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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

One of the most valuable lessons on parenting came from my son [among many others he’s dished out from time to time J ] a long time ago. He was about 8 at the time and beginning to find it harder and harder to cope with the demands of mainstream schooling.

Having recognized and acknowledged his limited cognitive abilities [I deliberately held off on a formal diagnosis of intellectual disability for as long as I could] when he was just an infant, it seemed to make sense to get into ‘remedial’ mode as quickly as possible.

My mother and I both came from backgrounds in Child Development and it was natural to come up with all kinds of special teaching-learning material to enable him to develop all kinds of skills – language, cognitive, motor, even social-emotional ones. He was read to from storybooks from the time he was just a few days old…. And we took him with us everywhere we went, even playing vocabulary and number games on bus journeys to and from his preschool [the lab preschool was conveniently located in the college I taught in, in those days].

And I am still willing to credit many of those early intervention efforts to his present ability to communicate in several languages, be sensitive to what is happening around him, dress and take care of his personal hygiene needs. Not that these are skills developed adequately enough for him to function independently, but he gets by… and a little more.

 

Yet, there came a day when he spontaneously turned to me and said… “Don’t teach me… let’s just play!” Intuitively, he had grasped that everything I did with him almost always had a ‘goal’, a definite purpose. The ‘mothering’ was always tempered with the ‘teaching’…. But that remark startled me… and got me thinking again…

Because it was true… I did always have my antennae up and alert for possible ‘teaching moments’, any experience was milked for all it was worth… whether they were home chores we did together, or just colouring on a piece of paper. I didn’t even spare his beloved miniature cars! They were used to form alphabets and numbers so he could learn to read and count. Even dramatic play often masked vocabulary and a focus on the meaning of words….

Coming along on field trips with the college students was par for the course, as was attending a conference or training programme. Those were probably the only times when attention wasn’t focused on him…. And he picked up a whole lot by just being around… just seeing many things… and meeting many different people…

And it kept me wondering whether I was being a little too enthusiastic about teaching him everything I could…. Whether I was pushing him beyond his capabilities….? What goals should I actively pursue? What kind of ‘intervention’ ? When should I let everything just ‘be’?

It was hard [and continues to be hard] to achieve just the right balance….But there is one thing I have become more and more convinced of; and that is the need for different responses in different situations and feel encouraged because I have developed the flexibility.

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An eye for an eye is not my idea of good justice. It is probably a politically incorrect stance to take at the moment amidst the clamour and outrage surrounding the recent gang rape case in Delhi.

Don’t get me wrong. I do empathize with the emotions and sentiments of many of the protestors. Yet I feel a deep disquiet at where this seems to be headed. Baying for the blood of the rapists and murderers and clamoring for their being hanged or subjected to similar brutality ‘ to teach them and others like them a lesson’, only temporarily stills an immediate sense of rage, despair, helplessness…. It does NOT address the root cause.

If MPs and political leaders can make insensitive statements / remarks that focus on only one facet of such situations [e.g. rape survivor – surely THAT is not a woman’s identity?!], it just underlines how unbalanced these views about women and indeed, humanity are!

‘Hanging’ is not a long term solution.  And torture, lynching etc. are not even measures that should be considered. Fast track courts, more convictions that are implemented and carried out to full term, directories of sex offenders and criminals are all needed, specially in the short run. But what is really needed is socialization. Call it changing the mindset, developing respectful attitudes… it still boils down to how we bring up our children [not just our own but those in our neigbhourhood and beyond]. Both boys and girls.

What do we say to them in verbal and non-verbal ways from the moment they are born? Do we even stop to reflect on our ‘lighthearted fun’ and depreciation reflected in disrespect of people? Not just disrespect of women but of persons with different capacities, of different cultures, of traditions different from out own…..

But to return to this particular aspect. Respect for women … [and men… but more about that another time].

We will hang these six, perhaps we’ll hang several hundred more, but while we are doing that, can we stop for a minute and think about what we can do as we go about our every day lives to stem this rot?

Just the other day, I was at a preschool  ‘annual’ day’ program. Imagine my dismay when 4-5 year old girls and boys began dancing to a ‘lavani’! The little ones shook their hips and twirled around to “Haath naka lavu majhya sadila”  [a coy -‘ oh please don’t touch my sari’].

What added immensely to my concern was that the audience consisting of the parents of these same children, fathers and mothers both, were applauding the performance. And not just applauding, but whistling at key moments…. Does the implication really not occur to these ‘educated’, ‘cultured’ folks?!

For me, as I hope it does for the majority of people, the answer lies in parenting, in real education, in the responsibility and concern we demonstrate as citizens.

The answer for me is still in quiet change….

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I am not talking about obvious, blatant child abuse where children get beaten up, remain unfed, and or constantly subjected to derogatory remarks that cut at their very sense of being.

I am talking about the subtle [or otherwise] nuances present in the way children are brought up in different cultures and/or circumstances. Depending on your perspective, you could vouch for parents’ caring or denounce their life style and rant about the need to take children away from ‘such’ abusive parents.

Every so often, I come across situations at home, and at work when this ‘debate’ / discussion starts up again. Sometimes there is a news item that will flag these issues. Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of times a situation could be interpreted either way.

Just a few examples…

Lohit, at age 3, typically sleeps in between his parents [sometimes grandparents]. Anand slept next to me till was almost in his teens [and will still do so from time to time if he is upset, or we have guests and he needs to give up his bed for them]. I shared a room with my brother and sister till my brother went away to university. All these situations are typical for most Indian kids. The idea of having a room entirely to yourself is an alien concept, and not only because homes are typically small….

So… does this classify as abuse?

Child labour… it’s awful when one sees a young child, often just 8 – 9 years old working to support and contribute to the family income – in a store, as domestic help, in a restaurant… Yet their family could be close to starvation without this additional income.

I remember being shocked as a Master’s student in the USA many decades ago when a professor proudly shared that his 15-year-old daughter  was paying ‘rent’ for her room from her earnings from a weekend job. But I soon recognized it was to do with his desire to encourage her ‘independence’ not a lack of caring.

More recently, an Indian family in Norway has been in the news because their children were taken away by child welfare services because of perceived abuse. Feeding the children by hand was apparently one of the behaviors leading to such conclusions. An emotional disconnect was, I understand, another reason. But how does one determine this? Specially in a culture where physical demonstration of affection is not, even today, that common.

Several years ago on a trip to several countries in Europe as part of a project, I remember being uncomfortable at the sight of  kids all over – in strollers and with pacifiers in their mouth. The absence of the sound of children’s crying, as well as their laughter, and ‘intrusive’ interruptions in adult conversations bothered me… It seemed ‘abusive’… shutting the kids up!

Sometimes it’s a limited professional perspective that leads to such conclusions. A particularly telling experience was in remote Raniya [Jharkhand] where special educators classified the mother of a “mentally retarded” 8-year-old girl abusive. Her crime? A widow with 3 children trying her best to eke out a living in an area that is challenged by the presence of Naxalites at every turn, doing her very best to protect her severely intellectually disabled daughter. [The little girl had a tendency to run off constantly on to the road that was near their house, as well as elsewhere and the mother couldn’t afford not to work]. What the professionals failed to notice was that ‘Budhagi’ was not tied up all day, that the mother kept her in sight and kept up a constant stream of conversation with her while she worked around the house and kitchen garden, that Budhagi nuzzled at her mother affectionately when she was sitting next to her, once the day’s work was done.

Was tying her up the best solution…? Probably not… but here’s a mother who didn’t know any better and no resources to help her out… NOT ABUSIVE!

When will we learn to see beyond the overt behavior, to stop automatically interpreting behavior from within the context of our own understanding…?

Through the many years that I have worked with parents, I have met very few that were truly abusive. Misinformed, with minimal resources, even with inappropriate priorities… but very few that took pleasure from their kids suffering.

 Parenting is possibly the biggest challenge…

So, how about a little openness, more understanding, and [where needed] a genuine helping hand…?

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It’s a fact. I don’t like it. But there it is… the likelihood of Anand having to live in a centre for many years as I get older and am unable to care for him at home… and certainly when I am ‘permanently gone’ … is a given.

This is something that has bothered me for a long time, and continues to occupy my waking [and sleeping!] thoughts. and I try to make life as pleasant for him as I can while I am around.

But the thought for this blog arose when I overheard my father say to someone one day, not too long ago, in a rather woeful tone …”What do I have to get up for in the mornings?”. This from a man, who, in his mid 80’s has a routine that would put many an office goer to shame. His day starts at 7:15 am or so with being read to for an hour or more by my brother all the way from the USA, followed by his favourite music, breakfast, followed by having an assistant take dictation, read to him for about 3 hours, followed by lunch and favourite TV programs, a short nap and tea, followed by another 2 hours of being read to by our in-house companion and help, followed by yet other favourite TV programs…etc etc. And there are days when there are special visitors, meetings etc, regular telephonic interactions with other folks… etc. etc…You get my drift…. 🙂

But it set me thinking… if he thinks he has nothing to get up for…. what does Anand have to get up for? No specific job to go [other than errands often deliberately created to occupy him], no wife/girlfriend, children to give him a purpose in life, nothing per se to look forward to… And, I must admit there are days when I feel the same way… “What do I have to get up for?” given that I spend most of  my time on guard and attempting unobtrusively to ensure that the basic needs of these 2 men are met.

But to get back to Anand. When I think of the likely number of years he has ahead of him, the question troubles me even more… How is he going to get through those years? And I realize that just as I use some of my fondest memories of my life to get me through some really hard days, I could try to get Anand to do the same.

And this means creating those memories. Organizing activities, ‘events’, trips, special dinners or evening snacks, moments of quiet companionship just watching inane/mundane TV programs or bits of his favourite movies with a bowl of popcorn [or chips and a dip between us], having him help mix the batter for his chocolate cake or other cooking tasks that engage him, coloring together in his drawing book, reading him a story, letting him sleep in my room when he’s upset and scared, taking him out on little outings [despite my fraught nerves because of the way he now hassles the auto rickshaw drivers  every time he gets into one, or the stares we get when he goes into one of his retching fits in the middle of the road or in a store], giving him a head massage, sharing specific links or photos for him on his Facebook page, having his favourite people come by and visit whenever possible.   And so on….

There may be several [or more of you out there] who wonder why at least these things wouldn’t be available to him later on… But that’s the reality of life in an ‘institution’ at this point in time. Something that a group of us are trying to change…but no guarantees that the changes will come in time to be of benefit to our children…

Life is hard enough for Anand….his anxiety, his off and on depression, his limited competencies in many areas, his aggression; conspire to make some days unbearable. The other ‘good’ days have to make up for those….. and all the days ahead….

I hope it will help… at least a little… and he will remember that no matter what the ‘downs’…. he was loved.

PS. Just a few hours after I posted this blog, the situation with Anand took a sudden downturn… and he had to go back to the centre after a continuous 10 months at home…It will be a while before he can come back…but we will try… for tomorrow is another day…

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A couple of days at the Grips ‘festival’ to celebrate 25 years of Grips in India. This time I have only been there as a member of the audience [and have had major guilt pangs on account of not having been able to help].

Since I had to go with Anand [it’s just too much of a nightmare if he’s out alone for any extended time these days], I  used the occasion to remind myself about another unique Grips feature. One that would help in developing media literacy…

Those of you who are familiar with Grips know that there is no ‘raising’ or ‘dropping’ of the curtain. The sets are changed in front of the audience. I think this has several advantages. One of these is that it very naturally informs the young [and old] audience about all the tasks needed to make that performance successful.. It’s not only powerful acting! Those who arrive early can even see lights and cables being put in place, sound system being adjusted, the actors milling around as they get ready for the performance…

Today, for the 2nd day in a row… it looked like the arrangements would have to be shifted at the last minute, from the lovely arena setting planned to one that was a covered space. The unseasonal rains threatened to throw off the performance. Fortunately that didn’t happen today… though it did drizzle enough to make the performance area quite wet. It petered out and a mop up did the job to some level. Yet the actors steps had to be a little more cautious than usual as they performed on the wet surface and through another small drizzle.

But the discussion to ‘move or not move’ took right there in front of the audience…

Yet again… it provided an opportunity to youngsters to become familiar with the many different challenges in putting on a performance, how the changes in props [simple, quick, yet very evocative] could bring about a complete change in the setting and take the audience to a different environment.

For children to be able to see this is important. It not just adds to the participative experience, but to provide  a dose of realism to a group that feeds on the unreal soaps and cartoons for the most part…

How I  wish we could have more of Grips, and similar initiatives ….

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Here are some critical things I’ve learned over the years as a single parent of a ‘child’ with special needs compounded by bipolar….  [I just had a rather disastrous reminder about almost all of these at one shot today – Dasara 2011] hence the post….]

1. Don’t make too many plans, or commitments. Your situation will always be unpredictable.

2. Balance between letting the mess be and cleaning it up. A pleasant / aesthetic home reduces stress.

3. Don’t worry about proving you can do everything alone. No one is entirely independent anyway…

4. Enjoy your work, but don’t  get caught up in career ambitions and occupying positions

5. Don’t flog yourself because you couldn’t participate in every meaningful [socially constructive] activity / philosophical discussion] activity going on around you.

6. Accept that you can’t satisfy everyone and try to focus on the priority of the moment.

7. Use a support system whenever it is available and offered.

8. Do a few things to suit your convenience, meeting your needs. People may not pay attention to your specific requests,  so be proactive…

9. Indulge in a hobby whenever you get a chance [reading , listening to music, gardening… whatever… something that lets you be with yourself and at peace]

10. Take a nap, get some rest… when you can, no matter what time of day or night it is. (And ignore pontificating about how inappropriate it is to sleep at ‘teeni sanza’ etc!)

11. Indulge yourself every once in a while… More often than not, you have to provide your own TLC.

12. Dress up special, specially on hard days. [When you get a look at yourself in the mirror, it’ll be easier to smile]. A lovely sari, a pretty flower won’t change your situation, but will make the day lighter.

13. Ignore stares from people on the road [or elsewhere] or look at you disapprovingly as you firmly [though gently] restrain your distraught  ‘child’ from danger, or stepping on people’s toes [literally and figuratively].

14. Recognize that some ‘isolation’ is inevitable. Those who really care will come back [and those who don’t..perhaps weren’t meant to be around forever…]

15. Soak in every moment of pleasure that comes your way… there’s no guarantee of when the next special one will come..

16. Don’t let other people tell you how you should feel…It’s not the end of the world if you need a good cry. It’s okay if you feel the need to be taken care of… but don’t expect it to happen.

I am acutely aware that there are many people in a much worse situation than I am in… not that it makes it easier… but it does make me feel grateful that I can do at least some of the above for myself. I’ve come across many a tip that’s helped me through a bad day in the most unexpected places, so sharing my strategies is my way of reaching out and hoping that I can return the favour… I am still on this journey… and there’s a long way till the end.

Depending on your specific situation, some of this will be possible, some won’t… you’ll probably have other pet coping strategies…. so do what you can to take care of yourself and then….

Get on with it!

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Sad but true. We live in a world that is filled with distrust born of  ‘differences’. Differences born of religious beliefs. Communal tensions arising from fears of what we might do to each other. We have learned to eye each other with suspicion. To assume the worst in the other.

What’s worse is that not only are our children growing up in this atmosphere, but we are actively telling them how we stand apart from each other. How we are not, therefore, the same. One of the saddest examples of this that I saw was in an elite Bombay school that actually had the children tell everyone else in class what community they belonged to [and this in the immediate aftermath of the Babri Masjid riots and Bombay blasts in the early 1990’s!]

“pan amhala khelaychay”  [But WE want to play] addresses this issue head on. It is my absolute favorite GRIPS play [Anand’s too]. I have always enjoyed the music and the lyrics. The latter not only carry the tale ahead, but portray so delightfully the everyday mad rush in the mornings as each household prepares for the day and the children for school. [We used to play the tape in our home to egg Anand on… and he still listens to it with great enthusiasm!] And then at other points in the play, the lyrics and the music combined evoke  strong images of children torn away from each other, of bewildered children  trying to make sense of their now unfamiliar world…

I first saw ‘pan amhala khelaychay’ in 1996 as it emerged through rehearsals. As a member of the audience through umpteen performances over the years, it continues to enthrall. I must admit to going in with some reservations about what the show would be like yesterday. The performers were at a disadvantage anyway… having seen the play so many times before I have grown used to the nuances, the inflexions, the emphasis on certain aspects of the dialogue. But today’s troupe came through brilliantly [Mrinmayee – I really enjoyed watching you ‘in action’ and hope I get to know the rest of the group too!]  Though the voices were low  a few times, most of the time there were high energy levels that carried the audience with the events. It’s a powerful script [Shrirang Godbole – please, please, when can we have more?] and the actors did it justice. I still had shivers go down my spine, and fought the tear in my eye as the children tried to come to terms with the concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The moments of pathos evoked by the haunting music [Rahul Ranade at his brilliant best] were still the same. There were some really nice touches to keep it current. The nosy, orthodox neighbour has transformed into the  ‘bhai’ from the local underworld, the ‘rickshaw gangs’ have metamorphosed into IPL teams. 🙂

But there was one discordant note and for me that was the ‘audience’.  It’s sad that the only way we seem to have of showing appreciation is to ‘clap’. Somehow, to me, it seemed out-of-place…. just when the children’s world is coming crashing down around them… when they are having to face the harsh realities of adult strife and ‘war’, an audience that claps?! [Granted that it had to do with the powerful performances, but it would have meant even more acclaim if the audience could have stayed with the high tension ambience and retained the hushed silences.

I have many special moments in the play that I like a lot… and not only because of the insight they provide [often with humour despite the grim theme].  It’s also special because we made some fairly extensive resource material to use with it [following the GRIPS Germany approach]. That it never got used beyond pilot testing it because we didn’t have the resources to publish it… is another matter… 🙂 There is always tomorrow!

It’s a play worth seeing again and again, and like all good GRIPS  plays it ends on a hopeful, yet, realistic note. The parents agree to reconsider their decision to send the children to neighbourhood ‘community schools’. The children’s protest as well as its manner is not only viable in current times but a demonstration of constructive action.

I wish the play were no longer relevant… I wish we had been able create a better world for our children. But there you have it…. It’s an imperfect world and one that seems to get more and more fragmented as days go by… The lines between ‘them’ and ‘us’ seem to grow stronger…

Can we help children ask the questions that will break down the walls that divide us? “Pan amhala khelaychay” can help….

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