Creativity and competition

Provence_by_night van Gogh
Country road in Provence by Night,  Vincent Van Gogh, !890

 

Vincent Van Gogh severed his ear when he got into a fight with Paul Gaugin, a friend and a fellow artist. He painted a picture of himself with a bandaged ear and died regarded as a pauper and madman. Paul Gaugin fared hardly any better in his lifetime. And yet now, their art is seen as priceless.

In music, Salieri was better regarded than Mozart… and yet Mozart lives today when the only place one gets to hear Salieri’s music is in Amadeus, the movie on Mozart’s life.

The Great Gatsby by F. scott Fitzgerald was regarded as ‘ tawdry’ and ‘ absurd’ by the media when it was published and Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece, Heart of Darkness, was dismissed as a ‘minor’ work by critics. And yet both of these have later been made into Hollywood films and popularized.

Did these writers or artistes compete for the top billing?

I think not. But they created what they felt from the heart. They created with passion. They had no intention of double spacing or typifying their art forms or giving exams and fitting it into a mold so that it could get the first place or be selected for an exhibition or a book or magazine by a publisher.

Being a person who enjoys experimenting with words, enjoys the rhythm of them, the feel of them, the sensuality of them, the power they possess and the passion they can generate, I want to share why I do not feel creativity can be measured by competitions.

Creating for me is a form of worship. Each time I try to create perfection. And each time I fall short. Each word I write, each piece I write is from my heart. It is an offering to that energy of which we are all a part, of which each star, each planet is a part.

When I write a journalistic piece or a review, it is with a different perspective. It is written to inform. I have an editor who hones it to perfection for me. A piece that is published ceases to be mine.

Creation is different from publication or limelight. Creation is the process of ascending above the existing world and getting in touch with that part of yourself that wants to soar with endless freedom across the open spaces of the universe, that wants to burn like a flame and rise in a crescendo to a world that only can be described as ecstatic, to give a sense of boundlessness to the spirit…I try to capture this ecstasy in words. Sometimes, characters visit me in dreams. I have to write about them otherwise they keep haunting me. Sometimes lines come to me and if I do not put them down, I lose them. Then I feel incomplete and irritable. Thus, the need to create or express can be painful and intense. The outbursts of lines, colors and people happen naturally. They take me to that point from where I can see a world that is different from what most perceive.

When I was in my teens, my friends used to tease me that I viewed everything differently from others… now people tell me I live in a different world far removed from reality. But that is my reality.

Creativity can be seen as a form of madness or delusion that whirls and twirls you around the world, that helps you rise above the mundane and experience a joy that is beyond competitions and exams as well as torture you to perdition if the right words do not come your way. George Bernard Shaw does a good job of putting it in perspective,

“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?”

When you try to relate that dream to others, you create an art form or a poem or a story or an essay…

That is why I feel creativity is beyond judgment, beyond competition.

Creativity just happens. Trying to earn ones living buying, selling or teaching creativity can be daunting. You can sell an idea, a piece of information, a painting that someone likes, a novel that many enjoy. These might be the products of the creative process.

When one competes to write a story or a poem for a competition only to win and starts looking for profits in creativity, one compromises oneself. A creative product may not be highly popular when it is born. People may or may not like your experience or the expression that one gives. The world may not be ready for it as yet. But if you can continue practicing the expression for the love or joy it generates or out of a sense of compulsion, maybe the masterpiece will happen.

The famous American writer, William Sidney Porter or O Henry, has written a story called The Last Leaf, which describes the whole process of creativity and masterpiece to perfection. The story is about a failed crusty old artist who painted the last leaf on a tree to give hope to a young artist and help her survive a bout of pneumonia. The young girl was under the delusion that she would die when the last leaf fell. Behrman, the old artist, has been described as such in the story.

Behrman was a failure in art. Forty years he had wielded the brush without getting near enough to touch the hem of his Mistress’s robe. He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it.”

He dies painting what one of the characters describes as his ‘masterpiece’.

And this is what I feel is a masterpiece, the swan song of our lives. Once you achieve it, perhaps it will be difficult to replicate… I do not know. Or, maybe, it can be repeated. Though I must say after reading all the wonderful Harry Potters, JK Rowling’s other books leave me dissatisfied.

Creativity should be viewed as Edgar Allan Poe’s Eldorado, elusive, mythical and enchanting… not for sale but something that many of us seek and do not find, the ultimate source of joy, not of mundane fame. It cannot be trapped into a bank vault. It is a divine union, a gift that fills our being with joy and light. There is nothing before or after. It is the gift that touches the beauty in our being, bringing us closer to the eternal Creator of all mankind. It is the song that flows from our soul, primeval, beautiful and fulfilling.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Parenting… rereading and reading

IMG_0248

 

When I see my sons curled up with a Harry Potter for the umpteenth time, I invariably ask them how many times they have read these books. They call these their ‘comfort food’ and the books do cheer them up. We have the complete series at home. I have read each of them four times too but my sons must have reread them a few hundreds or thousands of times! One of their friends can lay similar claims too. His mother left the series behind at her home in Germany but he still found a way to read the books, by borrowing from the library at school!

I have always wondered what the effect of re-reading a book would be on children and then I chanced upon an article by Emma Court in The Atlantic magazine (https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/07/what-rereading-childhood-books-teaches-adults-about-themselves/566261/), which said that rereading is a form of therapeutic activity. Court has written

‘Knecht, the writer and therapist, says of rereading that “when you’re feeling stagnant, like you’ve made no progress, it gives a shape to that experience and suggests it will pass.” In that way, it can be therapeutic because “therapy is about telling your story and having someone challenge you sometimes about the way you’re telling that story,” she says, “until you get it into a shape that you can live with and move forward with.”’

Keeping this in mind, I can perhaps stop worrying. Maybe what happens to the adult psyche, happens to that of youngsters’ too… Harry Potter is their therapy to whatever it is they are facing. And as such is not a bad source for therapy. Court also finds that rereading books give ‘refuge’ to the reader, what perhaps my sons call ‘comfort food’. To me Harry Potter is a good alternative because it imbibes survival instincts, positive values, strength and happy outcomes in a clean, decent story written with a sense of humor and perfect for ages eight to eighty. I had my comfort books too long before the advent of Harry Potter… Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did, Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice( in fact almost all the Jane Austens). The commonality I see among all these books that I have reread at different junctures of my life and what my sons reread is that all these are about survivors and are laced with positive values.

Early this year in a panel discussion, I heard a writer say that children do not like to read a lot of text nowadays. And another educator refuted her by saying that it depends on how you bring up your child. To me both the statements held truths that are a modern day reality. Many children prefer other forms of entertainment than books. But then, often, so do their parents. Some see books as redundant in today’s multimedia world. Some feel it is better to read from a kindle or online because books occupy a lot of space and we all live in homes that are shrinking to the exigencies of an ever-expanding population and limited space. Also multi media is a far more attractive way of learning for many.

But is it?

What takes two hours to show in a movie often takes more time to read in a book. I am not referring to lecture notes or a video of the lecture here but to something closer to a novel. A movie can be based on a story or its summation but it cannot replace the whole process of reading the book. Also, books create images with words. We use our mind, our imagination to interpret and understand the book. A movie is the director’s interpretation and understanding of the book… We just absorb what he has shown us, even if it is interactive.

I often review books for an online website, have more than a couple of thousand books at home and cannot stop myself from feeling the rush of adrenalin as I sift through the pages of a new book. Growing up in such an environment, my boys cannot but enjoy reading.

They learnt to choose their own books as they did their toys. I remember my elder son used to love a book called Trucks when he was four. I had to read it to him morning, noon and at night with sound effects of trucks of different kinds. The first entry was on fire trucks and he had the page by heart. Once a visitor to my home told me, my son was an excellent reader because he read the first page without a flaw. Then I enlightened her that he recited it from memory… his reading skills were that of a normal four year old.

Now, I wonder if my kids can recite portions of Harry Potter!

The other thing, which I feel a book does for you, is to help define your values, your principles and your outlook in life. That is why a friend of mine tried to read almost every book her kids were reading… I cannot lay such lofty claims but I did try to read a few books from each of the series they read. Some of the books, I must say, I enjoyed very much myself. J.K Rowling’s Harry Potters, few of C.S Lewis’s Narnia, Madeleine l’ Engle’s series of Wrinkle in Time (I enjoyed them more than my sons did), Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson… These books had the same values that I found in classics that I read during my childhood. Whereas a book from the series by Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, left me feeling that though it was incredibly funny and well written, a child would have to be guided to imbibe the right values from it!

It is not enough to be able to read and write to have a career. That is merely literacy. But it is also necessary to have the right values, principles and the spirit to live with ones passion, to create and achieve ones dreams, which is ideally what most parents would want to see their children do. These are skills that can be developed by reading the right books… and perhaps by re-reading them and imbibing their good values and principles.

“ I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”

—    JK Rowling.

Parenting … love & reassurance

IMG_0270

 

I remember it snowed in Suzhou, China, in 2008 … the worst in the last fifty years it was said. Roads were closed. Schools were closed. People were advised to work from home. And my elder son, a full twelve years old, was disappointed that exams had been cancelled! I was amazed a child could be sad that exams were cancelled! The only other kid who I knew of that did was fictitious, Hermione Granger from Harry Potter!

What made me really happy was that he enjoyed his childhood with exams or without… both my kids had fun in the snow that year! It was their first exposure to the snow, making snowmen, igloos and forts and having snow fights with friends. The snowbound days were filled with friends and fun.

Childhood should be a time for adventure, happiness, fun and frolic punctured with small doses of minor disappointments and hurdles to strengthen the youngsters — make them sturdier to face the world as adults later. Children need love and reassurance to get over their hurdles and find their own strengths.

These hurdles could be exams or grades, social interactions, minor failures in competitive sports, music, art, dance or drama. In my elder son’s case exams were not a hurdle but competitive sports were as were dance and to an extent social interactions! I am always told by mothers I am lucky that my children are motivated to study themselves… not fully true… they are motivated to study subjects they enjoy and not what they don’t. If I were to hand them Omar Khayyam or T. S. Eliot, two of my favorite poets, they would both fall asleep. My younger son told his art teacher in front of me at the age of fourteen that he thought cubist art could be created by computers while I gasped. That term the art teacher praised his piano performance and he had failing grades in her subject!

Grades come and go but our children remain an integral part of us and we love them without hesitation, without any ulterior motivation. We always want what we consider the best for them. However, some of us forget to convey the love we have and feel for our children. Our children see us only as critical parents who harangue at them every time they fall short of an A or B or whatever grade or sport or art defines the parents’ expectations. As parents, we hurt every time we reprimand our child but the cycle goes on. Perhaps, if were not so anxious about our children’s success in terms of grades and external achievements and instead we taught them good values that would help them achieve their dreams or targets, they would themselves turn their interest to studying and striving to do well in life. The first thing of course would be to distance ourselves from our own dreams and acknowledge that our children have their own paths and respect those. A hard task for any parent!

The next thing would be to tell the children how much we love them, not only for their achievements or the lack of them, but for themselves. It is always easy to confuse love for a person with love for an achievement, as much for an adult as for a child. We often hear talk from teenagers about how their parents are unable to understand them and only look at their grades. They feel themselves distanced by the difference in expectations. Both sides hurt and feel misunderstood.

We are experiencing a generation gap. What is that? A difference in values and perspectives borne of the experiences we have had in our lives. Should generation gap really create barriers between parents and children? Should we be intolerant and not communicate about our futures? Are parents’ futures not linked to their children’s … then should the dreams not sync? Perhaps, if we could find some time to spend talking of these issues with our children, we might find the gap closing. If they could only understand why we say what we do to them…

The other thing that disturbs parenting is the social media. How often I see parents flashing their children’s grades, report cards and university admissions in Facebook! I find it very strange. Have they forgotten they have friends or family whose kids may not have achieved excellent results or admissions? Is it not rather gross to show off thus? Do they want the world to judge their children only for their achievements and not for who they are?

Sometimes, parenting becomes an unpleasant task for a feeling mothers have. They feel motherhood has deprived them of their academic or professional dreams and they have compromised their own career for kids and home. They look at academic or professional acclaim as the only measure of success. But is it? Is not helping mould the future of mankind a more important task and our children are really the future … they will inherit the planet and their outlook will define the future of mankind. What kind of future will they look forward to if the only focus is largely on personal acclaim? Is it only the academically strong who dominate and run the world? Think of names that spring to ones mind… Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates… of course most dropouts don’t make it big! But then, do all toppers in school exam make it big?

One has to see what is it that drives people to succeed? Big dreams, the conviction that they can succeed under all circumstances… so, is it not more important that we help our children move towards these ideals rather than only academic prowess, college admissions and social acceptance? Big dreams mean passion for what they do. Should we then be so focused on their grades and admissions so as to flash them as an achievement above their personality development and their ability to contribute to humankind?

Why do we study? To prepare for our future and develop the right attitudes; to discover our strengths and learn to deal with our weaknesses and to survive in a highly competitive world. Some stick with academics… mostly to teach or to benefit mankind with research. Why then should we be flashing good grades and university admissions, which are merely a means to achieve an end?

As parents, we need to help our children become strong and develop the right attitudes and survival instincts in a world that is dissolving into a rat race. We should not be encouraging them to become a participant rat in the mad race but to rise above it and create a better, more humane world for themselves and the future generations, a world where they can feel happy and fulfilled.

For all children, love, social and emotional acceptance is an integral part of growing up and achieving their dreams… it is time perhaps for parents to reassure the children that they are loved, not for grades, achievements or any other prowess but for themselves. To elucidate what I mean, I would like to quote the last part from a poem of mine that was published two years ago in an anthology of verses:

 

Perhaps,

Mothers need to say…

‘Child of my womb

For me, you are perfection.

You are adoration.

I want to give you

All that I have and more.

I want the world to praise galore

The person I most adore.

My expectations are born of love.

There is nothing below or above

That can match you

Because you are born of me.

A miracle of God.

Matchless you remain,

Loved adored, accepted,

My child…’

 

 

Parenting…dreams

IMG_0266

During my younger son’s eighth grade graduation, the principal gave a fabulous speech. He asked the youngsters to dream big dreams, to reach for the moon and in case they missed landing on the moon, they would fall on the stars. He asked them to ignore laughter and taunts that might come in the way of realizing their dreams. I loved the speech… thought it was one of the most inspiring I had ever heard. It reminded me of something one of the biggest and most imaginative dreamers in the history of mankind, Albert Einstein, said,

“Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.”

I have always been a person who believes that having big dreams is the first step to realizing them. And to me the biggest tragedy is when a child or youngster says he or she has no dream. To dream, to believe in a dream is the first thing that I tried to inculcate in my children.

For us, it all started with stories. One of my sons wanted to fly like Peter Pan and have dustbin dump truck birthday cakes. Another wanted a sunshine cake on his birthday and to do so many things together… he is still trying to concretize his dream. My five-year-old niece believes I have fairies and a balloon tree in my house and I can make magic dust to fly to Never-Never Land… she even wants to know how many people I know in Never-Never Land. The little realist in her also longs to read because reading brings her closer to things of which she dreams… fairies, magic dust and happiness. She saw many books in her fourteen-year-old cousin’s room and said, “I cannot read all those now.” Her cousin, brought up to think that all dreams are achievable, told her, “But you can eventually…” And  eventually she will realize her dream and pursue her passions. But the first step the little girl is taking towards growing up is to learn nothing is impossible. No dreams are too big. To dream or to find ones dream is the biggest adventure for a child. Their dreams will not just be a reality but something that will shape their lives, their existence. Of course, my niece will like my sons realise as she grows up, that Peter Pan is a myth but by then other dreams would have replaced the need to fly to Never-Never Land.

The thing we as parents need to do is to handle the transitioning of dreams with a light touch, with a sense of humor, and not get lost in the intensity and forced materialization of a dream. If a child wants to be an Olympic champion in swimming, but later wants to move on to being a businessman, we need to humor him till he has steadied his own mind and intent and is older. My elder son at a point wanted to be a neuro-surgeon, a space scientist and a bunch of other things… we humored him till he felt he found his dream… and now he pursues it with a passion… though there is still more of it to realize. The concretization started only when he was completing his teens! But he was allowed to dream and dream on the impossible…

As parents, many of us like to push our children towards pragmatic goals, the easily identified and achievable ends which will put bread and butter on the table and bring home enough cash. We urge them to give up their own dreams to come to terms with reality. Our parents might have told us the same when we were trying to find our dream. How many of us gave up our dreams, our romances to settle for the practical and we consider ourselves blessed and happy because we have the mundane; money, career, houses, cars…. or whatever it is that is important to you in your circle… could be clubs, travel, yatchs… However, these are what I would call ‘things’ as opposed to ‘ideas’. To me pursuing ‘ideas’ is more important because that is what makes mankind move forward towards civilization and progress. I would rather have an impractical dreamer who, as he grows up trying to materialize his dreams, moves towards a more pragmatic reality and blends his vision with the needs of mankind, to contribute to a more positive future.

If parents say their children have no dreams, no ambition except for playing online games or partying or watching YouTube videos, maybe they need to know their children better. Perhaps their children’s dreams lie wrapped in the things they are doing and the parents are too wary to acknowledge the unconventionality of their child’s dream. Some children also may take longer to materialize their dreams… but they all get there at some point if you let them be themselves and don’t impose your own fears and insecurities on them, including social acceptance… Of course, everyone will not be a star but at least let them try to be themselves, give them the tools to flourish but the blooming has to be theirs, not the parents…

Often parents talk of bringing up children with good values, make them focus on practicalities and destroy their dreams altogether and the children become part of the faceless workforce that live to earn and earn to live and accept anything that comes their way as long as they have their material comforts. Is this what we look forward to as a bright future? To me a bright future is not a life of ease and plenty but a future where a child feels fulfilled and happy, where a child will feel he has a purposeful life. To this end, it is important that the child pursue his own dreams and not that of his parents. Perhaps it is time to change our mindset, to start believing in the reality of dreaming and letting dreams exist. Perhaps we need to believe in what Einstein said,

“We cannot get to where we dream of being tomorrow unless we change our thinking today.”

Parenting…freedom

IMG_0263

How much freedom does a child need?

This one is always a tough one to answer. Perhaps, Matt Munro says it all in the lyrics of the song, Born Free

Born free, as free as the wind blows

As free as the grass grows

Born free to follow your heart

While I love to see my children free of all shackles to grow and bloom as their dreams dictate, to fly free as the wind blows, we still need to understand the breeze is created by the laws of physics, by rules laid out by a greater power than us.

My sons always talk of freedom in the sense of space to do what they like, make robots, create animations, play the piano, read a Harry Potter for the one thousandth time without being reprimanded! They like to stay at home and do things. They say they need freedom of mind and thought. So, when I told them, turn by turn, they were too young to read an Asimov at thirteen, they both rebelled. They read the books by borrowing from the library. I have learnt to let them read and explore what they like as long as it is within the bounds of decency. Luckily, for me, my sons are like grand dads when it comes to rules and decency. They lay the laws for themselves and the rest of the world. They do not like to wander into the darker zones of internet or play gory games or go out late at night to party, drink and drug. Perhaps, I am plain lucky! Or, did they become my great grand dads because they grew up within certain frameworks of rules and ideals?

Most children, like grown ups, have different concepts of freedom. My elder son’s best friend in the eighth grade needed the freedom to drink as much coke as possible and eat as many chocolates as he could lay his hands on behind his mother’s back. Some need freedom of movement, some of thought and some for things that parents frown on or fear. So, how do parents define how much freedom and what kind of freedom?

I remember, when my son’s school started using internet extensively, caregivers were called in to be educated about parental controls, rules were suggested for internet surfing and how to monitor the child while he explored the internet. While we agreed on the need for filters, a friend of mine and I felt the school was creating an atmosphere of mistrust between the child and his parents. Whereas the school felt they were creating awareness among parents. The bottom-line was all of us wanted the best for the children.

Trust develops with the ability of the child to work within a framework. Children need structures and rules. It gives them a sense of security and helps them develop their capacity to think. The school was trying to create a framework. We as mothers felt the framework was taking on the dimensions of a jail where the parents were warders and the children the prisoners. On the other hand, there are children who wander into the negative side of freedom. They will not study, keep going out and wander into areas of Internet and social media that can get them into trouble. They might even try alcohol, drugs and violate their own or others’ bodies out of curiosity and boredom. So, how do we make sure our kids do not wander into these dark forbidden areas that can wreck their lives?

I had a neighbor whose son got involved with people who were into drug trafficking, though he himself was innocent. This happened in China. The parents had to leave the country with their son who was thrown out of school. Some other expat kids were deported along with parents for abusing the social media to spread false stories about a teacher in another country. They were doing it in fun but it was distressing for the staff. The children were not educated to be within limits. Again the families were deported after the school expelled the children. Why does this happen to only some kids and not to others?

Is it that the children were born evil or is it that the parents missed out on something? Perhaps, the children needed a little less freedom than what the parents gave them. Perhaps, they needed parents who prioritized their children’s needs over their desires. Perhaps the youngsters could have done with a little more guidance. Perhaps, they needed rules. Sometimes we think giving financial support is the most important thing for  kids. While money does pay the bills, keeps the child in school, well clothed, well fed, it does not teach the youngster manners or values. However, a clear set of dos and don’ts practiced by parents themselves can do the trick along with plenty of love.

A child has to learn to distinguish right from wrong.

Sometimes, one needs to be firm and stick to the rules. I often see parents buy their children toys or gifts to avoid conflict. One mother told me that every time she bought a birthday present for another child, she had to buy one for hers! It reminded me of an incident where my four year son howled for a toy in a mall and refused to move. People turned and looked. It was embarrassing but I was meaner than my friend. I ignored his demand and waited till he calmed down and walked home with me. I had been embarrassed but I won a battle. My child learnt that everything could not be had for asking.

An early access to excess wealth and over indulgence can be as bad for the development of a child as the inability of the parent to foot bills to meet basic needs of a child. However, there is an age for everything. If you force rules on a baby who does not understand, the disciplining will be pointless and abusive. Recently, I was visiting some relatives in India. They had a young toddler — all of two and a half or three years old. He had just started play school. Everyday when his mother dropped him to school, he cried. The staff asked her to wait for him whereas her friends told her to leave and let him be. She asked me what would be the right thing to do.

I told her two stories. The first one was about my younger one. When he started his playgroup in China, he would start crying minutes after I left him in class. I was told to hide in the school office for a month. To me the answer was obvious. The child’s sense of security was tied to my presence and he needed the reassurance that he would be safe in the school. Eventually, he adjusted and I could just drop him off. And he survived his days with happiness and friendships.

The second story was about my elder son. The first day I took him to the Tumble Tots play school when he was two years and four months, he reiterated, “Mama outside, I inside.” I was allowed to sit in for a week but my son did not need me to be with him. I had been waiting outside for a couple of hours, when an exhausted looking assistant opened the door to let the kids out. She called me aside to tell me my son had been to the toilet seven times… We were both concerned!

On the way back home, I asked my son why he went so frequently to the toilet.

He perked up, “Mamma, they have blue water coming out of the flush. At home why don’t we have blue water?” So, I bought toilet blues and we had blue water in the flush. I showed and explained the process to him and he stopped visiting the bathroom seven times in two and a half hours. I was happy that my son was confident and independent enough to be in school on his own. But he had known the trainers from eighteen months of age as he had been attending their playgroup from that age and really enjoyed it. So, play school became just an extension of the playgroup.

For my younger son, it was a brand new environment in China and a new school. Each child faced different circumstances and each child reacted differently. It does not do to compare their reactions and ignore their needs.

A child needs emotional grounding to be given freedom. And this emotional grounding is created by responsible parenting. If a child feels reassured that his parents care for him and will be there, he will himself start giving a framework to his sense of freedom. He will not react in rebellion by doing or exploring the negatives of social interactions, media, drugs or alcohol. If you can spare the time to be there for your child and listen to him, chances are he will listen to you and grow up to be a man devoid of chains and yet living within a framework.

After all the wind flows and the grass grows because of rules laid by the laws of nature… and even animals need frameworks laid by their kind to survive…

 

Parenting…individuality

IMG_0262

When my elder son was a baby, we could not make him eat. When my younger son was a toddler, we could not stop him from eating. He would not only finish his food but also check out his bowl by turning it upside down, and occasionally, especially when he had fish porridge for lunch, he would express his delight by wearing his bowl like a hat. Of course, that would call for a bath and his curls needed to be shampooed as we did not want him to stink of fish the rest of the day! My elder son could not be made to eat any rice through his babyhood. But, my younger one loved rice. We tried to give them the same things to make our lives simpler but it did not work. It never works. Babies are born distinct. They are already individuals when they take their first sip of milk. And to treat them as a homogenized unit because they cannot communicate efficiently with you is unfair. To be a parent, means to revel in each child individually.

Comparing the two is natural but can hurt the children as the one critiqued could loose his self-esteem and start being envious of the role model, who in his turn would have fair chances of becoming a conceited prig.

Life for me rolls out spontaneously. You can only do so much for

“‘Tis all a Chequered-board of nights and days

Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:

Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,

And one by one back in the closet lays.”

When old Khayyam wrote this in the eleventh century, he hardly would have seen this being put to use in a blog on parenting, but I picked these lines because they explain how I view life as a parent. Children come with their own destinies and all we can do is to try our best by them. Each one has an individual baggage that he lugs through life. Environment, parenting and schooling can only play a part in bringing them up.

If you spend a lifetime training your child to be a prodigy in any subject, don’t you feel it would be unfair to him? Think of Mozart. He was a child prodigy, much toasted and feasted about in royal courts of Europe. Did he have a happy life? Did he have a full life? Then why would we want our children to excel before they are ready? Why not let them enjoy childhood as a time when they can experiment and have fun? Why would we want them to be the child who scores one hundred per cent every time? Does that put him at any advantage? Why the panic?

Are all adults geniuses? There is no one who will send an adult to a coaching school to train him to be a genius at work. That is why perhaps developing the skill to be a lifelong learner is necessary to survive in the real world.

Earning your bread is important. But do you think that marks or results are directly proportional to how successful a child will be in his adult life? Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Why do A students work for C students, springs to mind as one muses on this issue as does the Bollywood blockbuster, The three Idiots. Guiding your child towards developing the right attitude will help him make choices for himself that will be smart and best for him, prepare him most to deal with the baggage he was born with. The question is “how” would you do this? Perhaps by being supportive and by teaching him to be a good human being…to learn to accept a fall, get up and march along cheerfully despite the cut. The important lesson he needs to learn is how not to injure himself or others when he falls and how not to be scared of the fall. Learning to lose and build again is important. We keep reiterating the story of Thomas Alva Edison who failed but saw his failures differently and finally lighted up our lives with his bulb. He is known to have said,

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

And

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Such an attitude is difficult to imbibe, but takes you a long way in your journey through life. And that is what we try to prepare our children for… a journey through life as a good human being.

Again the definition of a good human being has altered over time. Now, it is all about power and money, isn’t it? But, does that make you happy? Do you feel better living as an unhappy individual? Think about it carefully when you make a choice for your child.

Bad behavior had historically given way to good behavior and civilization. If we choose bad behavior as the norm along with a caveman diet, we are perhaps moving in a reverse gear towards the collapse of civilization. Is that what you want your child to inherit? Or, a gracious forward moving society, which is optimistic, filled with love, honesty and tolerance? Keep the options in mind every time you allow a swear word to pass through your lips. My kids keep reminding me not to lose my dignity by getting angry and losing control. Anger disarms us and makes us the slave of bad behavior. And unless, we make our children and ourselves conscious of this, we could very well fall into a trap of bad behavior and a hostile world. Do you want others to swear at your child when he swears at them in a world full of animosity, hatred, mistrust and anger? The first step, as my Italian friend said to parenting, is leading by example and then supporting the choices the children make. Educate them to make good choices and not bad ones. Let them rise above failure, anger, repentance, hatred, greed and all negative emotions and watch them soar. Let them choose their own path, their own courses, their own lives as they will equipped with a sound system of values and the ability to accept failure and move on to a new success.

And feel rejuvenated as you watch them explore a wonderful new world at their own pace and in their own terms…

 

 

 

Parenting…choices

IMG_0258

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?