Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Our Interactive Golu

This was the second year we were going to celebrate Navarathri with our dolls display/ Golu. Raghav had already planned what he wanted to do for this year's display, months ago. But he started getting off to actually making stuff and building things only the week before Navarathri! What he envisioned was quite a mammoth effort....but doable according to him!

"Amma, this time I want the Golu to be a playable one!", he told me. "Otherwise, the children who come home will be bored, and so will we will have nothing to do but see things." And that was how his idea of an interactive Golu was born!

His theme for this year was an Interactive Golu - partly built with his LEGO blocks - where he wanted to make a Brazilian beachside and another part where he wanted an erupting volcano model that we had explored on Youtube sometime ago. So that was the task we had at hand! Brazil is his current favourite country and so he wanted to make name boards and stuff all related to that. Even the volcano was to be in Brazil!

Hours of researching Brazil on Google Earth, looking at other facts in the Picture Atlas that he possesses (landmarks, food, animals, forests, crops etc.), and playing his favourite game on the iPad culminated to create this idea in his head. If I want to look at what he learned and how, there are many ways that I can do that to satisfy myself. But I find myself constantly fighting this battle inside of me consciously, only because time and again my son has taught me to celebrate every moment and surprised me with the kind of connections he made, that put my teaching background truly in the background! It was a joy to partake in the wonder and one-point determination with which he created his dream with his hands.

There were times when he got tired of building with his Lego and took on the role of director - egging me on to create what he had in mind......and there were other times when he donned the role of a teacher, showing me how to use his blocks or encouraging me to think of something creative.....and some other times, when he wanted me to just sit with him and listen to the loud music playing all day long while he created things with his hands.....or dole out ideas for little details for the scene he was creating. It was both exhilarating and tiring for me to create and watch without much of a break......but Raghav's passion and determination inspired me to go on till we finished. And whew! Was it a mammoth task!

Some of the things we created were:
a lego mountain
a huge house with furniture inside (including a kambha!)
a train track with a remote controlled train
station (with details of people carrying baggage, water fountain etc.)
a level crossing that could open and close
some people dancing the Brazilian Samba on an open air stage in the middle of nowhere!
a harbour with an operable crane, conveyor belt
a lighthouse with a revolving light
a beach side with the following details (mind-boggling!)
- people lying down on mats and reading books- a family(ours!) with a dad (who is left-handed!) digging with a spade, a mom holding a balloon (that he is scared of!), and a kid building a sand castle
- another person flying a kite
- a person picking up shells and collecting them in a sack on his back!
- a robber hiding in the bushes
- someone standing in the water
- people swimming, one person wind-surfing!
- a whale with its tail sticking out!
- a man fishing on the pier
- a man walking his dog
- people selling things on carts like corn, ice cream
- a paper mache mountain
and loads of other things that I cannot even remember!

We made the model of the volcano with homemade play dough. He stuck in some pebbles, stones and twigs from his stone and branch collection, to make it look realistic and as if the lava had burnt the vegetation. He also painted the volcano black and brown for the same effect. Inside the crater, we put in a small long-necked bottle into which the household chemicals were added. A mixture of cooking soda, dish-washing soap solution and food colour and vinegar resulted in a "violent eruption" according to Raghav! :) He learned mostly by doing - he realised that he needed labels on the containers for the chemicals with the names and the amounts to be added, so that he could remember and not go wrong. So we made labels and stuck them on. Then he figured out how he could control the eruption by controlling the speed with which he poured the vinegar, as also the amount of chemicals to be added!....all in a matter of a few minutes, without any demonstration or guidance. He was his own teacher.

Here are some pictures of our Golu:

Although I loved and went with his idea of having an interactive Golu, I was a bit apprehensive as I was holding on to some things in the past. Last year, we had called very few people, and although Raghav enjoyed having everyone come to see it, he was not ready to share any of his things especially Lego, with any other child, as he did not trust them and their way of handling the blocks. He is very particular about that. So this time, when he decided to build it all with Lego and make it such that kids who came over could play with it, I was both surprised and scared. Once again, it was my son who led the way and showed me that he was ready, because the need and the idea came from him.

So we made a big list this time and divided the list into small groups of twos and threes everyday. He made sure that there were not too many small kids and kids of his age everyday! ( a lesson learned from last time!) He told me that he could not handle more than that on one day! And the kids who came home had fun playing with our Golu! Yes, there were times when he flew off the handle, times when I did not know what to say or do, but he was still okay for them to continue to play after he fixed what was broken or after he had calmed down......for me, that was a huge step! I was both proud and content with my son's effort to see and understand another person's point of view, relate and interact with people and kids he had never met before, take and work on ideas from kids about what other things his city should have and so on. Some of the learning happened before, some during the interactions, and a lot happened later when he reflected on everything himself. I am also sure that there would be many things that he has learned, that I would perhaps not get to know of at all! He learned whatever he had learned because it came from him - the motive, the effort, the feedback - were all from within HIM.

The other thing that I learned from him again was that everything and everyone changes with time. I don't know if others do this, but I sometimes forget this and assume that just because he said or did something sometime ago, he would be the same way now......I still find myself holding onto the past in many things. Like, for instance, when he was building the Lego Taj Mahal set (with 5700 odd pieces) that we had bought him last year, he was very involved with the process more than the end. His objective for that was to find out whether he could do it and have fun while doing it. It was a huge challenge that he took on himself and finished putting it together in just 3 days time! Everyone commended him about his achievement, but he just brushed it all aside and said that he had done what he wanted to and was happy with that. While my father asked if we should call people home and he would talk about it and so on, he just refused! Now I was still holding on to that experience and assumed that he only wanted to build the city and have fun - nothing more. And so, I did not even think of asking him something like that this time! But my neighbour, who he invited for the Golu, kept telling me to send a write-up to the local community newspaper and encourage him. I smiled and didn't really give it much thought. However, later I asked Raghav in passing as to whether he would like to share about his work and the Golu in a newspaper and he said "Why not?! I would love to!" I stood baffled as I was holding on to the past and was not really clued into the present moment. Just a few weeks ago, he was playing games on the computer and printing out prizes and certificates for himself! He made me realise that he had grown and changed as a person and was perhaps ready now to share and feel acknowledged or recognised somewhere.

And yet again my belief in the Universe and waiting for the moment of readiness was renewed......because it all fell into place so magically without much neighbour suggested something.....I asked Raghav and he said that he wanted to do it......I called up the editor (something I would never have done with ease earlier) and wrote to them.....and there was a small write-up along with his photo, a few days later! He was thrilled and so were we!

A quick look at the paper, a beaming smile, and that was it......he was off planning what to create for our next year's Golu already! That was all he had wanted - some recognition and acknowledgement. There was no showing off to family and others later about this. He had moved on.....

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Struggle

"We cannot just be by ourselves alone; we have to inter-be with every other thing.”
                                    ~Thich Nhat Hanh

As a developmental milestone, one would call it turn-taking perhaps, or understanding the other person's point of view or playing with another me these are just different degrees of complexity of the same skill......however, if one looks at it in a different light, this really is the beginning of learning to be an integral part of this planet and the soul's path of self-inquiry. That is the way I like to look at this milestone in my son's journey.

This delicate interplay of ourselves and our environment, community, or whatever else one may call it, happens every day, every moment, in every interaction, so subtly that unless one is conscious and aware of this, one tends to overlook it. Like Thich Nhat Hanh says in the quote above, we cannot be islands and just  by ourselves......we have to Inter-be with every other thing. One cannot exist without the other.

And when this realisation comes from the child, it is well worth all the struggle that he goes through. That was what happened today. It was one of the most amazing two hours that I have spent in my life today! - To be the witness and be the bridge for the struggle of two little human beings just embarking perhaps on their journey of self-discovery and understand themselves and another human being.

Raghav has been playing with this other little boy of his age from our building for a few weeks now. They have been mostly cycling around the block, or playing in the playground, playing cricket, football and so on. And the time for which they play together has usually not been more than 15-20 minutes or so....after a while, the other little boy, who would not get a turn to do something or not get listened to by Raghav, would get upset and usually say: "If you don't do this......I will not play with you." While I tried to gently suggest to him other ways of expressing how he was feeling when Raghav did not give him a turn or listen to him, he found it difficult to get away from his old patterns of thinking and saying. So I helped him by voicing out what he was feeling, and he would either nod and say yes or no. Many times, Raghav did not even heed me and just went away to do his own thing, even while I put across how his friend was perhaps feeling at that moment. Sometime later however, after perhaps he had mulled on this a lot after many interactions, Raghav once came up and asked me why his friend kept saying this same thing every time they played. I then explained what his friend perhaps wanted him to do, which he was not doing, and also that perhaps that was how his parents or family reacted when he did not listen to them, which he was now repeating with Raghav. My son listened intently and said that it would be better if his friend told him exactly what he felt. We then never spoke about this again.

Today, we went down as usual to play and met this boy again. Both of them decided to cycle and have a race around the apartment blocks. I have been trying to dissuade them from having races, as there are areas where cars come in and go out. So they decided to avoid those parts or slow down completely there. This was the beginning of the struggle for my son to understand a part of himself and another person.

They spent a long time discussing the rules, agreeing on some, disagreeing on others, arguing about the track they would take, the finish line and the start was endless! My only role through it all was to reflect each one's thoughts and feelings and clarify what each one was trying to say to the other.....and boy, was it tiring! It was exhausting! So, when they had agreed on things, they would set off on the race, while I tried to keep pace, and then wait for them at the finish line. Then, they would argue about who came first or would get upset while the other one enjoyed winning......and this went on and on! All my suggestions and preaching were in vain!

The difference however, in what happened today was this - my son did not just walk away as he had done in the past, when there was an argument or lack of understanding between them. Instead, he seemed to want to play with this other boy and wanted to make an effort to understand him and get himself understood! This was a huge huge thing for me, as it had been a moment I had been waiting for a long time.

They had a disagreement over which track to follow - while Raghav wanted to follow one particular route, this other boy was too much in a hurry to wait and see which way he had to go and often took another route, that upset Raghav! Then, they could not agree on the number of laps in the race. Neither of them was willing to give in and accept the other person's take on it, nor did they want to take turns to decide on the number of laps; nor were they willing to give up racing and playing with each other! It was a deadlock!

So, when his friend used the same phrase again to control him and play on his emotions, Raghav showed dissent and told him that he did not like him saying that.....and.....he did not walk away or ignore him. He actually got upset when his friend cycled off in a huff and made me go after him, call out to him and talk to him. I did that every single time, as I knew he wanted me to stand up for him and be his voice. His friend however, knew perhaps that this was his chance to get Raghav to listen and kind of taunted him by going away and then coming back to find out how Raghav reacted and get him to race with him again on his terms. While Raghav wanted to talk it all out and make him understand, this little boy did not have the patience to do that and said so too! That was a huge step I think for him too! It was just so amazing to watch the unfolding of these two souls......the constant tug of war......the attempting to give and was beautiful!

Every time, Raghav made an effort to give in because he really wanted to - I could sense and feel that.....but it was with a lot of pain and lot of tears. I had to hold him, allow him to vent his feelings, wait with him, be with his feelings without intervening in anyway, and do what he wanted me to do for him. It was one of the most challenging roles I have ever played so far, but that was the only way. Finally, after almost two hours of going back and forth (yes! that was how long the struggle was!), with a lot of resistance, hesitation and pain, he agreed to the number of laps that the other boy wanted to have in the race, but on the condition that he would decide the route. Both of them had finally won! And I was witness to this beautiful interplay of emotions of the souls of two kids who desperately wanted to be friends with each other. It had been a huge struggle, especially for my son, but well worth it!

It reminded me though of a beautiful story that I had read on my friend's blog some time ago about a butterfly. The story goes like this:

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly.
One day a small opening appeared.
He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours
as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole.
Then it stopped, as if it couldn't go further.

So the man decided to help the butterfly.
He took a pair of scissors and
snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon.
The butterfly emerged easily but
it had a swollen body and shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch it,
expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge
and expand enough to support the body,
Neither happened!
In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life
crawling around.
It was never able to fly.

What the man in his kindness
and haste did not understand:
The restricting cocoon and the struggle
required by the butterfly to get through the opening
was a way of forcing the fluid from the body
into the wings so that it would be ready
for flight once that was achieved.

Sometimes struggles are exactly
what we need in our lives.
Going through life with no obstacles would cripple us.
We will not be as strong as we could have been
and we would never fly.

To me, my son's struggle to understand himself a little more and another person's point of view was much like the butterfly's struggle. There was just no way that I could have made it a "better" or "easier"experience for him, as it was something that he had to go through on his own. If I had "helped" him, I would perhaps have been like the man who crippled the butterfly for life. The struggle was what helped him transform himself and fly into a freedom that he was just beginning to know and understand......the freedom and the inter-connectedness of all of life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Our driver had not turned up for over a week and we were both quite fed up with him. We had already given him a long rope.....been generous with his taking off, timings, getting him stuff and so on. But this time, we were both quite determined to send him away. He had not called, except on the first day to say that he was unwell.

My husband who has a very low threshold of patience, took off on him yesterday when he landed up in the morning. He was angry, but was a lot more toned down than he used to be. They spent almost an hour talking and Raghav was around doing his own thing. We finally decided to give our driver one more chance.

After my husband left for work, Raghav suddenly came up to me and asked me: "So what happened amma? Has V taken appa to the office?" I said  yes and asked him why he was asking and what he thought of that. He replied saying this: "Amma, you know.... we all make mistakes. That is how we learn. I think V also made a mistake. He did not listen to you or appa. But I think what you did today was right. You should give him a chance. Even you make mistakes no? Remember you told me that day how you had made a mistake with food with me - that you did not really allow me to eat anything whenever I wanted?"

What greater reminder does one need to look within, forgive and move on?!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ganesha Chathurthi

This time for Ganesh Chathurthi, we made a recyled umbrella for our little Ganesha! We used an old CD, some coloured paper, a bottle cap, some beads, sequins and bells. Here is what me made......

For the puja, we bought a little Ganesha this time as Raghav did not show much interest in making one. But we got down the little one he had made last year and kept it in the puja. It is the little one with a little umbrella, embedded jewels and two shells for ears!

Games Galore!

Raghav has been on a game spree for the last month or more - sometimes we play game after game all day long, day after day! Chess, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders are some of his all-time favourites. On the computer, he plays Lego games, McQueen games, Chess and of late the Airtel Formula 1 game that he hopes he will win and get free tickets to this month's big race at Delhi! When he gets tired of that, there are his all-time favourite ones on the iPad - Angry Birds Space, Pitfall and Ludo of course - what we all play just before going to bed everyday! Some other games that we enjoy are the traditional shell game, Kids Act (what he likes to play with his friends), Pictionary, Four in a Row, a card game - Boggle Slam, and Pictureka ( a fun game which tests one's observation skills ).

Pitfall was something that he discovered and urged my husband to download on the iPad- only because he thinks that it was made or created in Brazil! It has a man escaping from an erupting volcano, through a jungle, past log cabins, jumping across ravines and waterfalls, escaping from attacking anacondas that have to be whipped to save oneself, jaguars that jump onto his back to give him more power, macaws tokens that one can earn and use for more speed and power. The setting, the animals and birds in the game make it unquestionable (for him!) that the game was born in Brazil - his current favourite country! Raghav is unstoppable when he plays this one and has beaten his father outright! When they meet (now mostly on weekends - because my husband is away on work for most of the week), it is both fun and heart-warming to hear them catch up on each other's scores, levels broken and tokens earned! On weekends, we usually have Pitfall for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Raghav insists that my husband plays it while he eats, watches him play and gives him tips on what to do and what not to do! Raghav has been also very determined to note down and maintain a record of sorts of his own scores every time. So we have a diary where we keep track of his scores - he writes them down sometimes, and we do it for him at other times. The need to write things down to remember came from him and thus began his journey into keeping a journal!

Recently, we got him a book on Lego ideas that he absolutely treasures! He sits with it as soon as he wakes up sometimes, or while eating lunch / breakfast - poring over the pages slowly and carefully. He loved it when they had a section for building board games with Lego and immediately got down to building that! Soon, we were playing his Lego Ludo and Chess that he said were really good for holiday trips in cars, as none of the pieces would move or fall down on their own because they were made of Lego!

Here is a picture of the mini Chess board that he made with Lego -

Chess has been his passion of late and we have spent days playing just that in various ways! (But that would need a separate post!)

He has had this fascination to build mini Lego things and was absolutely blown away by this idea of a mini chess board that he found in the book! The book has no instructions on how to build stuff displayed - just ideas and some pointers on how a block could be used in different ways. But it was amazing to see it take shape in the hands of my little artist, creating it with whatever blocks he had!

Then, he got down to making the Lego Ludo board! This involved a lot of planning and counting as the paths for the coins to move on had to be exact and equal. He was kicked that if two players landed on the same place, their coins could be stacked up and would not fall! And, as usual, he made his own rules for the game that kept changing depending on the current status of every player!

Here is a short video of him playing Ludo with his dad :
Playing Lego Ludo

Here is another video of Raghav playing Kids Act - a board game of charades along with his friends!
Raghav and friends!

This is a video of him playing the Airtel Formula 1 Race game!
Raghav and Racing

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Money Matters

This last week, Raghav has been setting up shops at home all the time! He sets up his shop on the bed, with the pillows around him as walls, displays hand-picked toys and odds and ends from his own collection. Sometimes, he takes the trouble of writing down the prices of each item and sticking them on the respective thing, while most times, he just arranges them all around the bed and asks me to come and buy stuff from him (all the prices in his head!). We have some pretend money that I got from Jodogyan, that we use to play shop. I would take some arbitrary amount, choose what I wanted to buy, and give him some money. He would quite quickly, do all the calculations in his head, and give me back the change! I don't know how, where and when he learned that.

The stuff that he would sell would range from a Lego that he has built (which would usually be very expensive!), to a game or board game of his, to a sketch pen or something else that he has made. One thing that I noticed in the many times that he set up shop was that he would always say that if I bought something, something else would be free. This puzzled me and I asked him why he usually had something free to give away.

Here is an audio recording of our conversation one afternoon (after I had finished buying from his shop) that brings forth Raghav's own ideas on money, economy, the government's role, consumerism and greed.

He talks about how shopkeepers make some things in the shop expensive and why, that they should give things free to people who buy in the shop, how one person's greed is linked to another person's need and how the cycle continues, how it can be stopped and so on. It was an amazing lesson in economics and living for me!

I stopped and thought long and hard about where and how he could have learned all this stuff and I failed to figure it out. He stumped me!

What I could recollect about shopping with him when he was younger were frequent meltdowns, insisting for a toy or something to be bought, especially when his father or grandmother were with him, refusing to go shopping with us most times (this is something that he does not really like even today) except if it was for Lego and difficulties in waiting endlessly at the billing counter.

Sometimes he would insist on us buying something which was quite "expensive" and we would have a hard time explaining the "worth / value" of the thing he had chosen for the "price"and so on, because he needed an explanation that could satisfy him, in a language that he would understand, and the ones that books usually dole out so generously, never worked! Parenting is real hard work for the neurons!

I often worried about this scene that he would create every time, and wondered if it would become a habit that would be hard to break. I often chided my husband for giving in to his whims and fancies without a thought. While I understood the space from where he was coming from - he had hardly any toys as a kid and money was constantly rationed out for everything - it was hard for me to let go of this. We talked and argued a lot about this and tried different things. I realised then how much our childhood plays a part in the way we bring up our children.....our dreams, our fears, our thoughts and actions can so often be on "automatic" mode, as we breeze through life - instead of being aware and introspective.

I knew that I had to get Raghav to experience it for himself to understand the value of money.  I remember how I talked to Raghav one day before he went to the shop with his father. We decided on a sum of money and I gave it to him in a purse. We decided that he could buy something only if it was within that amount, and that he could ask the shopkeeper for help (I knew that he would take the words of the shopkeeper more than his dad on this) if he needed. In the shop, he looked at a number of toys that he wanted, and every time he took it to the billing counter and asked the person there if he could buy it with the money he had. When he was told that it cost more and that he couldn't, he put this one back and picked up another toy. He did this for all the things that he could think of getting - every one of them! Finally, he started crying in frustration that he could not get anything and even asked the shopkeeper if he could get it free! When the shopkeeper said "no", he knew that there was nothing that he could get for the money that he had.

After that, for a long time, he would refuse to come shopping, saying that he would feel like buying something if he came, and so would rather stay away! So he only went shopping for Lego.

Once during Christmas, we were at a mall when someone dressed up as Santa in a shop, gave him a small piggy bank as a gift! He has treasured that till today and saves all the coins that we give him in that. That was how and when he learned the denominations of money - all on his own.

Last year, just before Diwali, I was asking him if we could give away some of his old toys and books to charity - things that he was not using. I told him the story of one of the lady security guards in our building (whose husband deserted her) - that she had two daughters and that they could not afford to buy books and toys. We then had a discussion on poor and rich, how we get money and so on. He refused to part with any of his own stuff. I was a little sad, but just kept quiet and did not broach the topic at all. A few days later, he came up to me and said : "Amma, anyway for Diwali, we don't buy and burst any why don't we use that money to buy something new for those two akkas you were talking about?" I had tears in my eyes when I heard that. That was some solid lesson in charity that I learned from my son. He thought that one should give others new things, not give away old stuff. Another perspective from a child's point of view. Perhaps he felt that if he was in their place, he would like something new, not old! I don't know what really went on in his mind. But this is something that he has said time and again when we talk of giving away old stuff. Now, those two kids have a special place in his heart. He likes them. Ever since then, he makes it a point to give them cake for his birthday and call them home for our Golu, and they always come.

Today, Raghav's needs are very very few. The only thing that he asks for us to buy him is Lego and I have to thank my husband for pointing this out to me. He is the one who makes money available when Raghav needs it and has always said: "We don't spend money on anything else for him like school or a class or something else. Why don't we think of buying Lego for him as something that he needs or something like school or a class?"

So, as a family, we give money the respect it is due - nothing more and nothing less. Today, we have enough to satisfy his needs. We don't think too much about spending it on Lego for him, because that is his passion and we are so glad that he and we have discovered his passion so early in life! Yes, we do save a little, but we don't cringe to spend today, thinking about tomorrow. We have a good time when we can and try our best to live in the moment.

For to us, it is not indulgence but rather, a celebration of living one's passion!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Day at the Beach

After a long time, there was a holiday midweek and after a long time we took off on an impromptu drive towards Mahabs to spend some quiet, rejuvenating time by the seaside. We like to go to Silver Sands as it is quiet and peaceful out there - thankfully not many people know about it as yet! For a reasonably small amount, you get to use the equipment that is there - like rope ladders, tyres, beams etc. and have a private beach that is clean and beautiful!

Although we spent only a few hours, it seemed like we had been there for the entire day....I think because it was done on the spur of the moment, we all enjoyed it more and were fully present.....much like our unschooling journey.

They have a small shack where they serve food that you can order - simple, hot, lip-smacking Gujarati food and the usual snacks. While my husband and I sipped on some heavenly masala chai and devoured a chilli-cheese toast, Raghav had his own snack brought from home and then got ready to get digging in the sand.

It was a beautiful day and one that I will cherish for a long time. The special charm of spending some quiet time as a family that was not time-bound.....losing myself while I went shell-picking....finding a special one for my son......creating things together with sand ....watching and listening to the tireless waves....walking bare feet on the warm sand....the spectacular orange sunset that made our shadows grow long....the smell of the glasses moist with the salty air....and three hearts filled with peace and gratitude for these wonderful moments....

On the way back, Raghav sang loudly and happily as he listened to his favourite songs and drifted off to sleep holding on to me. It had been a  precious day at the beach - a day with each other and our own selves!

A photo collage of some moments....