Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Day Lisa Came Home.....With a Little Doggy Love....

For his birthday, many years ago, my parents thought Raghav would love to have a puppy and got him a little dachshund. But he didn't want her. He was too scared then of dogs, and would run away or climb onto a chair or bed and not get off at all. And so we had to decline that beautiful gift. Tanya is now growing up and being cared for in my parents' house. Whenever Raghav goes there, he wants her to be kept away, as she barks a lot, and Raghav doesn't like dogs that bark a lot and loudly.

But over the years, without much interaction with dogs, his fear has reduced in intensity. There are some dogs he loves more than others (the quiet ones) and can tolerate the others. A visit to my friend and fellow unschooler's house in Pune two years ago, was instrumental in helping him understand and start liking dogs. She had a mongrel, who was mostly quiet and Raghav loved spending time watching and playing with her a bit. She was the 'ice-breaker'. :)

Many a time after that, he has asked us if we could have a dog at home. We were not too comfortable with the idea as we travel quite often and also living in a flat where not everyone is open to allowing and having dogs, was another reason for us to veto the idea in its seed. We spoke a lot about it. We shared our experiences with our mongrel - Trampy - who adopted us soon after we got married. We loved him like our own baby. But both of us used to work and had to leave him either inside the house, locked up, or outside within a protected/fenced area, until we came back home in the evening. Both were unpleasant experiences for us and for our little dog, with him getting upset and angry due to a lack of freedom, and also being hit with stones by some unruly, callous neighbours, who disliked his barking during the day.

That forced us to take him and leave him every day at my parents' place, which we treated like a day care :). He used to happily plonk himself on the petrol tank of our bike every morning, when we lugged him with his bag of food, bowl, etc. to my mom's place, where we dropped him off on our way to work and then picked up in the evening. Initially he was fine, but later, we felt that he did not like this arrangement. Perhaps it was too stressful for him - the travel back and forth. So we spoke to him and to my parents, and left him with them, to be taken care of there. And we used to keep going and visiting him every few days.

I don't know if he ever understood why we did that. Perhaps he didn't. Because he never smiled after that. He lost his bubbly spirit. There was a sadness in his eyes. He was never the same after that. And we didn't know what to do. I have never felt so much guilt for bringing up and taking care of an animal, as much as I did then for dear Trampy. I never could forgive myself for what I did with him....that I couldn't take care of him like I so wanted to. And I decided then that I would never again have a dog. Not because I didn't love them. But because I loved them too much. Too much to leave them under anyone else's care. Because I would never know for sure how they were feeling.

And Raghav understood when we shared our feelings with him. He never again asked us about having a dog. I don't know if we did the right thing by denying him what he wanted. But I know that we did the right thing by sharing our feelings of guilt, helplessness and sadness with him honestly and vulnerably. I know that we said 'no' to him with a heavy heart, because we told him that. And I know that he understood.

So yesterday, when we were coming back home after cycling, we saw our neighbour in the lift, with his little pug. Raghav absolutely adored her and crouched down to pet her and look into her eyes. I started chatting with him, asking him what he did with her while he went away to work everyday. He smiled and shared how she had a little community of young people - his friends - who took care of her in turns, while he was away or busy. It was such a lovely arrangement!

When we got back home, Raghav who had probably overheard the conversation I had had with my neighbour, asked if he could also take care of her in turns like the others. I smiled, and instantly realised how Life was showing us a way of fulfilling his needs :) I told him how I thought that was a great idea, and asked if he wanted to go and talk to our neighbour. He wanted to do it right away. And so he went and rang the doorbell of the flat opposite ours, where this person stayed along with his friends, bombarding him with questions! What to feed her and when, how and when she goes to the loo, how she likes to play, whether she barks and so on. He patiently answered all his questions, and agreed to having him babysit her once a week to start with, for a few hours. He also warned him that she was teething as she was just 3 months old, and that we had to be careful with things around the house! We decided to start today :)

Raghav woke up this morning asking me if I had put things away. When he found out that I hadn't he went around the house, checking and telling me all the things that were at her height, which had to be put away! And then we looked through some of his old stuff and thought of things/toys to give her to chew on and play old tennis ball, a wooden spoon, a rope and a belt for tug of war and a cardboard roll to chew on or play with. It was great fun organizing the space with him for the little visitor!

So this evening, Lisa came home....with a little doggy love!!!:) Yeah, and we had so much fun! And I guess she did too! Her favourite place was the beanbag, which happens to be Raghav's favourite place too!! And she usurped it with full rights! :) What a beautiful evening filled with doggy smells, smiles, laughter, non-stop fun, bubbling energy and so much grateful to Life for showing us a beautiful way to fulfill our needs...

When I run after what I think I want, my days are a furnace of stress and anxiety.... 
If I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without any pain. 
 - Rumi

Friday, March 27, 2015

What's Minecraft got to do with Writing and History?

What's Minecraft got to do with writing and history??
Well, what's Minecraft not got to do with something, would be a better question to ask I think!

Yesterday, Raghav called me to show all his new updates in his world in Minecraft - a regular feature that happens every day, or every other day. And I was surprised to see what he had created and his new interest in 'writing'. For a child whose dislike for school started with being forced to write any more than he wanted to, and more so when it started eating into his play time, to have come this far today, is an achievement that fills me with joy and gratitude for Life, who showed me the path that I needed to take with him.

Here is what he shared with me, as part of the many other things that he had created yesterday.....
It is a conversation that he has recorded by typing it all out in his 'KEEP IN TOUCH BOOK' in his Minecraft world, between him (denoted by 'r') and the 'Red Village Leader' (denoted by 'rvl'), about some events that transpired yesterday in the world! It's truly amazing the things one can do and create with Minecraft, which I have myself been watching and learning only of late, from and with him. I can see now how for him, it is like an artist's palette and canvas, where so many worlds are created inside worlds....

The 'Keep in Touch' book is his own idea for a name

the conversation between him and the village leader

A little note I found by his computer, which I think are his 'notes' of coordinates to the village in his Mesa World :)

What amazed me was his new interest in writing, which was one of the sore points many years ago, for his wanting to quit school. He stopped writing then, except for special occasions like people's birthdays when he would make a card or something for them, or when he would help me occasionally with my shopping list, or when he wanted to make labels for things he had built with Lego. We never forced him to write at all, nor did we even ask about or mention writing with him after he quit school. We simply let it go. And this is the first time he has written so much in all these years!

Here is the conversation between me and him when I saw what he had written....

R: This is a conversation between me and the Red Village Leader about things that happened in my Mesa World today.
Me: Ok. How long did you take to type all this?
R: About five minutes I think.
M: How did you get this idea to put it down like a conversation? I love it! Did you happen to read my blog sometime or happen to watch me type out our conversations on the blog? Because I have used the same idea!
R: I knew you would love this! No, I haven't seen that....I didn't get the idea from you...I thought of it on my own.....but it is funny that we thought of the same thing!
Me: So why did you want to do this?
R: I wanted to record what happened somewhere....the catastrophe which happened! So I decided to write it down in my 'Keep in Touch' Book. And this is not only about writing it all down. It is about history too....about things which happened in a particular order in a place.
Me (smiling): Ok....So, are you also your own best friend?
R (smiling back) :Yes.....kind of!

I smiled and hugged him. I told him how much I loved this idea and the execution. And I quietly wondered how he had  figured out on his own, what 'history' actually meant to him! Watching my son learn gives me a real high :)

I remembered how frustrated he used to get with writing even on those few occasions, when the letters would not turn out the way he wanted them to look.....he wanted them to be perfect.....he hated making a mistake and rubbing it off or striking it out. He would just scream, get up and walk away from it and never come back to it. I also remembered how he had told me once about how the teachers at school expected them to know spellings of words without having taught them, or without them having enough opportunity to have seen those words. "How can they expect us to know the spellings that they haven't taught us? How can they expect every letter, every time, to be perfect?", he would ask. And I would listen in silence.

Today I am happy that he is enjoying writing in his own way. I am happy that he has figured it out on his own - the spellings, punctuation, spacing, formatting and expressing his creativity in his own way. I am most happy that I don't know how he learned all this. I am most happy that Life did not let me into this secret! Oh, what joy it is to experience this today! :) I am filled with gratitude for Life, who has shown me yet again in her own way, that we are on the path that was meant for us to take.....

So yes, this is not 'writing' if one is looking at the traditional idea of writing as what one does with a pen and paper. But this is perhaps what 'writing' is a world where technology reigns.....
For some of us who perhaps don't want to change with the times, it perhaps rules the mind, bringing up many fears about our future - the fear of loss of years of culture and civilization and beauty......but for some who seem to be 'in tune' with the changing world, I wonder if it perhaps becomes the palette of a spirit that knows not only how to survive, but also how to dream and thrive and look for beauty in new ways.

Monday, March 16, 2015

On Friendship

Many questions that we were asked early on in our unschooling journey have now either stopped surfacing so much or have taken on a different form. But there is one which seems to fall into the permanent category, because it never seems to go away nor want to take another form :)

Yes, it is the question about social skills and friendship. One that I am kind of tired of answering, but still want to, because it has been one of the areas (the other one being food) that has completely changed my thinking and where my learning curve has been the steepest. And as is the case with everything else, my dear son has been my Guru. And I see this question as an opportunity for me to share what I have learned from him with others.

So here are some of the questions I have been asked countless times! -

Does he have friends?
Does he like to play with other children?
Does he miss being around other children? 
Do you have a community or a group that meets often?
You must be creating opportunities for him to meet other people and other children that would stimulate him...
and so many more that seem to have the same shade as these questions!

In the beginning, I did struggle with these questions, because I did not know what I was doing myself. But over the years, and with frequent, deep conversations with my son, where I simply shared all my fears and doubts without any holding back, my understanding and way of seeing this whole aspect of life has transformed. 

In some ways i think unschooling has worked for us beautifully because of the way the three of us are as people. My husband, my son and myself - all like our own company. Not that we don't like being with people. My husband loves meeting new people, while my son and me would much rather be home and invest our time and energy into nurturing few but deep friendships. But we have just stopped going out of our way to seek company.....simply because we love being by ourselves, with ourselves and we have come to trust Life to give us what we need at any given point in time.

So the need for being with other children was hardly ever there for my son, and when it came up, it was not a need that he wanted desperately to be fulfilled. The early years of our journey was all about 'nesting' - it was a time to de-stress ourselves from all the stress of having to conform to systems that we just could not be a part of; it was a time to simply be home and learn more about ourselves and each other without any other distractions; it was a time when we learned how beautiful and empowering it was to truly be alone with ourselves.

Of course, the fear of not having children to play with everyday or even once in a while was there, and it still keeps coming up, especially when I think of our age and what would happen when we are not around. But it doesn't worry me so much anymore. There is this deep trust that the Universe will take care somehow and that he will get what he needs. This is not a helpless resignation of sorts to destiny or a giving up of one's power to create. It is rather about owning our power by believing in what we are doing and the path we have chosen to take.

So whenever this fear came up, and even now, if it comes up, I just tell my son that I need to talk to him and share whatever I am going through in a way that I think he will understand. 'When in doubt, simply ask' - has been my motto of sorts. And it has helped immensely. A week ago, this fear came up again and I asked him how he was feeling about not being able to meet his old friends, about not having any friends and kids to play with where we stay now, whether he missed his friends or children, and what he would like me to do about it, or what he would like to do about it.

"Why do you keep asking me this question amma?" was the first thing he asked me. And so I told him why.

"I do miss my friends, but I don't want to go back to where we were staying, or even close by. I am happy where we are now. i love the place, the nature around; it is quiet, peaceful and there is so much more space's ok if I cannot meet them.....I am happy by myself. I don't need to play with children everyday. It is fine now the way it is," he added.

I was much relieved and said this to him:"So will you let me know when you want to do something about this? Maybe then we will find a way together....So I won't ask you this anymore? And you will tell me when you want to be with other children?"

"Yes. I will. Don't worry," he said nonchalantly.

A few days later, he expressed a desire to play Minecraft with someone. He wanted to play it 'live', and not online. So I did the best I could. I put out a request on the FB group for our gated community, asking if anyone would like to play or learn Minecraft or Lego. I got a response from the mother of a 3 year old girl. When I shared that with Raghav, he said:" Ya, that's fine! I can teach her. Age does not matter for friendship!" :)

How true! Don't we all have friends or people we relate to, of different ages in our circles? Then why do we want to make kids get into chicken coops when it comes to friends?

Why do we also have this manic need to 'make friends' and 'keep friends' at any cost?

Yes, we are social beings. But 'social' encompasses a whole range, a whole spectrum of needs doesn't it? We are not all social or sociable all the time. We go through phases and cycles in everything, including our friendships.

Then why do we see kids differently?
Do we think that is the only way we can allay our fears - of being different, of being alone?
Do we think friendships will make them feel good about themselves?
Do we think that will help them cope with boredom?
Do we think that will keep them occupied and less depressed or aloof?
Do we look at that as a way of us getting time for ourselves?
Is it our need or their need?
Why do we really want them to make friends?

I often feel that the answers to all our challenges and our fears lie in the questions themselves, if only we hold and stay with those questions long enough, instead of rushing in to 'sort' them out. All we need is that precious pause......

My tryst with working with kids and adults with special needs, especially autism, and knowing someone with autism, quite closely, including wondering initially if my son had any 'difficulties', has stirred up many questions. Hard questions that I asked myself repeatedly over the years. is funny that when we know that a kid has a 'special need' or a 'disability', we are immediately able to discount their behaviour towards us. We are immediately more accepting of them, more compassionate towards them. We at least pause for a moment and wonder why he/she might be doing or saying something. But we don't react the same way to kids who we think are 'normal'. What IS 'normal' anyway?

But we also have this idea of 'being sociable and social' so deeply ingrained in us I feel, that we want to 'fix' that in kids who aren't; we want to make them learn how to cope and adjust to the world, and so we 'expect' and 'teach' them social skills. Of course there may be some who want to interact but don't know how to, but there may also be some who simply don't want to, because they don't feel a need to. Are we really 'listening' to them? Each one of them? Are we giving them the space that they want and need, to be themselves? Sometimes I wonder if we do.

So yes, my son still screams when he is frustrated or has reached his threshold of tolerance for noise or something else, he will scream irrespective of who is or isn't around - at home, outside, anywhere;  he can look through people as if they did not exist at all, he can be so completely lost in his world that he wouldn't even remember to greet someone; and at the same time he can be most understanding and 'friendly' and be chatty with people - even complete strangers. When he needs some time by himself, or is tired, he shares that openly with his friends, and asks if they could play on their own for a while. Those who know him, understand him and give him that space. Those who don't, simply don't, and he is okay with that. And so are we.

Of course, we have had numerous conversations about how others would feel. He has himself asked me to remind him to greet or say 'thank you' to others only because they expect that. With some people, I explain to them the beauty of waiting for that to emerge on its own. With some others, we have mutually agreed to just 'please' them, as long as he feels okay about doing that in that moment.

We have stayed for extended periods of time alone with ourselves at home, hardly meeting anyone for months and years. In that period we have come to understand and love ourselves a little more. Now, when we get an opportunity to go out and be with or do things with people, we are more ready and willing to explore new ground, and feel more ease in doing that without any fears. This I think has been the fruit of our long, often challenging and arduous journey of being with our own selves.

Here are some things that I have learned from my son and our journey so far:
  • I need to first be my own best friend. I need to love all parts of me. Then, it is easier for me to be friends with others and for others to be friends with me. Then, you are not dependent in an unhealthy way on people outside of yourself.
  • If I am bored, I am bored. I don't need friends or 'stimulation' to fill up that boredom. I need to figure out for myself what I can do or not in that boredom.
  • Be Yourself. Don't change yourself just because you want people to like you. When you are yourself, the right people will love the real you. Just be prepared to wait for them,however long it takes! 
  • One needs to love oneself pretty well to be able to take 'unsociable' comments from others. And most often, the children who we think of as 'unsociable' are the ones who are mirroring what we need to look at more deeply in our own selves. I have gone through some extremely embarrassing moments when my son was 'rude', 'misbehaving' and most 'unsociable' - both in my own eyes and in the eyes of people around me. But those moments were the ones which told me how much more I needed to look within myself really, and ask myself some tough questions.
  • We each need to be given space to be able to interact on our own terms. That is the basis of true friendship and understanding.
  • Everything rests in the 'seeing' - how we choose to see what is playing out before our eyes. We can choose to see something as 'rude' and also see the same thing as an expression of someone's sensitivity to something. The way we see it moulds our response.
Yesterday, I was at the 30th anniversary function of Vidya Sagar, an organisation which works with children and adults with multiple disabilities and their families. While a few of us were chatting about old times, 30year old A, who was on the wheelchair, suddenly grabbed hold of another parent's saree and it tore. She adjusted it while this man's mother apologised for her son's behaviour. The parent however smiled, asked if he wanted her to come closer and talk to him, offered him something to eat which he refused, and then bent over and chatted with him. He was then fine. It was a beautiful, poignant moment of connection.

I feel deeply now that the way we choose to see a behaviour like this depends on the space we are in in that moment, and how we choose to see it. Can we share how we feel honestly and vulnerably, while also listening to ourselves in the other? What is that voice inside us saying? Why are we getting triggered or hurt? Perhaps if we stop and look more deeply into that space, we will know why and respond accordingly. Perhaps then we will be more inclusive, more accepting of our own selves and therefore the other. Perhaps then we will know the meaning of real friendship.

And I believe that our children are here showing us the way.....little lanterns lighting up the road less travelled....into a new world with countless, unimaginable possibilities that could be a far-cry from what we know today as 'friendship' or anything else for that matter.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Things We Do For Love, With Love....

This morning, Raghav posed me a new challenge - he wanted to have Minecraft 'mobs' dosas for breakfast!! Yes, dosas in the shape of mobs from Minecraft.

At first, I told him how I thought that would be impossible for me to do, but he egged me on, saying he would help find pictures for me to copy. I asked if he could draw them out for me.
"But amma, why do you want me to draw? Can't you take a picture of those in your head and just go make them?", he asked.
"Yeah, I could. But I think it would help if you drew them out, as I could keep that paper with me in the kitchen while I make them, instead of going back and forth from the kitchen to the computer," I added.

So he acceded to my request and drew them out for me.....
One was a 'wither' with three heads, and the other was the 'side-view of an Enderman holding a block'!! :) Phew! Now that was going to be one helluva challenge for me! Well, I took it...

His instructions for me....

And I got down to work! Here was my canvas and  my was fun! :)

And here was how they turned son was thrilled, despite arms and faces falling off!
"Not bad amma!", he said as he gobbled them up one by one.

The Wither

The Enderman - side-view, holding a block
The Enderman - turned and ready!


And then, I made one more for him, on my own, as a surprise!

Creeper face!

He had already washed his hands, when I told him that I had a surprise for him. And when he saw it, he beamed like a thousand light bulbs and said:"There is no way I am not going to eat that one!"

Sigh! The things we do for love, with love.....that's what makes this life worthwhile! :)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Minecraft Birthday Wish!

Raghav eats, breathes, drinks Minecraft these days.....and here is what he created for his little cousin brother's birthday today....a Minecraft Birthday wish and some builds of a rocket launch centre, especially for his little brother who loves rockets! :)

While I stand stunned everyday, watching the possibilities that this one game opens up for my son!

Watch this little movie to see what he created....

Happy Birthday

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Two Seeing Eyes = Two Views or One Truth?

Yesterday, Raghav was as usual sitting in his tub of water after his morning bath. That is where he spends some time 'contemplating' and gets his inspiration and 'insights' :)

He grumbled a little bit about how some water went suddenly into his eye. A few minutes later, he came up with this:

"Amma, do you know that if you close one eye, and look at something in front of you with the other eye, you see one image, and if you do the same thing with the other eye, you see another image of the same thing, and that has slightly moved? It is an optical illusion because that thing hasn't really moved. And then, when you open both your eyes and look at the same thing, you see only one image. So I think, each eye sees a different view, a different image, which is then made into one image in the brain."

"How did you figure this out?" I asked, quite stunned at the way in which he described it to me!

"Oh, there is this water that went into my eye suddenly, and I had to close one eye as I could not see with it. And then I was looking at the space between my knees with one eye and then the other, and I discovered this," he said quite nonchalantly.

Some inspiration, just a tub of water can provide! :)

And I wondered to myself - 'Is that why perhaps multiple views on an issue are actually a gift? To make us see that there are actually not 'many views', but just 'one truth'? To see that it is through separation that we can experience the oneness that we all seek or have forgotten?

Well, I guess each of us has our own lessons to learn from every little thing that we experience. This has also been one of the learnings for me today.