This is the unedited version of the story that I sent during the launch of Swashikshan.....I found it today and realised that there were crucial moments in my life and our journey, that I had not shared earlier...so here is our story with all its joys and challenges, as I present it with a different lens....where the common thread that holds it all together is TRUSTING SYNCHRONICITY in our lives.
This is an ordinary story about an ordinary family just like any other. We too were bound by our conditioning and caught in a time – space warp .....but only until we broke free.......This happened for the first time when we decided to take Raghav out of school and home school him, when he was 4yrs. old. At that time it seemed like we were jumping off a cliff blind-folded albeit with complete faith in oneself, one's child and in the Supreme Power. Today it seems as natural as breathing......I can say that I am only now truly LIVING.
I remember how difficult it was to take the decision to homeschool and we postponed it for quite a while because of our fears - fear of the future, fear of what people might say or think, fear of being outcasts from even our own family, fear of whether it was the right thing to do, fear of going against the grain.....and that was when a lot of things happened in our lives – much like a chain of events. But I think that because we stopped a little, took time to watch and go with the flow of everything that was happening that we were able to understand that there was something the Universe was trying to tell us. And then, suddenly like magic, everything fell into place, when I began to connect the dots....
The First Coincidences
There was a meeting that I got to attend because my colleague and friend could not – it was a meeting of parents looking at alternative education and homeschooling. We brought up and shared our fears, concerns and thoughts as a group. It also got me thinking about other options. When I saw other parents with very young children discussing such options it gave me a lot more strength and focus to handle my problem with the school my son was in.
Around the same time, I reached out to one of the parents at Raghav’s school who was having a hard time with the management; I stood with her while she fought the system and finally found peace in the decision to take her kids out and move from Chennai. Perhaps that was a preparation for me. Meanwhile, I was also having a hard time at home every day with Raghav – going to school was something we all dreaded every morning, when our house turned into a war zone.
Finally, I found my inner voice and listened to it. Perhaps everything around me was trying to tell me to stop and get out of the race and I was not listening - simply because I feared the outcome. I was not listening to my heart ....I was not listening to my helpless child who was screaming out loud and clear in so many ways - that he did not want to go to school or perhaps fall into a known and convenient pattern of society. I remember my son telling me “Amma, can I not go to school for 17 days and be at home for the rest of the time?” But my conditioning of “that not being the done thing” overrode everything else and I brushed it aside.
Again it was a coincidence that I called up my dear friend for advice on the issue of helping this parent, and I found my answer too. Her words ring in my ears even today, whenever the faintest doubt or fear creeps into my system – “I think he is telling you so clearly what he wants. I think he knows what he wants. I think you should listen to your child”.
So that was the beginning of my discovery of connecting the dots. I started believing in that and that touched everything that I did from then on. It was a belief that took root when I stopped and listened with my whole being to what the Universe was telling me. I believe that Life is about coincidences and how you see them......much like a big plan and small moves - all connected in some way. But it is up to us to see them or not. I chose to see them as voices of the Universe. When I saw the beauty in that scheme, there was nothing else that I could do but surrender. Completely. And suddenly I was able to break free and find myself. When I freed myself from this time and space warp of routines, habits and patterns of behaviour and thinking, I freed my son.
Giving up Routine
Personally for us as a family, giving up routine was the hardest thing to do and we still struggle with it today sometimes. I feel that routine is something that has been handed down to us by our parents and society much like traditions and customs. From infancy to adulthood and old age, we are plagued by routines. We are not able to adjust to changes because most often we have externally imposed routines and patterns that have become so much a part of us and our lives that we cannot do without those. I believe that this is the cause of many problems and stress in our everyday lives.
The challenges I faced with Raghav from when he was very little till today have been with routine. He has been a child who disliked routines imposed on him from outside. Today, after thinking through this at a micro level I am able to see why I found it so difficult earlier and how / why it is much easier now. As a baby, he never had set patterns of sleeping, waking and eating. I did try and go by my instinct but I allowed people around me to brainwash me to thinking otherwise. And I fell into the trap of trying to get him into a routine that I created for him and myself. And it was always a fight. He always won!
Everything was ok till we decided to put him in a playschool. Then routine became very important. I still remember the day when I called up the school to inform them that I would not be able to bring him for the interview as he had slept late the previous night and hadn’t woken up! I asked for another day, when the principal came on the phone and suggested that I consult a paediatrician as routine was very important with children, and that I could not get admission that term because he could not attend the interview on that very same day! Looking back, perhaps I should have given up the idea of school then, but Life had other plans. I believe that Life keeps presenting these lessons for you to learn time and again in different ways till you learn them. Perhaps I did not learn this lesson then! I was hurt that she said something like that about my child and worked so hard for the next three months to get him into a routine! (I can laugh about it now!) Some days it worked and some days it didn’t. This pattern continued with him and became unmanageable until we got him out of school.
My husband used to travel a lot on work and Raghav was very very attached to him. There were days when he would not sleep when was away. It was impossible to get him to sleep. I used to lose my temper because I was worried as to how he would be able to function at school the following day. And then he would take even longer to sleep! He also would get up and not get ready quickly to go to school. That used to get to me as I had to drive him to school in a hurry through peak traffic. He would sit in the bucket after a bath and not get out at all.....he would take ages to wear his clothes.......refuse to eat breakfast......and because he hated milk and couldn’t just gulp down a glass of milk and run to school, I used to stuff food into his mouth by bribing him and threatening him, just so that he would not feel hungry. When he came back home, he would scream and cry himself to sleep most days. I would feel so miserable. I hated myself for this rut but had no alternative then.
All that I could do was to look within, give him more love and say a silent prayer. When I turned inward and started questioning my patterns I found my answers. The path was well laid out for me by the Universe and I took it. And then there was no stopping us.
Today, we have come a long way from where we were. And routine was the first thing that we got rid off from our lives. That I think was the stress factor. Suddenly, time seemed to have stopped for us and that was the biggest relief! We made our own routine which was different every day. We could wake up whenever we wanted.....Raghav could wake up early in the morning to see off his dad and then go back to sleep....He could stay awake late at night to wait for his dad to come back, play with him and go to sleep whenever he wanted. WE adjusted to his routine – we gave him the space to be. And that has made all the difference.
But it was not easy. Initially it was very difficult as Raghav was so used to an external structure that he just did not know what to do. He would pester me with “what do I do now amma?” or “amma, I am so bored. I don’t know what to do!” And this would happen every few minutes. It was hard for me to think of things constantly and so we would sit and talk about it together and have a list of things from which he could choose. Slowly, he was de-programmed and started to heal himself. There was more self-direction and he was happy to make his own choices. I think he finally found himself.
He started eating better, started sleeping better, and was less cranky and irritable. He started listening to his body, which I think is a very basic and vital skill. He gave up snacking and started enjoying what he ate and ate only 3 meals a day with an occasional snack in the evening. And that I think happened because everything turned inwards to himself. So his mealtimes too became self-directed. Sometimes he would eat a late breakfast and then eat only a fruit in between, or sometimes the other way around. He ate only when he felt hungry, not to satisfy our need of making sure he was full. Giving him the time to find this out for himself has now made him more aware of his bodily needs and his internal clock. It was difficult for me to let go of this being a typical Indian mother, but I have learnt to do this more over a period of time of trusting my child and realising that he actually knows what he wants.
Once when I was asking him about what he liked or disliked at school, he said: “I don't understand a timetable Amma. I don't like to do a particular thing at a particular time. I like to do it in my time.” We have given him that time and freedom now and work our routine around his. There are days when he doesn't want to eat or have a bath until he has finished what he has set out to do - building something with his lego, or a painting (much like adults who are so engrossed in their work and don’t want to get up till they have finished something).
We have no set routine. Every day is different. The only one who has some form of routine is my husband. And that sometimes makes it hard to pre-plan anything with Raghav because Raghav’s wanting to do things changes quite quickly with the mood he is in and that depends a lot on how much time he gets with his dad. Earlier I used to get worked up about his not eating at a reasonable time and not having a bath early in the day (which is sacrosanct in a Tambrahm household!). But now we are getting rid of our old habits.
I think children like to be in control of their environment and make their own choices (don't all of us like that??!). They have an internal clock and sense of what they want to do and when. It is only when we try to shift the control to an external one that the problems arise. Then, they need to understand what to expect and so need to know or be prepared for what is in store for them. So while routines are convenient for us adults to make, I think it is better and easier for both parents and kids, when kids make their own routines. Children live in the moment - the present - and so maybe schedules would not make sense to them. And why would they? When they do make sense to them, I think they would ask us for schedules.
Changes we made in our lives
I don’t have a maid, because I cannot predict what my day will be like and having someone come at a particular time would be difficult for me to handle with Raghav’s unpredictability and need for my complete attention. Because anything that is time-bound becomes difficult for him and now us too! But that allows me a lot of freedom and flexibility within the house, to do what I want to whenever I want to – just like Raghav! I also see the chores as part of my workout for the day. It also is the time when I think about things. Raghav also understands that those are things that just don’t get done automatically by someone else but are an essential part of living every day. He now knows and respects my time better and understands what it takes to get something cooked or cleaned up. He helps me sometimes and we do things together as a family.
My husband travels a lot and is away for most of the week. That means that weekends get hectic for me with things to get done and catch up on. But that is also the little time that I get to myself and I cherish that. I guess it has worked well for Raghav too as he now prefers to be home and do what he wants to during the week, when his dad is away. And over the weekend, we either do things as a family or he spends time with his dad while I go out and get things done. Again, we were given what we needed – we needed that time for ourselves and to do without each other for a while.
We are learning to respect his time and his internal clock. So we usually go to sleep late and wake up late, or catch up on lost sleep during the day!....we take turns to cuddle up in bed after he wakes up as he likes to talk and just be.......we don’t ask him to eat at a particular time, unless we are tired or have something that we have planned together.....we make a plan of going out only as a family or with his consensus because when he agrees to something he is more compliant and responsible about it.....we haven’t called people over to our house in ages simply because we realised that he gets thrown and upset if his personal and physical space is treaded upon. We have understood (after a lot of mistakes) that that is very important to him. So it has limited our interactions a great deal, for we lived a very different kind of life earlier. But this is a decision we took together.
To me and Raghav that really didn’t matter so much as we seem to prefer to be alone and away from huge gatherings. But for my husband, it was a huge change as he was very outgoing. However that was Raghav’s need then and it was important to us. So we went into self-imposed hibernation or isolation. We lost a few friends, some thought we were crazy to do what we were doing with him, they told us that he needed to be with children to learn social skills, etc. But that was not as important as our child, and so we withdrew. Initially we fought a lot over this as it was difficult for my husband to adjust, but when he saw how much Raghav was uncomfortable, he understood. I would not call it a sacrifice on our part. It was fulfilling our child’s need. Our child’s need of unwinding, relaxing, unlearning, healing and just being himself. And it helped all of us I think. It helped us look inwards and break again from the comfort of belonging to a group. We just went with the flow of where our life was taking us. We discovered new, real people like our driver, the person who irons our clothes, beggars on the streets, carpenters, plumbers, the computer person, lost animals, shopkeepers, neighbours, and so many others who we never had time to stop and talk to before. Our world changed and grew.
Media - Letting go of control and fear
Raghav also started watching more TV, which was one thing I dreaded. My fear of it becoming an obsession did not allow me to give him that freedom initially. Here again, I must thank the Universe for making me see it in a different light through my husband. He was the one pointed out to me that Raghav only watched certain programmes on CBeebies, never any other channel. And during the period of going into our own little world, this was the way he perhaps de-stressed and also learned some things in the bargain.
I suddenly held myself back and gave him the space to do what he wanted. He watched TV for days......months until finally one day it stopped on its own. I was so relieved. My son had taught me that it would not become an obsession. That was what I was afraid of. When this realisation came to me, I suddenly saw a pattern in all that chaos – I discovered that Raghav did things in phases. He would keep at something for a long time and perhaps go deep into that area till he figured out himself perhaps that he had learned enough through that and then would jump to something else. He did that with everything – watching TV, trying to make friends, building with LEGO blocks, painting, playing board games.......
The other most important realisation for me was that he was a self-learner and loved the visual medium. So these gadgets – TV, iPad, computer, LEGO, and others were the mediums through which he could learn in both those ways. And it has been amazing how much he has learned this way. So now, we borrow some lovely DVDs about our planet, wildlife, etc. from the British Council Library and watch those together. We are members of two libraries and borrow books on various subjects to read. He bonds with his dad by exploring things on the iPad. Now he usually times himself with the TV and other media. When he cannot stop on his own even after that, but wants to, we have a long chat. He is more responsible with those now. He is also able to tell me why he watches TV while he eats – he says that he feels comfortable then and is able to eat better. And all along actually the biggest fight I had was with my old patterns of thinking, believing and being.
Getting away from our friends circle also meant that I had to become playmate to Raghav every single day as he had no friends his age or older to play with, even though there were many kids around where we lived. I had to play football, cricket, Frisbee, pretend to do pit-stops for his bicycle which he pretended was a race car, and any other game he thought of. Initially I resisted as I was the only mother down there playing like a kid! I also resisted being Raghav’s voice when he had to deal with other kids or parents. It felt odd, but Raghav showed me the way. I understood that that perhaps was my role then – to speak for him, so that he would learn to speak in those situations on his own. And he did. And then I began to enjoy this time with him and have fun......today I am glad that I did and continue to do that with him, because I get to be with the kids and that is a great place to be in. I know the kids more than the adults in our apartment complex and we all have fun together sometimes. I also see it as exercise for myself with all the bending, running, kicking I have to do. I feel fit. The frequency of my wheezing episodes has come down a lot.
I have also learnt through these experiences that play time is the time when kids really need adults to be around – not to control and take sides and solve problems – but to be there to empathise with both and get them to understand each one’s point of view, which in turn would get them to solve their own problems with one another. That is the time I feel when kids are actually free to express themselves and their personalities and therefore the time when most clashes usually happen.
So as I once again broke free of some of my conditionings that kids need other kids as playmates, I realised that Raghav was becoming more comfortable with himself and others. It was a slow process and the patience was well worth it. He goes through phases of wanting to play with another kid and being alone, which is actually much like what we do as adults – and that is perfectly fine I think. We all need a little time to ourselves. Perhaps he needs more of that. That is how I see it. In no way has he lacked in social skills and had difficulty interacting with people. I think the problem was before when he was in school. Not any more.
With all that self-imposed isolation, which I was getting worried about at times, he showed me so many times that he was actually ok. There was a time when out of the blue he decided to dress up as Santa and go down to the kids with gifts – chocolates and things that he had made. He did that some months before Christmas! He repeated it for 3 days. That was his novel yet effective way of getting to know the kids here and making sure that they got to know him as well. After that, every single child knew that he was Raghav and that he was homeschooling and they all called him Santa! Then last year during Navratri, he insisted that we celebrate it by displaying dolls like we usually do in the south. He made a list of people he wanted to invite. He planned the entire thing and even divided the list into smaller groups of 3 families per day –which was the manageable number according to him. And he handled the show beautifully with hardly any inputs from me. He could deal with old ladies, young babies, his friends, and some of my friends with utmost elan. Yes there were no niceties, no pretense. He was himself and happy with being that way.
I also read a few books around that time suggested by a friend and that helped me resolve a lot of issues related to talking to kids. I realised and learnt for the first time how to talk to Kids with respect and trust and empathy without taking sides. It is the most difficult thing for me to do even today, but I am much much more aware of how I say something now. And that also in a way helped other kids relate to us I think, because I would not take sides or put them down, nor would I go with everything that Raghav was saying. That I think helped some of the kids who interacted with us to just be and therefore find their own solutions. Left to their own ways, kids are actually so detached I feel. They do not bother about the niceties of life and please, thank yous, his and byes. They just come and ask, play for a while and then go their way when they are bored or find something more interesting to do. It is most often only when we as adults interfere with our prejudices and conditionings that problems arise.
I found myself interfering most when it came to sharing toys. I was brought up with the misplaced value that sharing is a must, a virtue and that it was a nice or polite way to be with friends. I remember that as the older of two siblings, I was always told to give in to my sister. And this came up when sharing toys with other children became a huge issue with Raghav. Atleast I saw it then as an issue. It used to anger me that he would say no to kids coming home who touched his toys or wanted to play with him. I was so bogged down with this and could not find a way out, that a chance call to my friend to share how upset I was with this got me thinking more about it. I went back to the root and again realised that it was my fear of the outcome – what would people say or think of this – and my own childhood experience of perhaps not possessing enough before having to give freely, that was actually eating me up. That understanding changed everything.
I taught myself new ways of saying things to Raghav and other kids who he would bring home. I empathised with both sides. I told Raghav that that was perhaps a very special toy to him or that he just did not feel like sharing his toy now. And I told the other kid that I understood how he really wanted to play with that toy; but it was Raghav’s and he did not feel like or was not ready to share it just yet; and that when he decided to share it with him, he would do it very happily. I cannot tell you how much those words helped every time I said them. I healed myself and I gave Raghav a feeling of ownership. That is the most crucial step before sharing comes in naturally I think. If we are allowed to possess enough (and that enough is different for different people),then we will give freely and happily. After all, only when one’s own cup is full can one give, right? Now Raghav is much more willing to share some of his things, when he can trust the other child enough and knows that he will not mishandle his toy. That is very important to him.
Trusting the Universe
All this did take a toll on me now and then. I started falling sick more often and very tired. I worried a lot about how Raghav would manage without me if I fell sick, because our lives were so entwined 24 x7. I went through phases of getting angry with my husband for not taking time to understand him and his needs. I just wanted a break. Usually these breaks happen when we go on holiday every few months. But this time it was a different solution that the Universe offered me.
Two years ago, there was a crisis at home. We discovered that my mother had cancer in one of her breasts and uterus and that she had to undergo many tests and two major surgeries. My father was shocked and very anxious. I had no time to feel all that really. We were contemplating what to do, when my mother decided that she wanted to go to Bangalore for her surgery as her sister was a gynaec there and she would be comfortable with her around.
I did not know what to think. I was kind of thrown as I did not know what to do with Raghav. He had never been away from me for even a day! It meant that we had to be in Bangalore for a month at least. And I could not have Raghav with me as he would not stay with anyone except his dad or me, we would have to stay in my cousin’s house in Bangalore and the hospital would not allow kids. I was left with no choice but to leave Raghav at home with my husband. It was one of the most difficult decisions to make for me as a mother. I was torn between two responsibilities and today I am glad I decided to do what I did. I went with my mother. I talked to Raghav a lot about it and he said he would be ok. In fact he was excited at the thought of being with his dad, going to the office with him, travelling etc.
Then, I had to deal with my emotions – fear of what would happen to my mother, my dad, what would happen after, fear of my husband and Raghav having fights and misunderstandings, fear of the process that we had worked on so much being undone.....they were things beyond my control and imagination really. So I left it to God with a fervent prayer that he would give me the strength to take on everything that I was being offered, without resistance. That was all I could do. And everything fell into place so magically from then on.
It renewed my faith in the Universe and its design. My mother had been diagnosed early and so she got through with just the surgeries and no chemotherapy even! My husband made a conscious effort to understand Raghav without my interference or being Raghav’s voice when they had misunderstandings or arguments. He got to cook for Raghav too (believe me he doesn’t know how to nor ever felt the need to!), get him ready for the office, handle all Raghav’s needs and difficulties, bring him over to Bangalore to see me every weekend, travel with him on work, manage the house......EVERYTHING!
I got to understand what it was like to be alone without the two people I loved so much and was allowed to do what I wanted to and needed to for my mother without having to worry about all this. Raghav did not speak to me for a month till he either saw me there or till I came back home. That was the hardest part. I managed with hearing his voice while talking to my husband on the phone. And really I was all alone there to deal with everything. I came to terms with that solitude.
Raghav also probably learned that he could be without me, that his Dad could take care of him and his needs; he learned the value of his father’s time, what he did for a living, that he was making an effort to understand him and learned to organise himself better and plan his day. He also saw me bathe and take care of my mother like a child and understood how we need to take care of old people.
The greatest learning for me however was this - when you are in tune with the universe, you understand how the events at a particular point in your life are so beautifully choreographed by an unknown Power......Life is so amazing if you just stand back, watch and listen with your whole being.......The Universe had taken care of so many issues that were hounding me, just by this one stroke. And what I got in return was all the strength that I needed and renewed faith in the Supreme Power.
So I have come to realise that there are no readymade answers to the challenges in this unschooling journey, neither are there any right or wrong ones I think. I realised that every little thing we experience or think about stems from a process that happens within, and that is after all the very purpose of our existence in this world. I believe that the Universe and children give us opportunities to evolve and become better human beings. If only we take those opportunities.
Today, both my husband and I have no worries at all about Raghav .......and it has taken us all these years of being with him 24x7 and allowing him to teach us everything about life from scratch and from his perspective, that has made us feel this way. It does not worry us as to what he is going to do later on, whether he will go to school or not, how we will teach him, what he will learn, whether he will be sociable or like to be by himself......none of that worries us today.
He has of course learned many things on his own with my role being that of a bystander. He has learnt mental maths (and can combine numbers in his head and add them) just by watching the IPL games and playing cricket with us. He taught himself multiplication facts just by building with his LEGO - counting the bumps on the blocks repeatedly and finding a particular number of blocks to build something. His developed an interest in art and craft through Mister Maker – a programme on CBeebies. He asked to help in cooking and started making up his own recipes after watching “I Can Cook”. He reads on his own, watches Youtube videos on how things work, explores websites on astronomy, the human body, geography and others and comes back to me and teaches me stuff I didn’t know before. He writes shopping lists for me, watches and names clouds at sunset, likes to predict the weather, makes up stories based on things he has read, makes recycled gifts and cards for family and friends, and plays Angry Birds or Temple Run, challenging his father many times.
And through all this he has taught me an important lesson in life – that kids do not need to be taught anything.....they just need to be allowed to BE. And these revelations came up on their own whenever I started doubting what we were doing. It was a huge knock on my ego for me – a person with a teaching background! But it has been a wonderful journey with Raghav leading the way. I am happy to follow wherever he takes us.
Today, we live everyday as it comes....we do what we want to do that moment........nothing is pre-defined or planned, unless it comes from Raghav himself. Believe me, it was not easy at all to be like this in the beginning, and even now, I oscillate between wanting to do something together to just letting things be......but the variations are not so frequent anymore! I have learnt to enjoy every event to the fullest and take time without hurrying and suddenly it seems like we are learning so much about each other and life!
Almost every day I am amazed at how much can be learnt with no formal teaching at all! When you just go with the flow of life and what it has to offer you every day, everything just happens the way it is destined to and at the perfect moment that it needs to happen. I believe that there is a readiness for every little thing in life and only when we try to push that to happen sooner or later that the problems arise. Many may read this as having a fatalistic attitude to life.....but I know I am not fatalistic. When you live each day with an unshakeable belief in the universe and God and stop worrying about the future or the past, I guess the surrender or acceptance or understanding allows one to experience everything fully - the way it was meant to be.
Like I read somewhere – “"In faith, there are no suppositions. In surrender, there are no negotiations."
Here’s to celebrating the moment.....celebrating the miracle of living and learning every day!