Little Darling

It’s a lovely summer evening. The breeze is brisk and cooling, toning down the intense heat a little. You go down for your regular evening walk-and-talk routine with your friends, and as you try to locate them, you are stopped by a group of moms.

We’d like to tell you something about your daughter, they say. And then the adjectives come tumbling out. Awesome, helpful, such presence of mind, so well-behaved, so good with children… You listen, rather bemused. Your heart is not exactly swelling with pride because this is, you know, how it always was. Your little girl has always been like this.

The overt acknowledgements are, however, so welcome in this day and age when disgruntled complaints are the order of the day. You feel happy that they have taken the time to acknowledge and appreciate. You thank them, and then you add, very clearly – this has nothing to do with me, this is how she is, this is her innate nature.

They dismiss this with a shake of their heads. Clearly the parents are to take credit for this darling. But no parent can really teach a child to have empathy, to have an overflowing love for children, to have presence of mind. It comes from somewhere deep within.

This is my little darling all on her own. We don’t deserve credit for that. What we have simply done is to let her be. For that, I don’t mind taking the credit.

When I told Lil D about the profuse compliments, she was shy. I hugged her and said: I am proud of you. You are a good human being, and this is what we would like you to be. This is more precious than anything else.

It was when I told her this that my eyes welled up. My Lil D is no longer little; her shoulders are squaring up to take over the burdens of the world.

Here’s wishing that she spreads happiness always.

Parenting – The Right Way

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my stint at parenthood, it’s that there is NO “ONE RIGHT WAY”. Popular books and blogs and articles can dole out all the advice they want, and they are all right, in their own way.

However, the best way to parent, according to me, is to LISTEN to your child. Especially during the early years, if you are intimately involved with your child, you will learn what your child needs and doesn’t. Just like you learn to recognize when the baby is hungry or wet, similarly you learn to recognize signs from your child. It is really upto you to come up with the solution then. There are no hard and fast rules, and there is no answer book.

So a lot really depends on the kind of parent you are. If you look upon your child like a time-bound project (and I know so many parents who do that, perhaps unconsciously), I can guarantee you failure. A child is definitely not something you can wrap up and forget about, it’s an ongoing project and what makes it so interesting and complex is that the child is also changing all the time. So the feedback loop is ever active and you must constantly monitor the system, so to speak.

To give you some examples of what I did with Lil D, I put her into a small playschool within the apartment complex when she was just 1.5 years old. To some parents, this will appear downright criminal! That child ought to be indulging in free play instead of being cooped up in a room, they might think. However, the reason was simply this. Lil D was a very social child right from the time she turned one year. She loved company, she was thrilled going to new places, and she sought new stimuli constantly. She was showing signs of boredom both at home and in the playground. She had explored and satisfied her curiosity in every nook and corner, and was now craving for something more. I found this cosy little playschool the ideal place for her. She got to make new friends, she loved doing various activities with the aunty there, and hated to leave the place.

Similarly, when she was between three and five, I enrolled her into various courses, most of which were high-energy ones involving a lot of physical activity. I did this because she had a tremendous amount of energy which was simply not getting exhausted by the trips to the playground. She was still not into playing with friends, for kids her age were more into parallel play. She would begin to get cranky after some time. The classes were a good way for her to have fun as well as expend some of that energy (which I would have gladly accepted, had she been able to transfer it to me! :D)

Once she was old enough to play with her friends, I removed her from all courses, except the ones she was really interested in. And I’m glad to say that she’s stuck to those ones and still continues to go to them voluntarily. I feel she learnt far more about life by playing with friends rather than by going to the innumerable courses that others her age were attending.

Later on, I moved her from a Montessori school to a regular school. This was not for academic reasons as one might think. In a Montessori school, kids are generally given a free run. This boosts their confidence and independent thinking and works wonders for shy kids. However, Lil D had more than her fair share of confidence and independent thinking! 🙂 What I realized was that she needed a sense of discipline too.

Discipline (self-imposed, that is) is an essential life-skill if one wants to achieve something. In the do-whatever-you-want atmosphere of the Montessori school, this was not going to be easily assimilated. I know a lot depends on the Montessori school and this one was a good school, but I preferred a school that gave her exposure to the “system”, so to speak. We were, after all, not going to move out of India, so I preferred that she learnt to handle the existing system in a good way, rather than be thrust into it suddenly later. So we moved her to a regular school, and I have not regretted that decision one bit.

Even today, she is learning invaluable lessons on prioritization, time management, and stress management. We teach her how to balance out her activities and how to make time for the things she likes and how to complete things she doesn’t like. And I must say she is proving excellent at them. For example, last year, during the Ganesha celebrations in our complex, she had to study for her tests as well. So she says: Mamma, Ganesha comes just once a year whereas the tests come every now and then. So shouldn’t Ganesha get higher priority? Lesson well learnt, right? 😀 😀

I don’t know about the path not taken, obviously. I can’t say I’ve done everything right and this is the way to go about it. But what I do know is that every time we have stopped to LISTEN to her needs, we have come up with the right answers (or at least the right one in our opinion). And that is probably my only rule for parenting.

Bloomin’ Times

Last year, for Onam, our apartment complex had a ‘Pookolam‘ contest. Lil D and her friend were eager participants. They planned the design well in advance, decided which colours they were going to use, asked me to purchase the requisite quantity of flowers, and were, in general, very confident.

The actual outcome was, of course, quite different from expectations. The design came out crooked, the flowers were not enough, and they were not exactly happy with the color scheme they could manage. Needless to say, they did not win any prize, and their confidence took a beating.

A few days ago, my mother and I had an interesting discussion on this. My mother felt that I should have stepped in and guided them. She pointed out that when participating in a competition, it is always a huge boost to the self-confidence if one wins or does very well. She also felt that if we didn’t correct the little mistakes as and when they happened, it would be more difficult to correct them at a later stage.

Though I could see where she was coming from, I had a different point of view. I felt that the contest was a “safe” arena for them to experience several things, such as planning (they were meticulous about charting out their design and deciding the colours), tweaking the plan when things didn’t go according to expectations (they changed the colour scheme when the flowers proved insufficient, but could not straighten the design), and experiencing failure. This gave them some invaluable experience in becoming more independent.

Moreover, Pookolam, according to me, was art, and art is all about freedom of expression. If I had stepped in and guided them, I felt that
(a) I would be hijacking their expression and replacing it with my own
(b) they would begin to turn to me and depend on me at every stage (aunty, should I do this? aunty, should I do that?), and therefore, their independent thinking would be curtailed
(c) they would not learn how it feels to fail or how to face failure and learn from it

Finally, after a long and intense discussion, we agreed to disagree. I agree with my mom’s approach of stepping in, but only when the child is in some danger or the actions could affect its entire life. Otherwise, I see no harm in allowing the child to exercise independent thinking, make his/her own mistakes, and (hopefully) learn from them.

What do you think?

No Means No

The other day, Lil D was flipping thru channels and stopped at Zee TV’s ‘Kehta Hai Dil Jee Le Zara’. The heroine here is supposed to be a “strong and independent” woman. The guy flips for her, and when he tells her, she is furious (I don’t know why since I don’t watch the serial) and asks him to never talk to her again. He comes to her house despite her explicit request nver come to her home again. And then, he walks right into her room and tells her he will enter her home again and again till she relents!

Honestly, I thought I was done watching crap like this. Earlier, practically all movies had this coy heroine saying no-no-no till the hero literally forced her to yield. Ever since I can remember, this has put me off completely. I could never understand how you could suddenly turn around and fall in love with someone who doesn’t appear to respect your wishes in the slightest bit and who routinely runs roughshod over you.

People say that movies don’t influence us. OK, we might not all take law into our hands and bash up the bad men like the heroes portrayed in the movies. However, this aspect of wooing a woman is so widespread a stereotype that it is very troubling. Girls feel the pressure to go through this charade, so afraid they are to speak their own minds. And more dangerous, boys don’t learn to take no for an answer. In between lies the grey area of stalking, eve teasing, sexual harassment, and abuse in general.

I think we need to bring up our boys to learn how to take No in their stride. After all, if the girl does change her No to a Yes without any pressure, it will be from her heart. Isn’t that so much more desirable?

PS: I did point out to Lil D that what the guy was doing was wrong, and the right thing to do would have been to respect the girl’s wishes and stay away from her home. Now why don’t they show stuff like that? 😦

Student Of The Year

…or should I say, my life?! 🙂

I was tucking Lil D into bed last night after a long evening of “preparing” for Teachers’ Day. She had spent considerable time making a lovely quilling card for her teacher and it was quite late. We were generally chatting when this happens.

Lil D: Do you know who my favourite teacher is?

Me: (super-confident) Ms. A? (she shakes her head)

Me: (a little puzzled, for I know Ms. A is her absolute favourite of all time) Ms. P? (she shakes her head)

I try to think who else could be her favourite teacher. At this point, with a big smile, she points her finger at me.

Lil D: You are my favourite teacher!

Me: (surprised) Me?

Lil D: Yes, you. You are the only one who can explain anything to me, whatever I don’t understand, and make me understand.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to bits. And moved, of course. This morning, she woke up and gave me a big hug saying “Happy Teachers’ Day!”

Thank you, Lil D! I cannot imagine life without you!

Censor Sensibility

I am honestly quite baffled by the ratings that our esteemed Censor Board awards to movies.

For example, Bajaatey Raho (we got complimentary tickets, and who says no to freebies? 🙂 ) has as much violence or sex as a KJo movie, which is to say, practically none. Most of the so-called “objectionable” stuff was mainly in the dialogues, which kids cannot follow much anyways, unlike the visuals and sound effects.

Yet, Bajaatey Raho and Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwaani were rated U/A, which means ‘Unrestricted public exhibition with parental guidance for children below age 12’. OK, that’s fair enough. After all, the former shows dubious means of getting even, and the latter shows a lot of alcohol being imbibed. So, I don’t really mind them being rated U/A.

However, take Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. It is rated U, which means ‘Unrestricted Public Exhibition throughout India, suitable for all age groups’. I was very happy to see that rating, and I was keen on taking Lil D to this ‘inspirational’ movie. However, she did not want to come even after a lot of persuasion. Finally, I decided to go and see the movie with my sister instead. And boy! Was I ever so glad!

BMB has such explicit violent scenes of the partition! You have a ten year old boy slipping in a pool of blood and landing on a heap of dead bodies, slithering desperately as he tries to get away from it all. You have a brutal beheading, and the camera lingers on till the neck is inches away from snapping completely. There is a fair share of nightmarish images of horsemen and hysterical horses.

The in-your-face scenes at the refugee camp are also rather unsettling, I would think, for a young child. A knife-toting young Milkha looks very real and disturbing. A rather suggestive scene later involving Milkha and his Aussie sweetheart is also filmed in a rather direct manner, which did make some parents uncomfortable. When I spoke to them later, they weren’t too keen on sending their kids for the movie either.

How did such a movie get a U rating? It was a fantastic movie no doubt, but it was not the kind of movie to which I would have taken Lil D, had I known. I know most of her friends too would have got rather disturbed by some of the scenes.

I don’t know — perhaps kids are now hardened or more immune to all this stuff — but if I were the Censor Board, I would certainly not think that this movie was suitable for all age groups. I would definitely think parental guidance was required, which means it would fall into the U/A rating.

I remember Band Baaja Baaraat, also rated U, where the sleeping together scene kind of took us all by surprise. I wondered at that time if I was some old-fashioned aunty. But now I’m quite sure it’s not just me.

The Censor Board’s ratings are not to be trusted, which is rather a pity. Reviews that specify whether a movie is safe for viewing with kids or not are non-existent in India. The only way to ensure you play it safe is to see the movie twice — one to judge for yourself, and once with the kids! Not worth the trouble, methinks!

Who’s the Youngest of ‘Em All?

I seldom pass judgement on other people’s parenting. To each his or her own has always been my policy. However, I was simply appalled when I read this article.

She’s just six years old, for crying out loud! The amount of artificial stuff going on in her life is horrifying. Buying expensive jewellery and shoes is one thing. I can even stomach a voice coach. But acrylic nails, regular spray tans, hair extensions…hello! And rivalry with a four-year old — yeah, we definitely need more of that.

I agree that girls do like dressing up and stuff. Lil D herself enjoys dressing up, and she and her friends sometimes spend an afternoon experimenting with make-up. But that’s it. It’s not a regular feature of their lives; they still spend most of their time cycling or swimming or playing board games or watching a movie together.

There needs to be a balance for everything. Childhood is for learning, exploration, discovery and fun. Perhaps the child in question is doing all of this for all I know. But even so, just like kids dancing for ‘Sheila ki jawaani’ with pelvis-thrusts and bosom-heaves leave me highly uncomfortable, this little beauty queen just makes me feel very, very sad.

Ad Infinitum

If there’s one thing that parenting has taught me, it is the importance of sheer repetition.

It seems to me that I repeat the same instructions/advice/stories and there’s no apparent effect whatsoever. Sometimes it feels like you’re up against a brick wall!

There appears to be some sort of threshold before the repetitions have any effect. But, there is a gradual tapering off and the effect is soon lost, maybe forever. Somewhat like the graph below (Repetitions on the x-axis, Effect on the y-axis :D).

effect

But what I’ve learnt from my own experience is that these homilies lurk under the surface and spring up at the right moment, when the “advisor” is not around. It is a kind of powerful conditioning that stops you in your tracks and directs your actions down a different path. So though I moan about how I need to keep on and on, like this absolutely hilarious song, I realize I’m handling a powerful parenting tool. If used right, it could hit the nail on the head. Otherwise, I might just end up smashing more than just a few thumbs.

How I Didn’t Get My Daughter to Read

Both DH and I are avid readers. I read mostly fiction, though I’m slowly gravitating towards non-fiction. DH prefers non-fiction, and reads practically anything, including the side of the cereal box at the breakfast table.

So, it was only natural that we both were interested in getting Lil D to read too. Right from the start, I did everything that is normally recommended. I surrounded her with brightly coloured, attractive books, I read to her as much as I could, signed her up at a kid-friendly library and took her as frequently as possible…you get the picture.

Lil D, to my dismay, did not take to books at all. She seemed to like books with pretty pictures, but that was it. The extent of her reading was to flip through at great speed, and then hand it over to me, expecting a pat on the back. I watched with envy as kids her age read books that I had been reading at her age, and longed to share the experience with her.

It struck me that perhaps she didn’t like stories that much, so I bought her some “how-things-work” kind of books, hoping that might strike a chord. No such luck, though there did seem to be an initial spark. Both DH and I mentioned in passing to her how books helped, not just with information, but for entertainment that wasn’t dependent on anyone else. But nothing seemed to work. Lil D’s aversion to reading remained. I thought giving away some of her books might spark some interest, but she seemed all too glad to dispose of the pile that I had bought so lovingly! It made me feel I was doing something wrong, that I was inadequate as a parent somehow. After all, wasn’t reading supposed to be good for a kid?

Finally, one fine day, I gave myself a good talking-to. What did it matter if she didn’t like reading? I didn’t love her any less because of that. So why was it becoming such a big deal? She was a different kind of person, someone who loved touching and feeling whatever she was working with. So perhaps books were really not her cup of tea. She would definitely get her quota of information and entertainment through some other channels. She loved art, so her imagination could receive a work-out there, not necessarily through books alone. I decided then and there to back off. I would no longer pass subtle hints about books any more. I would not point out interesting books to her. I would not ask her what she had read. I would not burden her with my expectations. I would just let it be.

There was no dramatic difference once I made that decision. My acceptance just made things easier, and I suspect that though I had earlier never overtly pressured her into reading, she had been able to somehow sense my expectations. To me, it was clear that I loved her whether she read or not, so it was immaterial.

About six or seven months later, there was a wave of interest in Geronimo Stilton books amongst her friends. Lil D too jumped on the bandwagon. Knowing this to be one of those phases, I bought a few books for her which she raced through in no time. I knew that was only due to peer pressure, but I was happy for that. I stuck to my no-interference policy strictly.

Though Lil D sometimes showed spurts of interest in reading, I never caught her actually sitting down and reading at home. She was always a flurry of activity, rushing here and there like a mini-tornado. Sometimes, she thoughtfully brought home books from the school library for me to read! All in all, there was no reason to suspect that anything had changed.

The first real sign came when I had gone shopping with my sister recently — a little less than a couple of years after I took the decision of non-interference. Lil D had wanted some Thea Stilton books, and I had bought them for her. As my sister and I began our shopping, Lil D surprised me completely. She sat on a little stool for more than an hour and a half, engrossed in her books! I was quite impressed and told her so, to which she just grinned.

But what took the cake was her recent report card. The evaluations were all in line with what I knew about my little girl, but when I read one statement, you could have knocked me down with a feather! It said she was a voracious reader! I could not believe my eyes! When I asked Lil D if it was true, she nodded. Of course it was true, she had read so many books from the school library.

Now I notice that she does read a lot more than before. I catch her reading the newspaper sometimes, the back of the cereal box sometimes. Though she loves listening to music before she sleeps, sometimes she picks up a book instead. She takes a book along when she goes, so that she can read if she gets bored.

I still exercise my policy of non-interference, but it makes me so glad that I did the right thing; I gave her the space to make her own choice. It’s just a bonus that she’s begun enjoying reading; after all, I’d love her even if she didn’t.

The Line in the Sand

Sometimes, I hear things like — I (will) never take my children to the mall. This is normally spoken in a holier-than-thou voice, with complete contempt for anyone who expresses a slightly different opinion.

It always reminds me of the words of wisdom spoken by a good friend of mine.

Our group of friends were on a trip with the kids, and all of us were hanging out at a small stream. One of the fathers was urging the kids to come and sit under the small but powerful waterfall, and the kids were rather hesitant at first. The reaction of the parents was interesting too. Some urged their child to take the plunge, some were treading on the cautious path, and others were just downright uncomfortable. Finally, all the kids did go under the waterfall. Some enjoyed it immensely, others were glad to get out.

As we were returning to our resort, we were discussing what had happened. What my friend said then made excellent sense. She said that the more we prevent our kids from doing things, the more they long to do them, and find sneaky ways of doing them if not permitted. However, if we allowed them to do things in our presence, ensuring their safety, security and education, they would not be so inclined to jump in when temptation presents itself.

In many ways, we restrict our children based on our own fears. We forbid them to do things based on our own beliefs. Yet, if we allowed them to experience whatever it is (with our guidance), and make up their own minds as to whether they like it or not, would it not be better? Wouldn’t they grow up to be less fearful, and hence less hypocritical? Agreed, our guidance would naturally be biased, but I feel it is better than a blanket ban.

I honestly feel that one can take one’s child to the mall and expose him to everything there, without irretrievably corrupting the soul. If we provide him with enough alternatives, and we don’t become mall-rats ourselves, I see no harm in exposing the child to different things in life. It builds character too, a la Calvin! 😛

In fact, I think sometimes we ourselves get to experience so many things that we would never have dreamed of, thanks to our kids! 🙂