complex. Raghav did not like the smell at all and was bothered by the sound of the machine. Ever since, he has been closing all doors and looking out off and on, in fear. There were many times when I was very worried about this intense fear that he had and thought I had to get help from somewhere and someone. There were times when I felt like I was in prison with no fresh air and sunlight. We fought a lot over this.....had long conversations about this.....and tried many other things......but nothing worked.....until we just stayed with this feeling, accepted it and understood the depth of it. Then he started trying to go out for short bits of time.

Before all this happened, he loved going down to play frisbee, cricket, football, and cycling with his friends. Although it has always been an effort to get him to play outdoors, once he started, he was okay. We used to be downstairs for an hour at least and sometimes much more.....and I started getting my daily workout through playing with the kids and walking around the complex. I thought that that would keep me in good shape and pushed myself to walk for at least half an hour every day. Many a time, it was tough to get this time for myself. But I persisted. Then I realised that I was not really listening to my body and was sometimes pushing myself too much - so on days when I was tired after having done a lot of chores at home too, I was pushing my body to complete what I usually did everyday.

It was then that I realised that unless I stopped and listened to my body, Raghav would not do that too. So from then on, I started walking mindfully more often, whenever I could. I started listening t o my body. I stopped when I got tired without pushing myself to do "just a little more". When I did that, I felt better - not too exhausted, and even slept better at night. And after these two months of hibernation, I can say that I have lost weight, sleep better at night, am less irritable and have more energy to do things! Strange but true! What's the secret? I don't know! It could have been the hibernation or mindfulness or both!

Raghav - way ahead!
Today, I had to go to the flour mill which was about half a kilometre away. I suggested that we go walking so that I get my sunshine and fresh air for the day, and that it would be a different and exciting thing to do, instead of taking the car. I also recalled how he had walked effortlessly, more than a few kilometres last week, on our trip to Coonoor, when we had gone exploring through the tea plantation, to reach the Nilgiri Mountain Railway line, just in time to see the quaint steam engine and old coaches chug past us! He was immediately all excited to walk and surprise his father when he came home that evening.

I was surprised too that he agreed readily without a fuss, but apprehensive about what would happen along the way - would he ask to be carried (Raghav has been attached to my hip and my husband's shoulders ever since he was a toddler!)? would he ask that we take an auto? would he jump and scream in the middle of the road that he could go no further? So many thoughts raced inside my head!......but I shushed them, smiled and carried on. Going with the flow, with an empty mind helped. He finally walked all the way to the shop and back without a whine! He was proud of himself and I was proud of him! It was unbelievable that he walked so much after a long hibernation of sorts!

It left me questioning many things - our fears about lack of daily exercise, our conditioning and definitions of what makes us fit and healthy, how much exercise does one really need, whether we sometimes over-exercise, not listening to our body signals and so on. So then, can we allow kids who
want to be indoors, the space and freedom to do just that? Can we wait till they show a "readiness" or a need to go out and play? Can we trust them to listen to their own bodies?

I think we can....and I have learned that from being with my son once again!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Kodak Moment

Any time-bound event or activity has been and continues to be hard for us to manage as a family most times......Raghav finds it very hard usually to transition from something he is doing at home, to something outside....and today was another day when this came into focus in a big way.

It was the last day when my sister and family were going to be here and we were to go to my parents' house for lunch. Raghav woke up late and was busy doing his own thing, our reminders not really being heeded, until it was close to the time when we had to leave. This is something that happens quite regularly in our house and I am still trying to find better, more creative ways to handle transitions.

While I know that my getting anxious adds to the already volatile atmosphere, I have been unable to let go of that, simply because there are times when it concerns others' schedules that I want to respect, like it happened today. He was so totally absorbed in what he was doing that he did not want us to interrupt him in anyway, with any sort of reminders. As a result of this, my husband and I lost our tempers; we were both harsh on him and ended up pushing him to get ready and leave immediately. Raghav was in tears and kept reminding us not to get angry. We then had a long chat with him to explain what we were feeling; apologized to him and hugged and kissed him. I love the way we always make up with a special family circle and hug :) - no matter what. He then told us that he wanted to be by himself in his room and do something for us.

This is what he made and gave us a few minutes later! My heart broke.....take a look......

I was amazed at what he could come up with when he was feeling so low! I was touched by the unconditional love that he showered on us.....and he had written this all by himself without asking us for spellings of words - which was a first time too for him!

While we sat talking and listening to one another, Raghav came up with some profound wisdom which was a Kodak moment for me!(However, the only camera that I had then to capture this moment was all of my heart and my eyes!) This is what he had to say:

Me: "How did you manage to write this?"

Raghav: "I thought about what to write while I was walking....then when I went to my room, I just sat and drew the picture and wrote what I thought......see, I did not ask you for any spellings.....I wrote it all by myself!"

Me: "But how did you learn to write like this? is so beautiful!"

Raghav: "I learned how to write from you and appa."

Me: "But I did not teach you..."

Raghav: "You did......just by living!...and actually I did not learn anything in school."

Me: "How did you draw us all happy and not angry?"

Raghav: "Because that is how I want us to be....I know that when you are angry, you are not angry with are angry with yourself....and when you or appa are upset or angry, I want to help you.....because the most important thing in life is to help someone else....and that I did not learn from you.....I learned that from my Thomas DVD!"

Tears poured down my cheeks as I listened to my son, who never ceases to amaze me with his common sense and simple profundities, way beyond his years. I realised how beautiful learning was and how it happens every day in the most incomprehensible ways, just by living each day as it unfolds. I whispered softly to my husband that if I had to die at  that moment, I would have gladly, as I felt so blessed and so fulfilled as a parent.

This may sound cliched, but I so wanted to share this personal moment, only to bring out the point made by my son indirectly - that Life is a miracle and that we just need to live, to learn what we need to. Aren't  these the "Life Skills" that we really need anyway?


Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Mind's Wanderlust

I have often found myself exclaiming to myself in the past - usually when my son shows us something: "Hey, he knows the concept of multiplication"....or "I didn't know he could learn about light and shadows like that"......or "he knows all about the countries and the earth forms just by playing around with Google Earth"....or many other thoughts like that.

Thoughts that have wanted to compartmentalize everything into boxes and clearly defined spaces in one's mind....thoughts that wanted to perhaps ratify what is "being learned".......thoughts that wanted to coax the heart into thinking that yes, "learning"is happening....thoughts that wanted to -
Hold on.

But these kind of thoughts come into my mind more rarely I try to enjoy every one of those moments for just what they are...without attaching any meaning or learning to it. I try and sometimes look at those moments as learning moments for myself, not my son. So when he shows me a new invention that he has made of a machine in an ipad app called Tinkerbox, I watch as he explains how it works, and how he built it or what he named it.....I try not to look at it as his learning something about engineering or Physics. When he goes to the blackboard and writes down something that he has to remember to build later on, I try not to look at it as his trying to self-organize or that he is beginning to like writing. If he comes to me and talks about something that he read on a website or a book, I try not to reassure myself that he is finally reading something. I am trying hard now to just accept what is for what it is......and nothing more.

It is hard - after a lifetime of conditioning to thinking linearly or wanting to define things like learning. The other day, I wanted to create a google document of resources for our homeschooling community to share stuff that we have used with our kids, and I found it so hard to create it......because I found it hard to segregate things into areas anymore, but had to for convenience! As I was trying to put down areas, I found my conditioned mind so good at finding names - like wildlife, science, geography, art and craft and so on. But I found it very difficult and almost impossible to put down stuff under one area, as they were all so inter-connected anyway! I felt that I was limiting a resource to one area by doing that, which is not the way things work in life.

I find it hard sometimes to answer questions now from family and some friends-"So is he writing?" or "What about math?" or "Does he only play with Lego all day?" or many other such queries. The difficulty for me is not so much in explaining things to those who ask, but rather to make them understand how much we are missing out on, just because we choose to define, label and box learning and living. I often feel inspired to share the joy of living and learning without any boundaries, the way it is for us now......but I do know that somewhere someone is making connections, labelling, defining.

But why should we attach so much importance to "learning"? Why should we be so concerned about what someone is learning, why, how and where? Why can't we just go along with the flow of life and just live.....just be....moment to moment?....These are my questions I am beginning to break free of definitions in my head more consistently now.

For now, I often dream of a world which would start all over again afresh...I imagine and wonder how it would be without anything called school and learning and a whole lot of other predetermined stuff clogging our minds. A world where everyone starts off all over again with a clean slate - with a mind that is expansive.... that is hard to confine. I wish for a world when all of us could experience the miracle and joy of just living in the moment......and enjoy it for just what it is.......

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A dance of two souls

Raghav has explored friendships in phases - just like everything else that he has.  His first friend was a little girl we met at a park many years ago (when he was three I think), and then realised much later, that she went to the same school that he went to! They got along like strawberries and cream (Raghav's favourite dessert!). He was soon in her class. Since then, she has been Raghav's best and very special friend. Later, Raghav made a few more friends at school - mostly girls - as I think they were more gentle and docile. But she always had a special place in his heart.

I remember how Raghav was very troubled by what happened at school one day with her and shared it with me. His teacher had chided him for hugging this friend of his in the playground, and forced them to sit apart. A funny reaction indeed to two small kids who were but expressing their love. Raghav cried all night asking me: "...what is wrong in hugging someone you love? You, appa and I hug each other at home because we love each other. I love her.....why can't I hug her then?"

Once he left school, Raghav took a long time to start exploring friendships again. He enjoyed and wanted the time for himself - alone. Initially, I was worried and often tried to coax him to go down to play, just so that he would see other kids and be with them. Very soon, I realised, that just like everything else with him, he had to decide and choose what to do, when to do it and how to do it. It had to come from him - the need and the means to have friends.

When I let go of all expectations and my fears of how I wanted him to be or not to be, I found him breaking free and opening up. A child who was labelled shy and aloof took on another avatar altogether! He came up with novel ways of getting to know and making himself known to other kids in our neighbourhood. He dressed up as Santa long before it was Christmas, doling out gifts to all the kids. I realised yet again that here was a child who knew what he wanted and how to get it!

Then, he made friends with a boy who was much older, but soon started understanding that he was not listening to him, but rather overpowering him. So he moved away on his own slowly. He came up to me one day and said :"Amma, I am so happy that N told me that he is not my friend anymore.....I was wondering how I was going to tell him that!"

Soon, he started playing with other kids off and on and made a few more friends. Exploring each one, has been a struggle - some more, and some less.....but all worth it. Now, I notice a pattern - there is a time when he wants company and finds his own ways of seeking that, a time when he wants to just be in his own space with his own self, and a time in between - when he wants to go back to a comforting, trusted friend. For, he has been by himself of late, after the deluge of people that he called over for Navrathri......we haven't stirred out of the house for more than a month now, except to go shopping for our groceries and stuff. But just two days ago, he mentioned his dear friend and said that we should call her over sometime as he wanted to show her something. I often wonder why he does this. I now feel that he is perhaps using her as his comfort zone to test his own skills or discover himself a little more....

She has been very special to him. He has wanted to keep in touch with her, even after we got out of the school. With all other friendships, he has maintained a distance and has never been so much at ease....but with this little girl, he has been himself. I find it amazing to watch both of them together.....much like two free spirits enjoying the space and energy between them......on the same wavelength.

They don't meet so often now, as she is busy with school and her mom has a little one who keeps her busy. But when they do meet, even if it is after a month or more, they take off from where they started last time.....with total ease and a warmth that has to be felt by being with them. That little girl has an understanding of my son that even I do not have sometimes. Her responses to him are filled with an empathy that adults often find hard to develop. I have not seen any other kid respond to his meltdowns, fusses and joys in sharing something like she has.

One day, some months ago, we took them both to the Planetarium. They had loads of fun together and chats together.....holding hands and walking together, without a care in the world....listening to each other......sharing jokes and facts.....huddling together in the car, watching the world go by.....sharing a snack...and dozing off together after a tiring was so beautiful to just be and watch - two children who filled each others' hearts and our hearts - with love. That day, in the car, on our way back I remember Raghav asking her: "So do you think you will get bored of school like me, one day?" :) "No I don't think so", was her answer. :)

Today, when he wants to meet her again after a few months now, I realise that she might have grown up.....her interests may have changed.....she may not want to play with boys so much anymore
...or listen to him go on about his Lego or trains! But there is a good chance that she might still feel the same way and begin to play with him again from where they left off last time. I wonder if it really matters. For she has been one of our angels from the Universe anyway - one who gave my son the space to be himself without any judgement....a space that is so rare in our world today. We do have a lot to learn from children.

I miss her giggles and their whispers of secrets.....the soft and gentle tunes she tried on the keyboard.....the moments when she put paint to paper to create little masterpieces, quietly egging Raghav on with his.....her sulking when they had a little disagreement , and Raghav cajoling her to get back....I miss her running with gay abandon and Raghav trudging along....or whooshing down the slide together....and enjoying an evening meal....

While she gave my son the space to be and discover himself, our home perhaps gave her the space and time to just be too. I am grateful to the Universe for these precious gifts that we get through children.

It has truly been a privilege for me to be a witness to this dance of two souls!