Monday, December 29, 2014

Watching Oneself

Raghav was having some physical discomfort, to which his reaction is usually kind of extreme and often very loud (for us). It was this time too.

Only this time, a few minutes later, he comes up to me and says this:

"The key is to be calm when this is happening.....and not get anxious. See, now I am better, and so I am calm."


I smiled and asked: "What?" (because he was being calm after and not during what he was going through).

He figured that out himself though and said smiling:" Yeah...I know what I just said kind of doesn't make sense..." :)

A few minutes later, he added:
"I was anxious when that was happening and my breath was short and fast. The key is for me to slow down my breathing when it is happening, so that I don't get anxious. Then I will be calm."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Living Wisdom


We (Raghav and I) were planning what to take with us today to spend the day again with my sister and family. When we are home by ourselves, we don't need to plan our days. We decide what to do in the moment. But when we are with people who like to plan and 'know' what they need to do next, we are learning to flow with that too. So here is our conversation from this morning....

Me: Do you want to think about what you would like to take with you today, or what you want to do with A today?

R: He loves Minecraft. I don't think I need to take anything else.

Me: I don't think R (my sister) likes A watching Minecraft all day. She shared that with me yesterday. Why don't you think about taking a DVD to watch with him today, as he likes watching movies and R doesn't mind him doing that I think?

R: But why doesn't she like Minecraft?

Me: I think because there is violence....like killing mobs etc.

R: Yes, but it is only a game! And that is what adds realism to it. If you couldn't die in Minecraft or other things couldn't die in Minecraft, it would not be real at all.

Me: What do you mean by realism or realistic?

R: Well, dying and killing other people is 'real'. That's what happens in real life.....in the world.

I smiled and nodded.

Me: Do you think that by playing games that have violence in them, there is a chance that you will or might become violent in real life?

R: No! It is only a game! I won't be violent in real life because I don't want to. By playing these games, there is a 99.9% chance that I will not become violent.

Me: (smiling) So there is a 0.1% chance that you might become violent in real life?

R: Yes. Because I cannot predict the future can I?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

To see what we don't want to see....

We were just leaving to go home, after spending the whole day at my parents' place with my sister and little nephews. Raghav was packing all his stuff into his bags. My little nephew was trying to help him, and picked up Raghav's new Lego creation - a train that he had just finished building over two days. As he was carrying and moving it to the bag, it fell from his hand and parts of it came off. Raghav screamed - his eyes closed tight, his hands fisted, his teeth grit hard, his whole body taut with anger. My little nephew looked a bit rattled and upset as he clung to my father, hugging him tight while sitting on his lap. He didn't budge from there for the rest of the time that we were there.

Soon, there were more screams from Raghav (when Raghav screams, he really SCREAMS!!) as he picked up the pieces and figured out that one piece was actually broken. Six adults (each with their own thoughts), one bewildered little baby, one kid who was like a mini volcano erupting, and another little kid who seemed confused and upset.

Raghav ran away screaming into another room. I went with him. For the first time I think, Raghav allowed me to go near him and hold him. Usually he needs and would ask for his space (to be physically away) when he was going through some strong emotions. I held him and asked if he was feeling angry. "I am really really very angry!!!....with A!!", he screamed, bursting into tears. "That piece is broken.....it cannot be fixed! he should not hold it that way...he must carry it with two hands!", he cried.

I understood how he felt. This was a new set that we had got him for Christmas, after many many months. Both my nephew and Raghav had sat down to build with their new sets today. Raghav was heartbroken that the set he had wanted for so long, what he had waited to get and build for so long, was broken. It was a little piece that was broken. But it was not only a little piece.

My husband and I sat down to try and figure out with Raghav as to which piece had broken. Everyone else was around watching us.
My mother added: " What do you get out of screaming? Is it going to get fixed?"
Raghav replied vehemently, screaming even more:"I can't help it! I am angry!"
And I added quietly: "He is very angry and so wants to scream."

My husband picked up the train and examined it. Raghav showed him where it had broken. We realised that it could not be fixed, nor could it be stuck with strong glue, as that part would then become immobile. But the train could still move on tracks. My husband showed that to him. We suggested that he could remember to carry that part separately in his hand, every time he was carrying the train, so that it would not fall off again. Raghav agreed. He then tried to fix the other parts that had come off. But they weren't fixing properly as he was already very irritated. We heard a few more screams as he tried to fix them again and again. My husband suggested that he put everything in the bag as they were and go home and try and fix them, as he would be in a better space - calmer and less angry. "No, I won't be calmer!", Raghav screamed.

All he was looking for was for us to stay with him and his anger in that moment. He was not asking for it to be fixed or wished away. "I am very angry. Can you all just listen to that and accept that? Can you stop telling me how to make it go away?" Those were his words without words. I am not sure how many of us really 'listened' to that.

I looked at my nephew. I wanted to hug them both. But realised that both were not in a space to receive that. I asked him if he was trying to help Raghav, when he carried the train. He nodded and said yes. I turned to Raghav and shared with him how A was trying to help him, but that it probably slipped from his hand and fell. "That's not the way he should carry it", said Raghav. "I know, but A didn't know that," I added. And we left it at that.

Soon enough, he finished fixing the parts that he had been trying to fix through his anger, and was ready to leave. I went over to my little nephew, rubbed his back gently and whispered to him that Raghav was now very angry, but that he would probably be okay tomorrow. I told him we would meet tomorrow and we said our byes to leave to go home. My husband whispered to Raghav, asking if he would like to go and give A a hug and say something to him. Raghav shook his head vehemently, refusing to do that. We said bye to everyone and left quietly.

Later that night, just before getting ready to sleep, I asked Raghav how he was feeling.
"I feel better now. I am not angry," he said with a little smile.
I told him how I had spoken to my sister and that they were planning to come over to our place tomorrow.
"Ok....oh, then I have to remember to give those two red Lego pieces to A....his set doesn't have them, or he has lost them....I want to give two of mine to him, so he can finish off that car tomorrow. I have to help him finish that", he said. We both smiled, hugged each other and went to sleep.

So much had transpired in that little time. There was so much to learn for all of us. It wasn't about the children. It wasn't about what had happened. It was about a lot of other things....things to do with each of us and how we look at ourselves and our own thoughts and emotions. What was important to us? The process or the end? To sort things out and 'fix' them, or take things as they are, let things be and find their own levels in their own time?

This was my learning today....

Often we are so focused on the pattern we are creating or the stitches we are making, mostly focusing on trying to 'finish' the pattern or stitch, instead of watching how we are holding the cloth or needle, how we are moving it, and how it disappears into one hole and comes out through the other.

It is in these gaps between holes that the most important things happen.

Yet, we often forget this and get lost in how we can get down to 'bridging' the gap between the holes.

This is what we mostly do with all our interactions. We are often so focused on finding solutions and managing the situation, rather than staying with the emotions and our humanness. We get caught in the 'product' instead of the 'process'.


A knitter only appears to be knitting yarn. 
Also being knitted are winks, mischief, sighs, 
fragrant possibilities, wild dreams. 

~Dr. SunWolf


I also want to add here, the lovely piece about ANGER, written by the poet David Whyte. I feel that it is quite a misunderstood emotion and one that is often wished away by most people.....

ANGER

is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for. What we usually call anger is only what is left of its essence when it reaches the lost surface of our mind or our body’s incapacity to hold it, or the limits of our understanding. What we name as anger is actually only the incoherent physical incapacity to sustain this deep form of care in our outer daily life; the unwillingness to be large enough and generous enough to hold what we love helplessly in our bodies or our mind with the clarity and breadth of our whole being.

What we have named as anger on the surface is the violent outer response to our own inner powerlessness, a powerlessness connected to such a profound sense of rawness and care that it can find no proper outer body or identity or voice, or way of life to hold it. What we call anger is often simply the unwillingness to live the full measure of our fears or of our not knowing, in the face of our love for a wife, in the depth of our caring for a son, in our wanting the best, in the face of simply being alive and loving those with whom we live.

Our anger breaks to the surface most often through our feeling there is something profoundly wrong with this powerlessness and vulnerability; anger too often finds its voice strangely, through our incoherence and through our inability to speak, but anger in its pure state is the measure of the way we are implicated in the world and made vulnerable through love in all its specifics: a daughter, a house, a family, an enterprise, a land or a colleague. 


Anger turns to violence and violent speech when the mind refuses to countenance the vulnerability of the body in its love for all these outer things - we are often abused or have been abused by those who love us but have no vehicle to carry its understanding, who have no outer emblems of their inner care or even their own wanting to be wanted. Lacking any outer vehicle for the expression of this inner rawness they are simply overwhelmed by the elemental nature of love’s vulnerability. In their helplessness they turn their violence on the very people who are the outer representation of this inner lack of control.

But anger truly felt at its center is the essential living flame of being fully alive and fully here, it is a quality to be followed to its source, to be prized, to be tended, and an invitation to finding a way to bring that source fully into the world through making the mind clearer and more generous, the heart more compassionate and the body larger and strong enough to hold it. What we call anger on the surface only serves to define its true underlying quality by being a complete and absolute mirror-opposite of its true internal essence.

©2014 David Whyte
Excerpted from ‘ANGER’ From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words



Friday, December 19, 2014

What I don't like in myself is what I don't like in others

Conversations from this morning....

R woke up wanting to build a surprise for me out of his Lego blocks - for Christmas. He has been building little things because Christmas is his favourite festival. A little later, he came out of his room with a Lego creation of a little Santa on a sleigh with presents, pulled by Rudolph. Then we got talking about presents.
Me: What do you think is the best present/gift you have got?
R: You, appa and myself.
Me: So why do you feel that this is the best gift?
R: I don't know....I love you both a lot....and I love myself....I know it sounds a bit weird to say that 'I love myself'....to hear me saying it about myself...
Me: Why do you feel it is weird? Do you think it is wrong to feel and say that you love yourself?
R: No. I don't feel it is wrong. I just love myself. But it sounds weird.
Me: Is there anything that you don't like about yourself?
R: No. I like everything.
Me: Is there anything that you don't like about other people?
R: Yes. There is one thing I can think of. I don't like people getting angry with me.
Me: Do you like yourself getting angry?
R: No.
Me: Why?
R: I don't know. It is because of the way it makes me feel inside....And with other people, like with my friends, what I don't like about them comes through experience....what happens when I am with them. So if I like them 100 percent in the beginning, then if something happens that I don't like, then it comes down by say 1%.
Me: Ok...so you don't like people getting angry with you....and you don't like yourself getting angry?
R: Yes....What I don't like in myself is what I don't like in others.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Food Choices

Raghav's gyan this morning from his morning durbar with me .....:)
(His inferences from watching videos on BrainPop and reading a book on body science)

"You can be completely vegetarian and still get all the nutrition your body needs.
But you cannot be completely non-vegetarian and still get all the nutrition that your body needs. You have to have some vegetarian food too. Because non-veg foods give you only a part of what your body needs. And I think most people actually KNOW that."

Minecraft, Trust and Friendship

It is funny and strange how some conversations have their seed in the past and in the future. Much like a dandelion....some conversations start in one place and their many seeds are carried over and across to so many spaces and interactions over time....and it is beautiful to see the pattern, the flow and the journey those seeds take. This was one such conversation....

Yesterday, Raghav expressed a desire to play Minecraft with friends. I was suggesting that he go online and play, as none of his friends here were into Minecraft.

"But I have to have seen or know the person I play with. I cannot play with someone I don't know," he said quite emphatically.

And so he wanted us (my husband and me) to play with him. I agreed to try if he taught me, and also asked if he would like me to ask my friend's son who he had met here and played Minecraft with a few months ago. He was immediately all excited. So I sat and wrote to her, sharing his request.

"But why do you feel that you cannot play with someone you don't know?", I prodded on.
"Because I don't trust them. I cannot play with someone I don't trust....someone whose identity I don't know," he added. And we left it at that.

Later at night, I was telling Raghav how I was going to be in another room, talking to my friend on skype. "Who is that? Is it ***?", he asked. I smiled and said 'yes'.
"But how do you talk to *** when you haven't even seen *** before?", he asked quite surprised.
"I don't know...but I like talking to *** and *** is my friend," I said.
Strangely, my friend and I also ended up talking about trust in our conversation although the conversations flowed from elsewhere! :)

This morning, I broached the same topics again with him.
"Yesterday, you were talking about trust....how you can't trust someone you haven't met or don't know....so what does trust mean to you? What does it make you feel inside?", I asked.
With a little more prodding and some choices, he was able to tell me how with some people that he trusted, he was relaxed, comfortable and happy, and how with some others he felt anxious. And then, he came up with this...

"Both people have to feel the same way about trust, for them to trust each other," he said.

"Like I trust you and appa and Joel and Sadie and thatha and patti....and I feel that with the three of us, we feel the same way about trust.....do you think you and appa feel the same way about trust, the way I do?", he asked.

"....I think you do....but with my friends and thatha and patti, I am not sure they feel the same way about trust like I do.....so if I were to play Minecraft with you or appa, and you kill me, then the next time, I would still play the same thing with you again......but with anyone else, even if I trust them, if they kill me in Minecraft, I cannot and will not play that again with them....but I may play something else. So I trust them for some things, but not other things," he added.

"Yes....I understand....so you feel that you can trust appa and me for everything and that we three feel the same way about trust....yes, and  that is how I feel with this friend of mine too....I trust *** for everything. Trust is something that I just know and feel inside," I said.

What a beautiful conversation that was....much like a piece of embroidery, being woven slowly with magic and wonder and a lot of heart. Yes, trust is the basis of any relationship....the foundation....on which everything else gets created. Trust is like a stick-it note - it just is or happens in the very first moment of the interaction...and once it is peeled off or removed, it will not stick on easily again.



Friday, December 5, 2014

Am I Comfortable In My Own Skin?

Today we went to a birthday party - it was my neighbour's kid's birthday and Raghav really likes her. She has a way with him...a fierce persistence to get him to listen and respond to her, and even if he does get irritated sometimes, he generally listens to her and likes being with her, and when he doesn't he just tells her off. She is all of six and a good three years younger than he is. So yes, Raghav really wanted to go.

We haven't been to a birthday party in a long time...more than two years I think. Raghav has a fear of balloons (bursting) and so usually doesn't like to go to birthday parties. But he has often made an effort to go to some, especially if it is his dear friend's. He is then even willing to bear the extreme discomfort and face his fear.

And while he faces his fears, I face mine too - the fear of what people would think if he closes his ears and screams when he sees a balloon, the fear of being different, the fear of being rejected and not being seen for who we are. And so, we have often faced our fears together. There were many times, when I was the only other mom in a birthday party, as most parents would just drop off their kids and go away. But Raghav still needs me in that sense, and always has. And so I would have to be with him, be his voice, encourage him to join in whenever he could in the games and so on. I have felt embarrassed and out of place, much like a fish out of water, and yet stayed with all of that. It has paid us dividends, which I am able to see today.

So, yes we went to the party and had quite a good time too! We knew no one there, except for my neighbour and her kids. But we both felt okay about it. We sat by ourselves for a while, until others started coming in. We were introduced to some of them. One lady, who was the mom of a six year old boy, opened up and chatted with us. She introduced her son to Raghav (who also loved cars and Lego) and they actually sat and chatted for quite a while. For the first time in my life, I felt gratitude towards extroverts like her, who take the first step towards starting a conversation with people like me, who find it challenging to initiate conversations. It was a huge shift for me. All these years, I have felt out of place and extremely uncomfortable with my inability to start up conversations with some people. I have judged myself for being who I was. It has been a painful struggle to be comfortable all the time, with who I was. I have kept away and felt sad about it too. But today was different. I was able to see and love myself for who I was, and able to see the gift that others brought me, by being their bubbly, outgoing selves. When this shift happened inside, it was amazing to see the shift happening outside. I suddenly felt so free and at ease with myself and everyone, even though no one there spoke to me, and I too didn't speak. There was no need. It was perfect as it was.

Raghav was also more at ease with himself. He agreed to go there without his iPad (which happens rarely, but is beginning to happen more now!); he was happy to do nothing and just sit on his chair; he was okay to sit amidst a place full of balloons (even if he closed his ears for most parts of the time); he made friends with a boy he had never met before, and even played with him for a while. These were all huge shifts for us!



Yes, it looks like we are getting more and more comfortable in our own skins (until of course we need to shed them at some point, for some reason! ). But what amazed me the most was what transpired in the conversations between Raghav and his new transient friend. I hardly ever intervened, and am so glad I didn't! (I guess you will figure out why) I share here some parts of the conversation as I remember it....

X: What is your name?
R: Raghav.
X: Which class are you in? Which school do you go to?
R: I don't go to any school. I learn by myself at home.
X: What are you saying? How can you not go to school? Then do you sell flowers??
You must go to school. You are nine years old? You have to now start from baby class!
R: I don't sell flowers. I just don't go to school. I used to go when I was small, but then didn't like it. It was boring.
X: Yes. Actually sometimes when my friends in class trouble me a lot, I also don't feel like going...I tell my mother that I don't want to go to school. But she says that I must.
What is your favourite colour?
R: Red
X: Mine too! What is your favourite food?
R: Pasta and pizza.
X: I like french fries and pizza.
R: How can you have two favourites?
X: What is your favourite fruit?
R: Strawberry.
X: I like custard apple and banana.
And then they went on to talk about favourite vegetables listing them in order of preference.

Then, this little boy wanted to go and play 'catch', and asked Raghav if he would come. Raghav hesitatingly agreed, but wanted me to be around. I went along. Just before they started, he asked Raghav: "So do you have friends if you don't go to school?"
R: Yes, I do have some friends. A (the birthday girl) is also my friend. She is my neighbour.
And then they began to play. When they had finished, he came up to me and said: "He is very slow. See, I am smaller than him, and still I am so fast. I caught him so easily."
R: "Actually, I don't think we can say who is faster or slower. I think (but I may be wrong) we both run at the same speed. But I find it hard to cut corners, while he is good at that. That is why I think I cannot catch him, but he catches me."

Then, everyone was called in to the place where the cake was being cut. Raghav hesitated to go in as some kids had loads of balloons in their hand, and he was scared that they might unwittingly burst them. His friend saw him and asked what had happened.
R: I am scared of balloons.
X: But you are nine years old. You are not a baby. How can you be scared of balloons?
R: I am scared. I am scared that they will burst, and I don't like that....the sound.

After the cake-cutting, Raghav wanted to leave. So we excused ourselves without eating a thing. Raghav didn't want to eat the cake as he felt it would have eggs in it. So we told my neighbour and left. For the first time, I didn't feel bad or guilty or sad about hurting anyone's sentiments.

Later, in the car, we chatted about the party and how he felt there. I had been a silent observer, watching and listening to their conversations. I was able to see the innocence as well as the sarcastic adult-like, adult-influenced remarks of a six year old. I wondered how I might have got hurt with remarks like that from someone.  And so I turned to Raghav and asked him how he felt. He said that he was completely fine with everything and that nothing had upset him. I smiled. I remembered that wooden hand-crafted doll.....which has a rounded bottom, and which when disturbed or pushed, rolls around and eventually comes back to its stable position without toppling over.

"I would like to perhaps play 'catch' with J (his best friend) and see. I have a feeling that he might also not be able to cut corners like me and that we would run at the same speed. That would be more challenging for me, because it would be more fair.....I was also wondering why he said that if someone does not go to school, they must be selling flowers. That is not true. There are so many things we can do if we don't go to school. Not just selling flowers!", he added. He seemed to know exactly what his challenges were, and was willing to explore those. And he was also okay to move out of his comfort zone, like he had done today.

I was quite surprised. Yes - surprised as to how non-intervention (when it is the ask of the moment) can be the best thing to do some times. Surprised as to how one just does not need to 'work on' one's challenges persistently....that there are other 'do nothing' ways of arriving at the same place. There was no need to 'facilitate' children or 'teach' them how to handle the world and themselves...what to say and when and how. They already know.

And there is definitely a moment in time, when one does not feel the need to justify one's actions and choices.....when one's thoughts are not white-washed by redundant conditioning.....when one can smell the sweet aroma of child-like innocence and simply rest in that, enjoy that....when one can simply slip in comfortably into one's own skin. Nothing else matters then. You are centered, grounded and at peace with your own little self....inside your own skin.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- when you don't feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” 

― Charles B. Handy








Inspiration in a Bathtub!


Most of his inspiration comes when he is in a tub of water...

This morning, after a bath, R was sitting in the tub and suddenly popped this question:
"Why does the water level rise when I sit in the tub?"

Me: "Think about it....what is the difference between the tub of water without you and with you?"
A little later, he called out to me....


"Amma, I know....the amount of water in the tub remains the same with me or without me....so the amount of water that rises is equal to the space occupied by my body....obviously....because my body cannot absorb the water and I am not drinking it!"


:) Do I see Archimedes dancing in his grave?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

When in Doubt.....Ask!

I love the way this article has been written...light and easy...just like play...

The Childhood We Wish We Had

Yes, I have been in the space that Pam shares here in the article...I have celebrated and mourned my childhood, and both were needed for me to ease into play and living and learning with my child...

I still do have some inhibitions, but am more accepting and aware of those, and so is he.....and my dear husband makes up for what I cannot give or do for whatever reasons...for things I am still coming to terms with or figuring out.....and that is what I find so beautiful about life....there are just so many ways in which these cracks are filled up effortlessly....

Last night, just before going to bed, Raghav and I were talking a bit...about how he learns and about our journey now...It feels good to do a 'reality check' with him every now and then....air my doubts and questions. To me, he is a little person who is getting to know himself just like I am.....and so we talk a lot about a whole lot of things...including ourselves - how we think, feel and learn.

When I am in doubt, I just ask him. Yes. That's what I do. Simple and straight. If I am worried about his meltdowns, we sit down and talk about it. I share my worries and my fears and my inadequacies of handling situations. If I am concerned about his lack of outdoor play, I share my concerns, why I feel the way I do, emphasize my needs, talk about my fears, ask him why he is not interested and so on. If the fear of his not making friends comes up, I sit down and ask him how he is feeling about being without friends, whether he misses them, why or why not, suggest ways he could make new friends, and ask if we should have some of them over.

When I am in doubt, I just ask. And that has worked wonders for us until now. It often opens up a space where anything and everything can be offered, suggested, listened to, asked, discussed and argued about. A space where we both learn something new about each other and ourselves. A space which helps us get more grounded in the choices we have made, or shaken up beliefs that no longer serve us. And I am so grateful for this space that we share. It has been the place where maximum learning has occured for both of us....and I cherish that.

So last night, I shared with him what was on my mind. I asked him whether he thought we should 'be' with him in a different way....suggest more things, do more things with him and in other ways. I asked him what he wanted us to do while he was on the iPad or doing his own thing. I asked him how he felt about us just 'letting him be'....whether he wanted or expected something that we were not giving or doing for him. And this is what he said: "Amma, you are doing the right thing by just letting me be. I know when I need you and I will ask. I like to learn this way - by myself..... If you suggest something and that sounds interesting to me, I would love to do it. You can be however you want with me. It doesn't matter. If something is a secret and I don't want you to watch it, I will tell you. But I am happy with this way."

Was I asking for validation? Was I unsure of boundaries? Was I reeling in self-doubt? Was I giving him too much power and choice? Maybe. And maybe not. It depends on how we really want to see things isn't it?....through what lens do we want to view some thing? And that is why I feel intent is key. Intent is something that only the person thinking or doing something can really know. All else is speculation and judgement. One has to be honest with one's own self. All else is quite immaterial. So yes, I know why I spoke with my son....why I have these heart-to-heart conversations with him every now and then. It is a way I have found - to be vulnerable with him about my own fears and doubts. It is a space where I can feel and share with him the pain and joys of being simply human. Messy. Imperfect. Beautiful.Ugly. It is a space where I can perfect the art of diving deeper into my utter humanness.

So how do you play with your child? 
Do you play with him the way he would like you to? 
Do you push yourself because of your unfulfilled childhood?
Do you just rest into what comes naturally to you without wanting to become somebody you really are not?
Do you feel comfortable and happy and truly enjoy being the way you are?
Do you ever ask him when you are in doubt?

I would love to listen to your thoughts.....

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Of Ebola, Life and Death

The day started off with conversations that flowed from trains, to places around the globe, how people discovered that the earth is not flat, about day and night, to the sun not really rising and setting, to gravity in all things and attraction, to the movie Interstellar (we haven't watched it yet, but we Googled and watched the trailer), about living in the beginning of another ice age now and into the ebola virus and death. It was quite an odyssey!

We have spoken about death in many ways before, from when Raghav was quite young. It has often been the topic of many a conversation we have had over the years. Some months ago, when I was stalked by the fear of dying yet again, strangely, it came up with him too, even though I didn't share my fear then with him. I was having these sudden aches and pains over a week, and quite a shooting pain on one side of my abdomen on one day. It made me curl up and sit in the womb position. My husband got worried and started imagining all kinds of things and shared his concerns and fears with me. Although I knew that it was a passing thing, for the time that it stayed with me, this pain raked up that old fear of death and disease again.

Raghav then saw my husband googling something about appendicitis, and was in tears. I held him close and asked him what was up and he shared with me how he had watched a video on BrainPop on appendicitis and how it could be fatal if it was not diagnosed early enough. I asked him if he was worried that my pain could have anything to do with appendicitis, and he nodded, tears streaming down his face. We then sat and talked a little more. I asked if he was scared of my dying, and he broke down. We sat for a long time, holding each other in silence, just listening to our hearts beat. Just speaking our hearts was enough. Sharing our fears was enough. It was freeing and refreshing. And brought us back to the present moment quite effortlessly. I am glad that we speak of death with this ease.

Yet, I can also see how some people would probably question watching such videos, out of concern. Why would anyone want to rake all these things up unnecessarily? That is a valid point. But how long can we run away from what is real and alive? How much can we push things up under the carpet, waiting for an opportune moment to face it? I feel we are always ready for everything. We don't have to be readied in anyway. That readiness is all in the mind and in the way we interact with life.

So today, when he started off speaking about the ebola virus, there was a kind of detachment and matter-of-fact-ness in the way he spoke. Atleast that is what I sensed. I didn't know much about the ebola....I haven't been keeping up with the news and knew nothing of it really. So it was interesting for me to hear him lecture to me about the symptoms, causes, prognosis, treatment etc. His learning was solely based on BrainPop, but it was thorough. And with that learning came further questions.

"Why are people kept in isolation when they think someone has Ebola?
Why are they so scared?", he asked.
And then, as if to answer himself, he said:"Well, everyone is scared of dying. That is our biggest fear."
I was quite shocked! But prodded on....
"So are you scared of dying? Why?", I asked quietly.
"Yeah, I am scared...because it is painful...", he added.
"But why should death be painful? Do you think it is always painful?", I asked.
"It is painful because people suffer when they die," he retorted.
"What is suffering? Why do you feel people suffer when they die? What is pain? Do you feel death is painful?", I repeated.
"Suffering is when you want something to happen in a certain way and it doesn't happen that way...no one wants to die and so they suffer...and people usually die from some disease.....so it must be painful for them no?.....but I am not only talking of that pain...it is also painful for people who love them.....like when some family member who you love dies, you feel sad and hurt....you don't want them to die....that is the pain that I mean," he explained.

There was so much thought and heart that had gone into those words he shared. I was deeply moved by his own efforts and ways of understanding and making sense of intangible things. And then we went on to talk about the different ways in which people die, how it need not be painful all the time, and how death was important for life.
We spoke about flowers and leaves withering and dying and becoming dust, which in turn becomes the soil in which seeds sprout....
.... about animals and birds and insects dying and becoming one with the earth.
....about people dying and what happens when we bury them, or burn them or leave them exposed to the elements.
.... about how death restores balance, and how things cannot exist forever in the same way.
....about the peels and rotten vegetables and fruits, or leftover food that I put into my kambha and how that is turned into compost which is used in the garden for plants to grow.
....about the cells in our body dying and rejuvenating everyday.
....about how life moves to death and how death moves to life and how our fear of death is because we want to live forever.

And we came back to talking about how we are currently living in the throes of the early years of another ice age, and how the earth was going to be destroyed slowly, to perhaps give birth to new life. Strange how we had come full circle! Strange how everything that initially seemed disconnected, was actually connected so intricately! I guess that's what happens when you speak of life and death. Both are interwoven in the seamless fabric of our everyday lives, and yet we do not stop to think about them so much....or look deeply into the threads that bind us in a magical interconnectedness.

But conversations have a way of bringing these nuances out....they have a way of making us face our deepest fears time and again, and help us move effortlessly to a place of love and connection for all things. I love our conversations....because that is the way we connect and learn the most.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is a lovely poem by David Whyte that speaks about our own ultimate disappearance....and about being present to everything....

No Path

There is no path that goes all the way. Not that it stops as looking for the full continuation. The fixed belief we can hold, facing a stranger that faces the trouble of a real conversation.

But one day, you’re not imagining an empty chair where your loved one sat. You’re not just telling a story where the bridge is down and there’s no where to cross. You’re not just trying to pray to a God you imagined would always keep you safe.

No. you’ve come to the place where nothing you’ve done will impress and nothing you can promise will avert the silent confrontation; the place where your body already seems to know the way, having kept to the last its own secret reconnaissance.

But still, there’s no path that goes all the way. One conversation leads to another. One breath to the next until there’s no breath at all, just the inevitable final release of the burden. And then, wouldn’t your life have to start all over again for you to know even a little of who you had been?


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

See Your Dream Came True!

A few days ago, for the first time in all these years, we cooked dinner as a family. We made guacamole and tacos with a rajma and vegetable filling. Raghav was the chief chef, delegating the work and following through with his instructions on how we should cut things, what we should put in etc. It was real fun!

He was the one who coaxed my husband to join in and then when he did and happily, Raghav was the first to exclaim to me: "Amma! See your dream came true today!" I was touched that he remembered the dreams I had shared with him long ago.

Yes I had waited many many years for this moment.....these are the little-big dreams on my list....and knowing how Life made it happen through my son, while all along I had expected it to happen in another way, flooded my being with unspeakable joy. Feeling really grateful for these little things....

Here are some pictures of those moments.....Well I did my bit too, but the other two were too engrossed in what they were doing, to take pictures of me! :)







Monday, December 1, 2014

Explaining Unschooling

Yesterday, we were at my dad's place for lunch as he had a friend and co-activist from the UK, over for lunch. He was a warm old man with lots of endearing stories about his family and grandchildren. Amongst many other things that ranged from government policies to activism to social boycott to corruption, we also discussed unschooling. Because he was fascinated by what we were doing with our son.

We had almost the usual barrage of questions, with the only difference this time being a keen interest on his part (unlike many others we have faced) to understand what it was that we were doing and how. Here are some:

So do you follow a currciulum?

You must have a hard time being at home and taking care of all of your son's learning?
What about pushing him to learn things that he does not like learning? Don't you see a need to do that?

There is just so much out there in the world in terms of knowledge. It is impossible I agree to give him a taste of everything. But what about learning things that he needs to know if he has to get into the real world?

What about physical fitness and sport? Do you do anything to encourage and actively engage him in something like that?

What about getting into university or pursuing higher education? Would he not be required to sit for exams then? Will they accept him without his taking exams or without certificates? What about subjects like calculus? Subjects that you may not be able to teach him?

I loved the questions! Not only for being questions, but because the space that they were offered in, opened up and cleared up so many things. Life has a knack of being efficient - getting so many things done with minimal effort! For one, we have not sat down and answered questions that were perhaps simmering inside my parents' hearts. We have shared our points of view and beliefs in passing as and when some queries came up, but not in this way. Perhaps the need did not arise. Perhaps it was not the right moment for that. I don't know.

Both my husband and I believe that time is a great healer, and so many a time, when we have had arguments or misunderstandings amongst ourselves or with others in the family, we have just laid things to rest. And they have been sorted out on their own, with time, after the in-the-moment outbursts. It has often worked well for us. So even with explaining our decision to homeschool our son, we just informed our parents, briefly explained why and left it at that. We never felt a need to defend our decision or clarify things, unless we were asked to explain something by them. And so this moment today, came after many years into our journey into homeschooling.

We sat down and shared our points of view with him and what we believed in. For once, it felt so so good to have my husband speak up and share about our journey from his heart, while I added my tidbits when I felt drawn to do that. It was freeing to just sit back and listen and watch in silence for most of the time.

Although his questions were addressed and answered like we usually do, I realised that the mojo of unschooling or the living and learning journey is TRUST and SURRENDER - both of which are so hard to get across to someone who speaks from their mind-space. How does one tell and make another understand how to trust their children and life and yet live in this 'real' world? How does one 'show' people how unschooling works - because there is really nothing to 'show', and most of the time we are not 'doing' anything? If someone were to come and spend a day with us, it would surely seem like we actually do nothing! Almost all our learning happens through simple conversations, or in the silent pauses, in meltdowns and heartaches, and the simple nondescript ordinariness of everyday moments, flowing seamlessly into each other. That is where the inspiration is.

And this trust and surrender to each moment is the hardest part of the process and journey to transfer or transmit to another....quite impossible. And yet, I feel that this is the essence.





Sunday, November 30, 2014

What's in a name?

It was another one of those beautiful morning conversations....

R: "Why did you name me Raghav?", was the question today, as he sat with a lost look in his eyes, inside his most favourite place in the world - the tub! :)

Me: "I don't know....it just felt right....that was the name I wanted for you if you were a boy."

R: "But why did you choose that name? Why didn't you choose something else?"

Me: "I just felt that it was perfect for you, even before you were born...I just knew it inside."
"And then, after you were born, appa's parents i.e. your patti and thatha wanted to follow the custom of naming their grandson or grand-daughter after the grandfather or grandmother and wanted a naming ceremony. I was thinking about it and realised that Raghav was perfect because it had a part of both your thathas' names! It all worked out so beautifully."

R: Why do they have a naming ceremony?

Me: I don't know. I will have to find out. No one was able to answer when I asked them then.

R: I think choosing a name should be done like voting. Whichever name gets the maximum votes should be chosen.

Me: But I don't think I would have been happy if by voting, another name had come up for you. I really liked the name 'Raghav' and wanted that for you. I would perhaps be the one calling your name the most, and if it was not something that I was happy with, I would have been sad all the time. So I don't think voting is a good idea.

R: Yeah....I also don't think I would have liked any other name. I actually like my name. I think it is perfect for me!

Me: Why? Why do you feel that it is perfect for you?

R: Because I feel I am like that.....the way I act....80% of the time I am happy....only 20% of the time I am sad....so I feel that it is perfect for me. It makes me happy. I like my name. It is also not very common no?

:)

A little later, when I was in the balcony sorting out the compost, he came up to me quietly from the back to say this:

"I think you are the perfect amma for me.....even if you don't act like me or like the things I do."

What a beautiful gift to receive to start the day! :)

What's in a name anyway? 
Everything is perfect as it is....just as it should be.

~

P.S. - After he was born and his grandparents were figuring out his birth star (nakshatram) according to the Tamil calendar, I came to know that he shared the same birth star as Rama, and was born at around noon just like Rama....and the name that I had chosen for him was another name for Rama! 
(I didn't believe in astrology then nor mythology and related with them as figments of imagination and as just another story) 
But speak of coincidences and synchronicity! :)

Conditioning - Understanding how the world works....

Raghav was in the tub after his bath this morning. Sometimes, that's where his inspiration and questing questions come from. And I love being in that space with him.

This morning, we were talking about something to do with his childhood. He wanted to know when he started walking, talking etc. and how. I shared with him how I felt that he didn't even try something until he felt 'ready' to do it - that was how it was with walking and talking and many things. I told him how he didn't crawl at all, nor hold on to things and walk so much. He just got up and started taking his first steps, and didn't even fall so much. A similar thing happened with talking. He would gurgle a lot as a baby, and babble a little, but there was not much of using unintelligible words with him. He spoke his first word when he had just turned one and it was very clear. The words he used after were also very precise and clear.

"So I didn't know how to talk when I was born right? Then how did you know what I needed?", he asked.

"Well, you cried....you couldn't talk then," I added.

"So then, you tested and found out what I was trying to say through my crying right?....you probably tried different things and found out which ones made me happy or comfortable?", he went on.

I was quite amazed at his logic and inference. So I asked him how he knew or guessed that and if he had read about it somewhere. This is what he shared:

"No. I just know. Because I have experienced that so many times in my life. Like some time back, I remember how I used to get so irritated and not know why or what was causing that irritation, and we talked about it, and you told me that we could think of some things which could be causing it. So we made a list - like needing to go to the bathroom, hunger, tiredness or sleep, or something else. And then I thought about and tried out each one every time I was irritated."

"Yeah....but how did that help?" I prodded on.

"Because by doing that I got to know what was it that was causing that irritation and what was not. It was by testing that I found out....some things made me feel happy and comfortable and some things didn't, and so I found out. ....and so I think that you also must have done the same thing when I was a baby and cried for everything..," he said.

I stood amazed at how these connections and learning happen effortlessly - how we learn about how we learn. :)


Tidbits from today....

We were at my dad's place for lunch as he was having a friend from UK over. We were as usual late :)....we have huge issues with keeping to time as a family! They had already started eating and as we entered, my dad's friend got up to shake hands with Raghav.

"Hello mate! Hello young man!", he said, stretching out his hand.

Raghav looked surprised, but smiled and shook hands, before disappearing upstairs. Later, he tells his dad that he was surprised because 'mate' is usually used by Australians and not by the English, and that he was wondering how my dad's friend had used an Australian word when he was from England! :)

When we shared this with my dad's friend, he smiled and shared how the Australians may have learned it from the English, because he's been using the word 'mate' from when he was quite little :)

My learning: 

It is funny how we get stuck up with 'concepts' in our head and how Life wakes us up constantly, encouraging us to break away from fixed 'concepts' of things and people...we need jolts like that every now and then to shake up our beliefs....and that is what living and learning is all about.


****************

We were driving back home....

 I guess Raghav saw a bike in front of our car, weaving in and out through the traffic at a manic speed and exclaimed:

"Oh wow! That man on the bike is playing Lane-splitter in real life!"

(for those of you who don't know, Lane-splitter is a bike racing game) :)


****************

Practice does not have to make perfect.
That has been my learning with Raghav.

He has never been one to keep practicing stuff over and over again until he thinks it is perfect enough for him. He has been one who attempts things only when he 'feels' that he is ready for it.
That has been the way with him whether it has been starting to walk, cycle, cook or pretty much anything.

Tonight we were making lasagne for dinner and he was helping with all the cutting. I was quite amazed to see how he cut everything almost perfectly to size!




Friday, November 21, 2014

Discipline

I don't remember being disciplined by anyone while I was a kid and growing up. And with a husband and parents who gave me the space to be myself, I guess there was no real need for discipline. It came from within when it did. And when it didn't, well, I just fell and hurt myself and learned the hard way.

Discipline for me is about self-control and inner balance....knowing one's boundaries and limitations. And that comes with the freedom to explore. How many spaces do we have where we can explore that fearlessly? Where we can stop shushing ourselves or others for just being ourselves or themselves? Where we can truly honour people for whatever they are feeling or doing in the moment, and see them for who they are? I know that I don't do that all the time. I am not so large-hearted. But I am happy that I have been able to do that for my son and my husband, to a large extent, in the small thousand odd square feet of space that 'belongs' to us on this planet, and the limitless space in my heart, that I am of course unable to fathom and see for myself many a time. Maybe that is why we say: "Home is where the heart is".

As with all my other stories, that grew and evolved from deep darkness, this story of discipline too grew from that space. With my son. We had many challenges with him (which I hope to write about some day) more so because we were ill-equipped to deal with them. And so like most people in the crowd, we too resorted to 'train' him to put on his best behaviour, change and modify his behaviour when we felt it was 'bad', tried to explain how another person would feel if he did something that was disturbing to them, and so many more strategies. What we didn't realise was this - that the moment and conditions were not appropriate for these to work (what we call readiness) and that as a person, he was one who just could not and would not 'listen' to another. Everything had to come from him....from his own experience. Today I understand that better. Today I know that he is there to challenge and change the way people breathe....he is there to shake up the foundations of what we have built or created and believe as 'norms', and create something new himself. He is not there to do what others tell him to do, if it does not make sense to him. So yes, he is there to figure out his own boundaries through exploration and challenging what exists. And I am happy that my husband and I have been able to give him that space.

And yes, while our upbringing often plays an important part in the way we bring up our children, I am also seeing how there are other hands, other factors, other voices that play a role in that, often to the detriment of our children's freedom to learn and choose. But I am also able to see now, how that is also crucial to our evolution and interaction. Each ingredient adds to the flavour and aroma of what is being cooked.

A few weeks ago, Raghav had this long conversation with us about how he wanted to go back to eating 'corn puffs', which in my mind is a sticky, orange, addictive junk food. (You can read about that conversation here) And yet, because he had made out this whole plan on his own that he wanted to try out, we went with his choice and bought him a packet some days ago. He wanted only one packet, which he was going to keep for a whole week. This was what he wanted to do:
  • he wanted to buy only one packet and check for himself how long that would last ( whether it would last a whole week or less)
  • he wanted to eat only one cup (small one that he chose) every day - which he said was going to be the hardest for him to control, because when he ate some, he always had this urge of wanting to eat more :)
  • if he finished the packet earlier, he wanted to wait for the week to go by before he bought another one
  • he would brush his teeth every time, after he ate this and take care of his teeth.
He has about three more days to go for the week to finish and reflect on the challenge he posed himself. And he has done great up until now! He has kept to the boundaries that he has drawn up for himself (I don't think I have the kind of self-discipline that he has, even at this age). And I also don't care if he fails to meet his own challenge. I know that there will be something for all of us to learn either way. And that is what is most important.

My wish is for children and adults to have the space to explore what discipline means to them individually. My wish is for more of us to start creating those spaces in our little homes, or where we truly feel that we belong and can be ourselves. 

Discipline needs devotion and commitment. Can we be devoted and committed to our own selves and our boundaries?

~

"Discipline yourself, and others won't have to."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Conversations

Conversations.
Yes, that's what we do for most parts of the day.
That's how we connect.
That's how we learn.
That's how we have fun.
Here are some from today....

***********

A Measure of Love

Of late, Raghav has been coming up to me and hugging and kissing me a lot, just out of the blue....when he is walking past, or when he comes close to me to share something with me, or when he suddenly remembers me and feels like doing that. It has been such a pleasure to be at the receiving end....every time my heart just fills up to the brim and overflows.....I am discovering this new way of being with him in the moment fully....and a sense of freedom...as if something between us has given (in a positive way)....and basking in this very 'different' kind of joy :)

So this afternoon, while I was sitting and reading something, he came up to me and hugged me, gave me two pecks on either cheek, which I returned, and said this: "Amma, do you know how much I love you and appa?"

I smiled and he added, looking into the sky for a moment: "I love you more than a million iPads!"
What a wonderful way of measuring love! :)


**************


See things for what they are!

I was talking to a friend on the phone while Raghav was first making his salad and then eating it. Just as he finished eating, he realised that I was still on the phone, and came up to me and said :" Amma, you are still on the phone! You have been talking for like two hours! When are you going to hang up?"

(I am not feeling guilty, but want to say that Raghav's estimate of time can be quite off the mark :) )

I laughed and shared that with my friend and we decided to hang up.

As soon as I hung up , Raghav turns around and tells me this:
"I didn't want or ask you to hang up. I only said that you were on the phone two hours! I am going to build with Lego now.....you can talk if you like!"

:) I learned my lesson. It was loud and clear.

See and hear things only for what they are, not for what you think they are. :)


*************

This morning Raghav was sharing some things that he had heard and seen on BrainPop, on periods, the reproductive system and so on. He was asking me how I felt during my periods - whether I feel pain, whether it hurt like when we get a wound that bleeds, how much I knew about it and so on. 

After listening to my sharing, he wanted me to watch that video with him. And then we got talking about other things...like why the female reproductive organ is different from the male one, why the testes 'hang' down and outside the body, whether we can find out the sex of the foetus before it was born etc. So I told him how determining the sex of the foetus was banned here and why. We talked about female infanticide, marriage, dowry and stereotypes - how in many places young girls are not allowed to complete their education when they reach puberty, not allowed to work and earn their livelihood and forced to fit into the roles defined by others in the family - like staying at home, taking care of children and so on.

"But why would they kill baby girls now when they have so many years to go to go to school, earn money, get married and all that? How do they know what is going to happen after so many years now? Why do they feel that that is how it is going to be? Maybe all that will change no?", he asked.

I smiled. I had no answer to give or words to share with him. 

Yes, there is really nothing more simple to do than to stay with and in the moment, and yet that is often the hardest thing to do! Phew!

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Nano Lesson on Trust

Raghav had just finished eating his breakfast of dosas with the spicy 'idli powder' that he so loves. I  was in the kitchen, when I heard a call -
"Amma, come quick.....you need to guide me to the bathroom!"

I popped out of the kitchen to see what had happened, and saw him squinting, closing both eyes and his hands outstretched.
"What happened? Did you put your hands in your eyes?", I asked.
"Yes...I forgot that I hadn't washed my hands," he whimpered. "Please...you have to take my hands and guide me to the bathroom so I can wash my eyes."

I smiled, took his hand, led him to the bathroom, and helped him wash his eyes out.

While he was wiping them after, we spoke a little more about how he felt.

"So how was it to be 'blind' for a little while?", I asked.
"I was scared I would bump into things....I had to feel around with one hand.....and I also had to trust you.....that you would take care," he said as he ran off to continue watching his DVD....

And I drifted off into thoughts down memory lane....when we carefully thought out ideas for helping people experience how it felt to be disabled....trust is such an important part of any interaction.....and I reminisced fondly about walking along everywhere with my friend who was blind ....hand-in-hand.... the ease with which we moved, almost like one body.....there was hardly any need for words to guide...it was a whole body experience....a dance.....where I would lead sometimes with a squeeze, a brush or a gentle, flowing movement of my hand, and she would lead at other times with a faint pull or a pause or a different manner of touching....it was a beautiful way to be....

Trust is the silence between notes that threads them into a song.
Trust is the space between steps that weaves them into a dance.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I Hate Advertisements!

Some days ago, while we were in the car, Raghav shared his displeasure about the ads that appear before the videos that he watches on Youtube.

"I hate those advertisements! Why do they even have those ads for videos?", he bellowed angrily.
And we talked about how they probably made money with those ads, because of which he was able to watch all his videos.

"But why do we need ads? Why can't people just go to the shop and buy what they want or feel like buying?", he added.

"Because then the buying or not depends on whether someone goes to the shop or not....and they perhaps want to make more money, they want more and more people to buy their products....that is why they put out ads....to put out a message about that product.....to tempt people to go looking for it and buy it," I said.

"Yes....I know....ads trick you," he continued. "Like I have seen that Johnson's shampoo and soap ad on Youtube, where they say that if you use it, your skin will be softer.....I have been using that shampoo for so long, but I don't feel that way.....that my skin is softer or anything...which means what they are saying is not completely right no?," he added. "That is why I never trust ads, even if they are interesting."

"Which one did you find interesting?"....I was curious to know.

"The Dove soap ad? That looks really interesting, but I would never go and buy a Dove soap....because I don't think what they say is true! I will never buy anything for which they show ads," he said. I smiled.

He wanted to know more about how they made money with ads, what are the various things which people advertise for and so on, and so we talked about ads for houses, cars, travelling, food and so on. I also shared with him how sometimes some stores advertise a sale that says -'buy two and get one free' and we spoke about how they perhaps adjust the price so that they don't lose much, or make a profit, and how people like us actually get fooled by that, as we think that we are getting something free, when we are actually not, and have paid for it in some ways. We also chatted about how sometimes they have ads for sales when they want to get rid of old stock - things not sold.

Here's how he reflected what he had understood. :)
"So that means, if there is a sale in a toyshop and they say that if you buy one car, you get one car free....and they say that you have to pay 200Rs., then actually the price of each car is 100Rs., but they sell it for 200Rs.?"
"Yes, so you are sometimes actually paying for two cars, thinking that you are paying for one only!," I added.
"Yes.....they are cheating us then," he exclaimed.

We then went on to talk about how we need to be more aware when we think of buying things, how the ads can play on our minds and what we need to think about before buying something.

Of Battles, Corn Puffs and Self-Discipline

Raghav loves eating corn puffs....the bright orange, sticky, spicy stuff that comes in packets, which we get fresh only in one store. That is probably the only 'junk' food he loves - no aerated drinks, juices and chips in packets. Not for him. But some months ago, he had two root canals done and stopped eating chocolates and this on his own. If someone brought him chocolates, he would politely refuse to take them, saying that he didn't eat them anymore. We thought that was the end of his explorations with these foods. But knowing how he likes to form his own boundaries, we should have known better! :)

Suddenly, a few days ago, he expressed a desire to eat corn puffs again. I guess he was reminded of it when we passed that store. Both Srinath and I said that we would like to talk about it a little more before deciding on anything, but we all forgot. A little while ago, Raghav remembered again and wanted to have a discussion. This is how it went.....

R: I really want to have corn puffs again.

Me: Why do you want it again now?

R: Because I love the feeling in my mouth when I eat it, and the taste. It kind of just melts in my mouth, and it is so easy to eat....I don't have to chew at all....

Me: Ok. So you like it because it is so easy to eat and it melts in your mouth? How about 'pori' (puffed rice)? You love that too don't you? That also melts in the mouth and is easy to eat no?

R: Yes, but corn puffs is different. It has holes in it, through which the saliva goes in and soaks it up. Pori takes longer to melt and is not so tasty. I like the taste and the feeling of the corn puffs in my mouth.

Me: Yeah...I understand.....but I am worried about your eating corn puffs, because you don't or forget to gargle your mouth after eating anything, and don't like to be reminded too....and I am worried that you might get your tooth problems again....do you remember what the dentist told you about cleaning your teeth after every meal, especially after eating sticky food?

R: Yes. But I will gargle and clean my teeth. I will make it a routine. Let's do one thing....here is my plan....we buy one packet of corn puffs for the whole week. I will eat only half a cup each day and only one time. Let's see how long that one packet lasts. And I will clean my teeth after each time.

S: But there is one more thing I am worried about. How do you know what there is in that corn puff? Does it list the ingredients? What if it has some chemicals or stuff that is not good for your body. We don't know what they put in it.

R: It must be made of corn flour. It does have ingredients listed on it. I like the taste and feeling.

Me: So you would rather have it because you like that taste and feeling, than think about what it might have, even if that  might not be good for your body?

S: Then why do you insist that we buy organic vegetables? We can eat anything no?

R (telling us the story with his hands): See...let me tell you....it's like this...suppose there is a battle of two teams....one team, which is the 'taste and feeling of corn puffs team' has 100 soldiers, and the other which is the 'organic' team has 90 soldiers....the 'taste and feeling' team wins because it is stronger.

We laughed and continued....it is great fun having these conversations! :)

Me: But isn't that unfair? One team is already stronger than the other. It will always win!

S: So going with the taste and feeling is stronger than whether it is organic or not or full of chemicals or not?

R: Yes. So if it is a battle between two teams - the 'organic' team which has 100 soldiers and the 'taste' team which has 90 soldiers, then the 'organic' team will win, because it is more important for me to eat organic vegetables than just eat anything else for taste.

The choice was made, the decision sealed! And I guess learning to discipline one's self, has to come from within, not without... and yes, it comes at a cost....a cost which one cannot measure if one measures it with the usual yardsticks.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Readiness, Chores, Unschooling and More....

I have come to realise now that many of the things that come up in my life today have their roots way back in my childhood and early adulthood. The way I see most of the things that I believe in today go back to my first experiences with them. I understand a little more now how those experiences were necessary and inherent to the life I was going to live, even though I had no clue about them then. I can only connect the dots backwards, never forwards.

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching Raghav slowly start to do things around the house on his own, without us asking him. It has been many many years since I stopped asking him to help with things around the house. This new milestone has been a pleasant surprise for me and has given me so much joy! There is a specialness to this joy because I can sense the joy he feels in doing these things now. He has been putting his things away after playing, wants to cut vegetables and cook his own meal, helps me with putting vegetables away, carries shopping bags, chooses his clothes to wear, puts away clothes in his cupboard, and so many other little things.

From being nervous about making him 'independent', to being a  lackadaisical mother, this has been a huge learning curve for me like with many other areas. Raghav's interest in doing things around the house waned with the imposed explorations (as part of his 'home-work') that came from school. He stopped showing any interest in any of this. A child who would earlier enjoy shelling peas, filling bottles of water, putting clothespins on clothes, and so on, simply stopped participating in any of that. And soon, I was struck with fear. Fear of how to make him 'finish' his homework, which was often activities of this sort, fear of whether he would detest chores around the house, fear of whether he would ever be independent in these things and a fear of what people would say about all this. Would they say that I was spoiling him or making him lazy? What would he do if and when he got married? (Ah yes! These silly fears don't spare anyone :) do they?) Yes, I went through it all. From desperation, to anger to irritation to pleading with him, I tried it all! Every avenue to make him independent.

But there was nothing I could do about it, no change I could effect in him, except to face my fears. Because my son would not budge. Nothing would make him budge. He would just plain and simply refuse. And that was it. He was someone who couldn't care a hoot about any form of reward or pleasure, and so it was quite impossible to bribe him with anything too. Today, I shudder to think that we tried so many of those covert tactics just to get him to do these few things that were just simply rooted in our own fears. I shudder because I can feel and understand the pain of that helplessness and the narrow mindedness that I had to go through to get here - where I am today. But I did not know any better then. I was like the fallow soil, soaked with toxins leached from previous harvests, that could not nurture any seed in it now....until it was revived and regenerated to be fit to hold fresh new life in it.

All I could do was surrender to him and life and trust that this too would be taken care of in the best possible way for him and us.

Learning life skills related to things to be done in and around the house, was an important part of my growing up too. But it was largely out of choice than out of compulsion. The compulsion was again rooted in fear - perhaps my mother's fear of what people would say, and what we as girls would do if we did not know some basics. I remember being told off time and again about clearing up after dinner - something which my sister and I fought tooth and nail about, and something which bugs me even today :) Funny how these little things stick in our heads like glue.

While we were growing up, it was my grandmother who spent a lot of time with us, more than my mother, and she is largely responsible for making me find joy in doing some of the chores around the house - that joy has stuck with me till today. Perhaps I found joy because she never forced us to do anything. She would just do it all with devotion and sincerity, while we watched. And sometimes I too would join in whenever I felt like. We grew up always having house-help or someone who would do the odd jobs around the house, as my mother also worked full time. And yet,those moments when I did some of those things myself, gave me immense joy! I remember running to sit and watch and try my hand at grinding dosa batter, the traditional way, on the grinding stone; I remember rushing behind water lorries across the street, with buckets and pots and pans to fill water in the smallest of containers, often leaving a stream of water behind me :); I remember learning how to cook from my grandmother, when my mother was away on a trip somewhere - she would teach us to make dosas of different shapes - something which I did happily for Raghav too, besides learning how to make other dishes. It was all good fun as the intent came from within! And that perhaps made all the difference.

As a young special educator, I was 'trained' to see the importance of children (especially kids with special needs) learning to do chores around the house. They were an integral part of their individualized curriculum.Of course, they had to be independent and become contributing members of the society. They had to give back. It was (if I think back now) also a way of managing the fear of parents - the real fear of what will happen to their kids if they die? There is nothing wrong or right about that fear. But I feel that often we do not pause enough to sit with those fears....we brush them aside too quickly....we want to find a solution immediately to make it all work; to make it all okay...and very often, we are so afraid of the fear itself, that we hide behind the sweet cliches that we are made to love so much....'that we need to be independent', 'that we need to contribute to the society', 'that giving back in this way makes us feel good about ourselves' and so on....Again, all these are perfectly fine....but why make them into yardsticks and milestones to be achieved by a particular time frame?....Are we too scared and too impatient to wait for these to emerge on their own? Do we give the kids a choice in these matters? Choice - not as a means to rebel, but as a means to find joy in what they do.

I can talk like this now, but back then, I too fell into the trap set up by all these cliches. Some kids in my class enjoyed working on these things, while some didn't. And we often fell into yet another trap of 'trying to make it more exciting for them' just so they would be 'motivated' to try and learn some of those, as best as they could. Yet, there were also some adults with disabilities who rebelled and chose to seek help from able-bodied friends because they did not like doing some things on their own and causing a mess. The mess was harder to handle I guess than the issue of independence. And I am thankful today to have met souls like that....who put everything in perspective for me.

To contribute or not, to be independent or not, is a choice that rests with the individual. Can we be inclusive enough to see it that way? 

I wasn't. Not with my son. I still fell into those old patterns of fears and traps. But I am grateful that Life showed me the way. Quite early in our unschooling journey, I stumbled upon Pam Laricchia's lovely blog - Living Joyfully. She and her writings about unschooling have been a great source of inspiration to me. It opened me up to new possibilities and choices, new ways of seeing and doing and being with my son, especially when it came to chores around the house. From a mother who was obsessed about 'cleaning up' toys and other stuff, I learned to let his things be. I learned to see what I saw as a 'mess' was his 'creation' and 'learning space'. I learned to see that things flowed into each other, and so something that was started today, could flow into tomorrow, rest for a while and continue after many days. I learned to respect that way of learning and being. And so we left his things as they were, until he was okay about them being cleaned up.

Often our dining table would be converted into a race track for his cars; there would be Lego structures all over the floor and house, train tracks would form mazes under furniture, and unfinished projects stacked up some place. I learned to separate my need to 'clean up' from his need to 'let things be'. Over a period of time, we understood each others' needs. He understood why I needed to put some things away, how my mind needed that order to function, while I understood his need to not clean up and how he learned. Sometimes, he would on his own make 'cleaning up' a game and use his construction vehicles to pick up things and drop them in their respective boxes. But most times, when he was okay for things to be put away, he wouldn't want to help or do it himself. He would ask me to do it. Sometimes I did it grudgingly, sometimes shouted at him for not helping me, out of tiredness, and sometimes just happily did it all myself.

Yes. We are all perfect with our imperfections. I realised soon though that it was my need to put things away and not his. He didn't see why he needed to do that. And reading what Pam wrote, helped me see that ....it helped me give him the space to be himself....it helped me trust my child and the ways of Life, knowing that he would learn what he needed to, when he was ready or willing. I am so glad that I was able to give him that space, although it came after the painful explorations of being utterly human.

I also realised that my wanting him to learn to cook and take care of some of these chores, was also rooted in gender issues. I had these strong beliefs that men needed to know how to take care of themselves; that they should not depend on women; that doing things around the house was everyone's job. I had a huge grudge against my husband's lack of interest in helping around the house, his inability to cook a simple meal for me when I was tired or sick or just like that even, and was hell bent on making sure that I brought up my son differently. And the antics I resorted to for that! Now I can laugh over it; but back then I was the incorrigible, ungrateful, nagging wife and mother. I had this weird logic (because of my past conditioning that that was the way) that if my son watched us do things around the house together, and if we were 'role models', he would automatically develop an interest in these.

And so I wanted my husband to get out of being one gender stereotype, to get into being a human stereotype! :) I goaded him to do more stuff than he already was doing around the house; I cribbed about his not being able to cook even a simple meal for me, about not 'helping' me enough with the jobs and so on. It didn't get me anywhere. My son chose to be blind and deaf to all my weird antics, and wisely so :)

And I came to my senses. I finally realised that I was falling into the same trap of 'making something that was not exciting for him, more exciting'. I was trying to control reality instead of trying to understand what reality was, and what lens I was putting on to see it. That was an eye-opening and a mind-opening moment for me. It was not about 'letting go' of something that I was holding on to, but rather a new way of 'seeing' what I was doing. A seeing which set me free, and which in turn set my son free.

Life was so much different after that. My husband started doing things more out of his own volition and not because I was telling him so. And I began to trust my son and life in different ways. It has helped immensely. When you are pushed out of your comfort zone is when you begin to truly live. And my son has a way of doing that to me time and again. I am grateful for that push, that nudge to the edge, where I have found myself over and over again.

There have been many times when well-meaning friends and family have asked me why I do so much for my son, and why he doesn't do so much....'he is always on the iPad, he is not interested in anything else', 'he is grown up now, he can help you more, help himself'....or 'don't you think he will feel good about himself if he contributes in some way to the family?', and I have often been silent, with no or few words coming out to explain myself, or smiled and said that it would happen in its own time. I am glad I trusted my heart and my son. Nothing else matters really. I guess it is good to have blinders on sometimes :)

I am glad that I waited without waiting. I am glad that I sat with my fears as they came up. I am glad I did what I did...and happy with the journey that life has carved out especially for me. That exquisite sculpting has been Life's gift to me. Today, when I see my son put aside his iPad on his own and jump up to come and cook with me in the kitchen or do things around the house, or even get out of the house without it, to help me with my veggie shopping, I know that the soil is now more than ready now and rich to nurture the seed.

Today I can cherish the gift of technology that has made my son understand what it means to be 'obsessed', what it means to be 'bored', what it means to be 'enthused', and what he can do or not do about these, without killing the seed or 'genetically modifying' it to suit and grow in my ideas of reality.

Today, I know that 'excitement' is not something that can be controlled from without, but that it emerges from within. Today I know that my son is as excited about playing with his iPad as much as he is with cooking or Mine Craft or Lego or astronomy or being alone, and that one is not better or worse than the other. Different things excite or bore people at different times, and so the 'thing' is not the cause of the excitement or boredom that one feels. Rather, it is what emerges in the timing and the space that is in the interaction between things.

And that makes me see 'readiness' in a whole new way! When we usually speak of readiness, we think of it as something that comes from within in its own time. So we usually think of a seed being ready to burst open and grow into a seedling, or we speak of the soil being ready to nourish the seed....so we think of 'readiness' as a change that happens within something. But what is a seed without the soil? What is the soil without the seed? Can one be 'ready' without the other? Readiness then is what emerges in the space that exists in the interaction between two beings or entities. The change therefore does not happen within, it happens in the space created by the interaction.

Parenting to me is not about preparation anymore. It is not about preparing the seed or the soil for life. It is about opening up to the space in between.....the interaction, that is life. The preparation and readiness emerges from that sacred space.

So what can you do to get ready the space that you find yourself in today? :)




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Minecraft and We Come Alive!

Of late, Raghav has been asking a lot of questions about his body and I kind of sensed what was on its way.....but never in my wildest of dreams did I think that it would come up through Minecraft!

Here are some of the questions that came up from him just before he was getting ready for a bath a few days ago:
What are these two things? (feeling his breast area and nipples)
Why do men and boys have them?
Why are they different for women?
Why does this (pointing to his penis) stand up erect after I go to the bathroom?
I have seen you 'nanga panga' (naked) many a time, but I haven't seen your thing (my genitals). How is it different for you?
Why do only men have these two things hanging (pointing to his testes)? I know they are the testes and I think they produce the sperm cells. But why don't women have these?
Does it hurt for babies when the umbilical cord is cut? Why do they have to cut it? Won't it just fall off by itself?
I think there are more girls than boys in the world. Is that right? Why is it like that? Why are there not equal numbers of both?

These were questions that I don't remember asking anyone while I was growing up. No one talked to me about growing up, puberty, sex and my body. All that I remember is that my parents handed me a book on sex education when I had just started my periods I think. And that was that. Most conversations on these topics were with school friends and our Biology teacher (he had an awesome sense of humour by the way, which freed us and our thoughts and feelings). Somehow I don't remember being so curious about my body and asking so many questions. Perhaps school and being with friends (it was a co-ed school from KG till the 12th) took care of all the curiosity. So in many ways, I am grateful to Life for not giving me experiences that 'conditioned' me (at least to a large extent) in a 'negative' way, at least in this one aspect of my life. I formed my own opinions about my body and my sexuality. And so I was able, today, to share my thoughts and some knowledge with my son with a pure innocence, without thinking about what I should tell him and how. However, I also remembered the day Raghav came back home from school and sobbed and sobbed asking me why he was not allowed to sit next to, hug and talk to his best friend (who happened to be a girl), when all he was doing was showing how much he loved her.....just like the way the three of us hugged each other at home.....and he was all of four then!

The questions for which I knew the answers, I gave him. I felt it was important to name all the parts by their 'real' names first. So that was what I did....and for the rest, reminded him about BrainPop, the Kidshealth.org website that we often go to and the Human Body Encyclopaedia that we have. And also suggested he have a man-to-man chat with his father when he came back home. Most often, I find that Raghav just needs this little nudge or a pointer rather, as to where and how to look or find out, and then he is often neck deep in whatever he has chosen to explore :)

He then went on to explain to me how he had seen a video on Brainpop about how sperms are produced and how when the egg meets the sperm, an embryo is formed. Then the conversation flowed to AIDS, what it stands for and how one gets it. In all this, there was no talk about 'how' exactly the body fluids meet and what actually happens. But I let that be and decided not give him what he did not ask for now.

I also had a feeling after this barrage of questions, that he would very soon ask me if he could see my genitals, as he has mentioned that before in passing. That is going to be a huge test for me and I also know deep down that I have to face the fear that I have about that. But I also feel that it is better if he asks me and I can tell or show him, rather than his getting misinformation from somewhere else some day. Not that that would make a huge difference, because we are all anyway constantly unlearning stuff! But I would. I would want to if it comes to that. However I feel about it now.

I also remembered a conversation some of us had at the special school I was working at years ago, on sexuality and the disabled. I remembered how a mother who was also on the staff rolls, shared with us how she would not hesitate to help her son masturbate or seek sexual gratification from a prostitute even, instead of curbing his natural urges. That conversation has stuck in my head. That opened up so much for me. And I am thankful to that truly magical place that has given me so much in my life, made me question everything that I believed in, and constantly spurred me to think and see things with new eyes.

Today, while we were driving for our weekly veggie shopping, instead of listening to music like we usually do , Raghav decided he would talk about a Minecraft Mod. The name of the Mod was "Minecraft Comes Alive". And what was that about? Marriage, having children, relationships, happiness levels, doing chores, and much more!
"Yes amma, this is much more real than the other mods," Raghav beamed, and went on to explain what one could do with this mod.
"But I don't understand why you would need to get married to have children. I mean....marriage was invented by humans right? It is not something of the body.....the body does not say - ok, now marriage is invented, so I can reproduce or have children...I am sure and I know that before marriage was invented people must have just had children....just like that," he added.
I agreed and also shared how some people adopt kids, how some people have kids and then get divorced, and so they are no longer 'married' in that sense, and how some people just have children without getting married at all. But I was quite baffled with his previous comments and asked him how he knew all that about marriage.

"I have been to marriages before haven't I....with you? I know because I have seen what we do in them....we have all those ceremonies and stuff.....all that has to be man-made right? But it is not what the body asks for is it?", he said.
"Yes....what does marriage mean to you then? How are babies born then?", I prodded on.
"I don't know....but I know that marriage is man-made, and that you don't need to be married to have children.... and when the sperm cells somehow are around the female, babies are formed," he added.
I smiled, realizing finally that this was the innocence of a child speaking. He knew so much and was even able to think through so much on his own and form his own opinions, and yet he did not know how exactly the sperm and the egg came together to form a baby. And so I told him. I gave him the word for it and explained how a baby could form - how the male organ had to get inside the female organ. We spoke about periods and how that was linked to the egg being produced. We also talked about what the chances were of girls and boys being born and why, connected it to pollination in plants and the countless seeds that a plant produces just to help it survive, how nature works and does whatever possible to make things survive.  Then he brought up 'happiness levels' and how villagers in Minecraft could go away if their happiness levels get below a particular point. And we spoke about how in the real world, we choose to stay on or walk away from relationships and why, how we don't always seek an easy, quick solution to a problem, just because we are unhappy and so on. He also wondered how the children in this Mod, can walk and talk and understand words, just soon after they were born! "How is that even possible amma?", he asked. And we laughed....at the realism and unreal-ism in Minecraft. What a conversation that was!

I am grateful to Minecraft for bringing these topics up in a fun, light way. I guess it made my job all the more easy, although I never dreamed that this talk would actually happen in this way! :)
I am also grateful to Life for showing me the way yet again, to trust my child, and trust what he wants to learn and how. I know that many more questions will come up, now that we have dug into this mine, and I will wait for them patiently, knowing that he will ask us without fear, and that Life will show me the way.

I just have to trust Life completely. I just have to wake up to being real and alive, messy and human, innocent and vulnerable, as many times as Life asks me to. There is just no other way. For me.