Parenting…choices

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Long ago, I dreamt of writing a book about living in China and walking on the Great Wall. And it happened.

I chose not to chase my dream instead I spent majority of my time chasing my sons.

My children came to me in my thirties. By then, they were more than welcome. My longing to be a mother overrode my other dreams. I reveled in my sons and brought them up to what I considered the best of my ability. I read Dr Spock when they were babies and talked to my friends about their babies’ developmental processes. I remember, I was worried about my son’s teething. Our friends’ daughter had many teeth by the time she was one and she loved eating watermelons. My son had few teeth and objected to fruit. He only drank mamma’s milk and half boiled eggs! He hated orange juice and clenched his gums/ few teeth when we tried to feed him solid food. He even spat out the food we tricked him into ‘eating’. My friend argued that all humans had teeth. Hence, so would my son, even if the process happened a little later. And she was right! Every child is unique and develops at an individual pace.

As parents, we can only watch, wait and pray. We do our best but the ultimate call is made by the child and the force that drives all life. As a parent, I discovered that I really enjoyed my children’s childhood and I miss it now that they have become older and have learnt to fend for themselves largely.

The funny thing that happened to me as a parent was that I forgot that I had my own dreams and goals from long before… from my teens and earlier. Perhaps, my dreams underwent a change. The feeling I am left with is these years of my life have been well spent. What could be more important than helping mold the future of mankind? Children are our future and to prioritise them over and above our own needs seemed the most natural thing to do.

I always remember the lines by William Wordsworth about the rainbow, poetic wonder and the child…

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

The wonder that a child feels in discovering not just rainbows but even his father’s oversized shirt or shoes often becomes a source of infinite delight and wonder to the parent too because as an adult we get in touch again with the novelty of things when we watch our child fascinated with what we had started to consider mundane. That is a joy that keeps every parent young at heart. And, thus the child forever continues the ‘ father’ of man. And perhaps that is what happened to me. I lost myself in the wonder of rediscovering life with my children. And on a daily basis, I want to thank God for giving me these bundles of joy and my husband for letting me revel in their childhood, while he slogged to bring home the bacon and help realize our dreams.

Encouraging children to have dreams, goals and ideals from a young age goes a long way. No age is too early and no dream too small or big! It can be a dream of being a princess, dressing up, flying to outer space in a rocket, driving a lorry or a dustbin dump truck, inventing something new, cooking a dream dish, writing a book or drawing a picture.

I know of a mother who helped materialize her son’s dreams by helping him publish a book in elementary school. The child at the age of three told her that he wanted to write a book and have it on a bookshelf in a bookshop. By the time he was eight he had the book. It started with doodles and ended with stories. His mother helped him materialize his dream of being an author. And she used his dreams to help him learn to read, write and develop a love for books!

For my children, the dreams were different but no less important. My elder son was so fascinated by trucks that his first poem in his kindergarten was a list of names of these juggernauts. That gave way to dreams of making robots. I was happy to hear out his dream because he said it was better to have robots clean high rise windows rather than humans as people could fall and get hurt. From then on, his journey started in the quest of making robots to lighten mankind’s burdens and it continues more than a decade and a half down the line. My younger son dreams of animations with music, math and science… I wait eagerly to see how it will concretize to make a rainbow.

Sometimes, we need to work to make our children’s dreams come true. For example, when my younger son wanted a sunshine cake for his fifth birthday, I made it! And the biggest reward I had was when my little one when he said, “Mamma that is exactly what I imagined!”

Children need to sense that dreams can come true without compromises. Let them fly… and you can fly with them. They can help you fly and materialize your own dreams while you watch them grow and soar.

Actually, that is how my book happened too. One day my younger son came back from his school in China and said, “Mamma, you have never been to university.” I contradicted him and said that I had been to two. And then he said, “But my Chinese teacher said that mammas who stayed at home had not been to university!”

I was alarmed. I spoke to the school, which was a well-known international one. Many of the expat wives in China had chosen to be full time mothers, which is something that the world did not comprehend. I had chosen to be a full time mother even when my elder son was in my womb because the doctor had recommended bed rest and I stayed home from then on.

I thought calmly, did it really matter to me? It was not my job to educate a confused ‘educator’ who looked down on child rearing as the task of an uneducated person but it was my need to be respected and seen as a role model by my son. I wanted to show my child that one can dream big and materialize them under any circumstances, even while indulging in the most daunting and time consuming adventure of bringing up children. So, I wrote a book, one and a half books actually within a couple of years. The half was a compilation of recipes from thirty countries by well-respected professionals, including chefs, writers, school teachers, principals done in collaboration with a German friend, who is an engineer and dreamt of writing a cookbook while in China as a homemaker; and the other, was my own book, a humorous retelling of living, travelling and bringing up non-Chinese children in China in a society where borders no longer were a truth. That was my individual solution.

But, it made me think… why would a mother with university degrees not want to bring up her child? Is bringing up children really a job to be relegated to a substitute with values and education at variance with your own? Do you want your child to feel closest to you or to the person who has substituted for you as a full time caregiver?

These are choices you need to make when you think of child rearing. You have to decide who to prioritise, yourself or your child?

 

 

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Parenting

 

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Mother and Child… Kruger, South Africa

 

When I was in my early twenties, my grandmother threw a gauntlet at me. She said, “You have grown so used to studying, working and being out that you will never be able to live as a fulltime homemaker or mom!” I was twenty-three then. A little over two and a half decades down the line that is who I am… a full time homemaker and mom.

As I review my life after completing more than half a century, I have no regrets over the choices I made.

Parenting has been the most daunting and challenging experience in my life and continues to be so. I grew up in a home where all the mothers had careers. My grandmother was my chief caregiver. She was the most unusual woman I have ever known. In the early twentieth century, she was a gold medalist in math and art, an unusual thing in our country then. She completed her schooling and then she married a man to who she remained devoted for life. My grandfather also loved her to distraction till he died. She said she could not die because I held her back by my needs. My sense of security and wellbeing was linked to her. And I think she died proud of me more than a decade ago, telling me, “You proved me wrong and I am happy to see you as a wife and mother.”

I had my children when I was touching the third decade and through my third decade. After more than two decades of parenting, I will say that this has been a more challenging and satisfying experience than interviewing miners in mafia areas in Bihar or winning awards or publishing books.

While I see young women around me revel in their careers and grow beyond the confines of their homes, I have a fleeting sense of regret for what they are missing out with the choices they make. Two decades ago when my friends and I were entering motherhood, we were jubilant about the babies we had. I have friends who were very successful professionals, like economists, teachers, journalists, engineers and management personnel, and opted to be full time mothers. For most of us, mothering meant a better future for our children. We were lucky to be married to men who supported our decision. Maybe, we would have been monetarily better off if we worked and had careers full time. But does money make love grow?

Does money make children grow?

To an extent money is necessary to put your children through a good education and a good life. But ‘how much’ is what parents get to define. How much money does fulfil your child’s needs and how much is used to fulfil your own needs? Do you need the kind of money and fame Bill Gates has to bring up a child well? As a parent, one has to put a hold on ones needs and discipline oneself before one starts to discipline a child.

My learning as a parent has been immense. My children have been my true educators. I found that I learnt to control my temper because my children were upset every time I got angry and shouted. They felt they did not want to see me demean myself. I have learnt to restrain my temper to some extent. They also taught me to be above biases. If I exhibited biases and made any statements that reeked of race, religion or nationality, they would be at my throat. Two huge learnings as an adult and for which, I am truly grateful to my two young men.

I had discovered parents need to work as a team through first hand experiences as a child. Otherwise, the child gets torn between the two. And it has served me well in my years as a parent. Though, I had a funny experience based on this learning. We had told my four-year-old son that his father’s word was the law in our home. One day he asked me,  “When can I be a father?” I asked him why he wanted to be a father that early in life, and he replied, “Because fathers are most powerful.” Of course, there will be those who will refer to biases created about male domination but, to me, it was an effective tool for enforcing rules. As parents, one really needs to transcend the male- female battle. You could have mom laying the rules. In our home, daddy laid the laws after discussions with mamma; mamma and son followed the law. But the ultimate decision was basically based on our child’s welfare needs. It was easier this way because daddy was working and not around to discuss the rules with the child. Persuasions by the young gentlemen were pointless. Whereas mummy was always around and, therefore, more open to persuasion.

We also discovered as parents we had to do what we wanted our children to do or emulate. I learnt that my children loved to ape my husband or me. After all we are from the extended ape family! One day, my sons pointed out to me that as my husband and I had a sedentary life style, it was unfair to expect the two them to be into sports and have an active lifestyle. We tried to be more active after that but it was already too late, I felt. I have an Italian friend who wanted her sons to avoid fizzy drinks, sugared juices and alcohol! So, she and her spouse took to drinking only water at mealtimes. If you want teetotaler children, perhaps you need to lead by example…My friend firmly believed children learn by example, not by advice.

In my years as a mother bringing up her children in varied cultures and countries, every now and then a parent in my children’s schools would ask me, “ How is it your child loves to read and study on his own?” I would respond by shrugging and smiling to be polite and to avoid sounding didactic. But the reality was we tried to create an atmosphere conducive for studying and dreaming. And believe me the dreaming and playing part is very important. It develops the child’s ability to think for himself or herself, to learn by themselves. If you have tutored play, it develops a child’s ability to follow instructions but not his ability to think. Some amount of both is necessary.

To create an atmosphere conducive to studying, we read ourselves at home. We stayed home on weekends. Luckily, we all love reading and dreaming. We held ourselves responsible for what our children did, critiqued our own parenting and made sure that the environment at home was relaxed and happy. Working and studying were not relegated as chores to be completed but as a way of life to be enjoyed, a part of relaxation. This was something my helper could not be asked to do. We also stayed more at home to do things we liked. When we did travel once or twice a year, it was with children and most of the time, we tried to include activities of their interest.

Our children today do refer to us as supportive parents… to me that is a big praise. Of course in their more fun filled moments, they remind me that my personality type matches that of Hitler! But, I take it that they can make the comparison only because   they feel free with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Storm

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A shooting star zipped across the sky, studded with pinpricks of lights that twinkled against the blackness of the velvety night, a night that throbbed with music on the lawns of the exclusive club where Dolon and Suresh were celebrating their silver wedding anniversary. The star went unnoticed by all except a figure that sat at a distance wrapped in what seemed an extension of the night sky, a sinuous black sari speckled with tiny silver spangles. The figure smiled with happy thoughts and perhaps made a wish as the shooting star disappeared into oblivion.

The sumptuous party with turbaned waiters and long white tables swung in it’s own beat. Guests draped in expensive saris, suits, jewelry and perfume expressed their satisfaction with the opulence of the affair. Besides Dolon and Suresh, stood their daughter, Brishti, and son, Sreshth. Brishti’s fiance, Arjun, came and whispered in her ears. Brishti gave a shy smile and looked at her parents. Dolon smiled and the young couple took off towards the dance floor, a little raised stage in the middle of the lawn where the younger moved to music.

“ I think all the guests are here except for Subir da. He is late as usual,” said Suresh.

“ Then let us go and mingle,” said Dolon.

“I am off to my gang then,” said Sresht and went off to a gaggle of young men talking and laughing.

Dolon and Suresh went first to the woman in black, the star gazer who occupied a chair near the entrance of the party. She had a face similar to that of Dolon but looked a little older.

Didi, I am so glad you could come all the way,” said Dolon to her elder sister, Damayanti.

“And how would I not? On such an important occassion…” said Damayanti with a smile. Suresh came and touched her feet. She blessed the couple from the bottom of her heart.

“Go and mingle with the others. I will sit here and wait for Subir. He is late as usual,” said Damayanti with an indulgent smile. Subir was her husband. She was five years older to Dolon and her only daughter, Sreya, was married and living in South Africa.

Damayanti sighed and gazed at the figures of her sister and brother-in-law moving among the guests. How happy they looked together, happier than her and Subir, whose inability to be in time distressed her! And yet, she could not help but recall that night almost fifteen years ago, a day after her sister’s wedding anniversary celebration, when she got that horrifying call that Dolon had slashed her wrist and was hospitalized…

She would never forget the nightmare. Subir and she had driven recklessly from their home to the nursing home. It was surreal for her. Her lively younger sister Dolon… the one who always smiled, was always so sure of herself, always got her way, was so strong to oppose wrongs to women, to children , to anyone, was so loyal in love… why would such a positive and strong person try to commit suicide?

At the nursing home, their father, Harihar, was pacing up and down. The young children were clinging to Seema, their grandmother. But, where was Suresh and why had all this happened?

After a few hours, Dolon regained consciousness. The family were allowed in one by one and asked to be quiet. The children went in with their grandmother. Then the rest followed slowly. The doctors asked them not to talk to her or agitate her in any way.

What had happened? That was the question on everyone’s mind but no one dared ask. And why was Suresh not there?

Harihar had received a call from the housekeeper that her madam was lying in a pool of blood and the children were crying with fear… Harihar instantly called a private ambulance and rushed her to the nearest nursing home. He was also not clear what had happened… and why they couldnot find Suresh anywhere.

No one wanted to question Dolon much…

Brishti and Shresht went to their grandparent’s home from the nursing home. Brishti said Dolon had asked them to go to their room when Suresh mentioned he wanted to talk to her alone. Then they spoke and their voices became loud and incoherent. The door banged shut. The children could hear Dolon crying as if her heart would rend. Slowly, the weeping seemed to stop. And then they heard a scream from the housekeeper. They came running out of their room to find their mother with her wrist cut. The housekeeper called up Suresh immediately. Suresh’s phone was switched off. So, she called Harihar. The arguement had happened while she was in the market. When she returned, Dolon had been weeping in her room and Suresh was missing and the kids were in their room. She only came into the room when the weeping almost ceased thinking Dolon had calmed down. Instead, she found her lying in a pool of blood.

From the nursing home, Dolon also came to her parental home. She was very depressed and quiet. The doctors had prescribed anti-depressants. No one dared question Dolon. Harihar continued to call Suresh but his phone was still switched off!

Damayanti, Subir and Sreya temporarily moved into Harihar’s home to try and ease the situation. Also Dolon was closest to her sister. Everyone was hoping she would tell her what had happened.

After two days, Harihar had a call from Suresh. Suresh had returned home after two days, unkempt, unshaven and heard the story of Dolon’s wrist slashing from the housekeeper. He wanted to talk to Dolon. Harihar asked him to come over and explain what had happened. Suresh came, looking unkempt, anxious and abashed. He first wanted to talk to Dolon. But Dolon didnot want to talk to him or see him.

“What is the matter? Will one of you tell me what has happened? Why Dolon had to resort to such extreme measures?”said Harihar with impatience.

Suresh found it difficult to say anything. He just left.

The evening of the day Suresh visited them, Dolon opened up to Damayanti, “He wanted to leave me and go with his secretary… It seems she has been in love with him from the first day she saw him… whereas he thinks I have no time for him… I love him so much. Life has no meaning without him. I married him to spend the rest of my life with him…where did I go wrong Didi? …It really hurts…I was only looking after the kids and home. I have always been there for him… He is the one who is always busy. He has no time for the kids or me… He doesnot know the kids’ teachers or friends. He sees us only on weekends practically. He is always taking clients out for dinner and getting home near midnight… he is the one who spends more time with his secretary and work than with any of us…yet, we have never complained…”

Damayanti was furious, “Divorce him! Divorce him this instance… we told you not to marry the orphan…but you still did. And now…” Suresh was an orphan. He was brought up by his aunt, who died before Dolon met him. She knew him for twelve years before she slashed her wrists.

“My life is over,”said Dolon. “Why did you save me?”

“What about the kids?” Said Damayanti. “If you and Suresh think only of yourselves, what of the kids?”

Harihar was furious too, “He is banned from coming here! Dolon will divorce him”

But when the kids left for school the next day, the bell did ring. And there was Suresh.

“Get out!”said Harihar.

Suresh forced his way in despite that.

“Please let me see Dolon once,” he begged. “I will go away forever if she wants after that. Please let me apologize. I was wrong. I do love her.”

Dolon came in.

Everyone was silent.

“Do you really?” asked Dolon. “Then why did you say all those things and disappear not letting me have my say…”

“I was confused…I cannot live without you…Please give me another chance. I will be a good father and husband. I will change my ways. Please, please Dolon I beg you.”He knelt. He bowed his head and pleaded.

Dolon said, “Okay. One more chance is all I will give and then if it happens again, I will leave, not die, with the kids.”

“No Dolon. Do not believe him,”said Damayanti.

“He will hurt you again,”said her Seema.

“He is not worthy of you,”said Harihar.

Subir, who had just returned after dropping the children to school, collared Suresh, “If you come near us again, I will hand you to the police.”

“Stop.”shouted Dolon. “For my sake stop.”

Subir let Suresh go.

Dolon deliberately walked over to her husband. She held his hand and said, “Let’s go.”

Brishti and Shresht returned home that weekend. And Subir and Damayanti returned home with Sreya. Dolon’s family kept urging her to divorce Suresh. But, Dolon ignored them and their rebuke. Damayanti didnot know what Dolon did, but it had all worked out. Dolon had been very strong through it all, siding with her husband, supporting him with love and trust.

Once when Damayanti questioned her on why she forgave him so easily, Dolon said, “Our children need us both.”

Her children never knew exactly what happened but they were attached to both their parents. Initially, the family ignored Suresh. Then, seeing how good he was being to Dolon, they started relenting. Suresh tried to win back the family too as he had none of his own.

Infact when Harihar developed cancer, Suresh was the one who paid for most of the chemotherapy, his argument being that he had no one else except this family to care for whereas Subir had his parents too. Suresh stood by like a rock for his mother-in-law when her husband passed away and he was by her when she died two years later.

One day when the two sisters were having tea, Dolon had confided in Damayanti, “The past that threatened to tear us apart has drawn Suresh closer to my heart. He has softened. He seems kinder…to understand me better …perhaps because he started giving us more time… life is good now.” That was about a year after their mother died.

Strange how people were…

That the lively Dolon could be so strong and take a positive step towards rebuilding her life despite the family suggesting otherwise was amazing! That she had succeeded was fantastic! That she found it in her heart to forgive her erring husband was so kind and loving, and so unlike the reaction people would have expected from the fiery Dolon… A waiter with a tray of drinks stood before her, “Would madam like something?”

She jerked back to reality…

The moon had risen higher and the waiter waited with his tray. “No, thank you,”said Damayanti.

Where was Subir?

Someone tugged at Damayanti’s saree. Damayanti turned around and looked. It was Subir. He whispered in her ears, “What were you thinking? You looked lost and lovely…”

There was tinge of sadness, concern and accusation in Damayanti’s glance as she looked deep into Subir’s eyes and wondered why he was always late. Why could he not ever  be in time…Could it be another…?

She wiped the disturbing thought. And smiled back with a sense of regret.

The party continued to swing.

A Happy New Year

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A New Year’s Hope

Each morning, I am drawn
To the dawning of a new dawn.
Songs of hope and happiness ring
And each ray a line of joy sings.

Each new year, I watch for the morning star,
And wish on it for a wonderful, fresh start.
Lyrics of harmony on each lip,
Dreams of peace and plenty give.

This is my fervent hope.
Every heart find a home.
Every child find enough food
And a wonderful world that schools
To realise their dreams,
Creating vibrant streams
Of thought that freely flows
Towards enlightening souls…
Beyond borders and lines,
Bonds drawn by mankind.

To welcome the new, let us all rise
And with these dreams take flight…