Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Trials and Tribulations

Today seemed like any other day. Raghav has been back in his Lego world for some time now, watching Lego Undercover videos on the iPad, when he is not in the midst of his cherished bricks. Every morning, for the last week or so, he has been a man on a mission - waking up, lying in silence and staring into space on the bean bag ( his most favourite space in our house), and then suddenly getting up to go to his room and get started on his project for the day. Today, he announced to us that he was going to build a movie theatre, before disappearing into his little Lego world :)

Over the last week, most of what he has built have had name boards on them, which he painstakingly creates and makes on his own, with little or well-defined help (usually for sticking them on; not even asking for spellings) from me, as and when needed. He has chosen of late, to write rather than type out the names for the buildings he creates for his Lego city. He has chosen to stay with the trials and tribulations of writing - something that he rarely did in the past. He has chosen to be with his pain and wait for the elusive joy of creating well-formed, perfect (in his opinion) words with pen and paper.

He made five attempts today to get these name boards done. After every attempt, he would scream in agony, angry at himself for making a mistake, and go away to another room to be by himself. He did not want any help. He did not want a quick-fix solution this time. He wanted to be with his frustration, pain, anger and sadness of knowing that no matter how hard he tried, it was just not coming out right. All that I could do, was to be with him, hug him and kiss him. The first few times, he did not even want  me to talk. And so I sat with his pain in silence.

The last time however, he was heartbroken as he had got all of them right, except for the last one alphabet/number. He couldn't believe that he had got the last one wrong.
"I am very sad, frustrated and angry Amma," he screamed, throwing himself on the bed, his arms and legs flailing, body contorting, like an injured worm.
"Amma, why is it that it never comes out right for me?", he sobbed.
It is hard to be a perfectionist. I saw myself in him. I had felt the pain of falling from my own self-created pedestal and benchmark so many times before. It is a raw, deep pain when you feel that you are not good enough, not because of some image that you have of yourself from listening to what others think or say, but because you have fallen in your own eyes....when you want to be who you cannot be.

There was room for me to get in there - finally. I acknowledged how he was feeling in silence, and then when he had calmed down a bit, asked him if what he was feeling was really true.
"Was it really true that nothing came out right?", I asked quietly.
"No," he said with a faint, transient smile brewing.
We then listed out all the alphabets that he had written correctly. We spoke about how they were all neatly formed, how they were in a line and not dancing elsewhere :), how they were all fitted within
the space he had drawn out, and how he had got only one alphabet/ number in the whole string wrong.
"When you see a doughnut, do you see the hole or the yummy doughnut?", I asked him.
" I see the doughnut only," he replied, with a beaming smile.
"So can we see the doughnut here?", I wondered with him.
He had got the message.
He jumped up and was off to make another attempt! And then, he also went on to make the name board that said "CINEMA" on it! Each and every letter was made by drawing around a Lego block to get the square shape, writing the letter inside that square, without any help, and sticking it up on the Lego name board.

           Failed attempts.....


The joy of finally getting it right :)

The Cinema - complete!

the snack counter inside
inside the theatre

McQueen on the screen!

It was hard for me to believe that a child who had developed a hatred for writing at school, years ago, was now making a sincere and happy attempt to do just that! It was harder for me to understand how a child with absolutely no practice or even attempt to write, for months together, could actually write with such finesse!

Trials and tribulations must (happen to) bring out the best in us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Walk in the sun....

It is getting really hot in Chennai! Another reason for Raghav to put off getting out of  the house for as long as possible! But we had to as I needed to do some urgent grocery shopping today. All we had to do was to take a 10 minute walk to Nilgiris, outside our apartment complex. Raghav continues to struggle with transitions to get out of the house especially, and so do we with him. Today, it took him almost two hours to get ready to get out for this short walk. And so, by the time we were out, it was past 12:30pm and as hot as ever!

Something told me to take an umbrella, and that proved to be a boon. He enjoyed holding it up and playing games with the wind - making a boring (for him) task like walking, just a little more fun :) For someone who is very sensitive to changes in temperature, especially the heat, a walk in the hot afternoon sun, even with an umbrella, was far from manageable. But he managed amazingly well!

On our way back, he took the umbrella from me and walked with a puzzled look on his face, changing the angles at which he was holding the umbrella, obviously doing some kind of experiment. And then all of a sudden, he gave me a short lecture on "drag" with it :)

"Amma, see....when the wind is blowing against me (into me), and I hold the umbrella in front, I can actually walk faster as I am reducing the drag."

"....and when the wind is blowing against me, and I hold the umbrella behind me, the drag increases and so I walk slower."

Moral of the story for me: Never underestimate a simple walk in the afternoon sun. :)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do children learn what they live?

My grandmother was in town and I really wanted her to come and spend some time with us at home. She is 92 and in many ways I feel grateful to both my grandmothers for taking care of me perhaps when I really needed that the most. My father's mother was with me through my growing years and until my late teens, while my mother's mother took care of me up to the end of my first year, besides our numerous summer holidays in Bangalore. I felt that it was my turn now to do my little bit for her. But I had to ask Raghav, as that is what we usually do. We consider him as an individual in our house and family, with his own views on things and people. He is also a person who likes to be prepared for changes in routine or sharing of space at home. We have respected that all along, and we did the same this time too.

I was telling Raghav how my grandmother had taken care of me when my parents had left me for a month with her, when I was five months old and they had to go to Australia. I shared with him stories of how she had brought up nine children of her own, and how they also took care of me. I also shared how important is was for me to have her home with us for a few days atleast this time. He seemed to understand. In fact, he said he would love to have her and listen to those stories from her. She was special to him. I knew that from the way he spoke. I remembered fondly how she came all the way to be with him as a newborn baby, giving him an oil massage, bathing him, cooking for him, changing him, talking to him and rocking him to sleep with a pillow on her legs. Perhaps there was some kind of connection that he felt with her, for she is one of the very few who are privileged to hug and kiss him at will. I was happy that he understood. I spoke to her, and she agreed to come the following day.

Meanwhile, Raghav was on a building marathon. He had announced to us that he was going to build a farm today and set off. While I was busy in the kitchen, he kept coming to me with different things that  he had built, one after the other. There was a barn, a tree house, fields, a stable, a pig sty, a sheep pen, a farm shop, a compost bin, a tractor with trailer, a combine harvester, a cow shed and more! After building all this, he wanted to set it up in a space that wouldn't be disturbed and play with it. Since the best place for that was his own room, we decided to set it up there and cleaned and made the space for it. Raghav was very happy and we played our usual pretend game, making up dialogues for each person, weaving in a story et al.

Later, he wanted to get building other things again, but was frustrated that he couldn't use the whole room, as it was full of the things for the farm. He couldn't access his drawers and bricks, and also did not want to move the farm anywhere else, as he felt they would not fit in any other space. After a lot of back and forth, bouts of crying and the pain of not understanding how the same space could be created in another place, he finally agreed to give my idea of moving all of it to the guest bedroom, a try. I had to measure the floor area to show him that the space he had used in this room was possible to create in the other one as well. He finally understood. So I drew a map of the farm - where he had placed what, and we moved it all to the top of the guest bed. Raghav painstakingly set it all up to the last detail, according to the map, even pointing out an error on my part of not drawing one thing to scale!

A little later, I got a call from my mother, to say that she would bring my grandmother that evening, to stay with us overnight, until the following evening. I did not know whether to smile or cry. She was supposed to come only the following day, and Raghav had just set up everything to play. I expected a meltdown from Raghav. After all that measuring and setting up of the farm, so that it wouldn't be disturbed, now it would have to be disturbed as my grandmother would need the bed. There was no other space she could sleep in. I did not know what to do. I did not want to disappoint Raghav; and nor did I want to say no to my grandmother. I stayed with my feelings for a while, but started getting anxious. "How could I tell them that she could not come because Raghav needed that space for his Lego?" "How can I tell Raghav that she was more important than his Lego?" Both were important to me. I wanted to respect both. And yet I feared Raghav's reaction.

I called up my husband who was travelling on work. I was in for another surprise. For the first time,
he probably empathised with Raghav instantly :). He told me that I should call my mother and tell them that they could not come today, but could perhaps come the following week to stay. While I was relieved and happy about this new connection he had made, I still could not get down to saying that to my grandmother, who I had invited. I said okay and hung up.

I guess my heart knew that my son was ready to understand and respect another's feelings. I did not think anymore. I just walked up to him and told him what I felt and what had happened. He teared up a bit, but agreed to move all his stuff back to his room and not play with it the way he wanted to, until my grandmother had left. There was no long-drawn explanation needed from me. There was no meltdown like I had feared. He had simply understood. I was relieved and happy that I had followed my heart. It has not let me down till today.

We carried everything back to his room from the bed, and set it up in a corner, so he could access his other Lego bricks too. Everything had worked out peacefully and beautifully. I realised how the Universe had choreographed this so beautifully for all of us. I am grateful for that.

I also realised today that my trust in my child has deepened, and so had his. I believe that when children have been given the respect that is due to them, they will understand and show respect to others. When they have been given the space they need, they will make or create the space that others need. When they have been listened to, they will learn to listen to others.

Many years ago, I had learned this from a little group of children in a sacred little space (not school) called Bhavya, in Bangalore, which we had gone to visit. That was one of the first few spaces where Raghav was comfortable instantly, and did not even need me. I believe that there are some spaces where he perhaps feels and senses the vibes and energies of people and feels drawn to be himself and explore. I want to share an excerpt from a blog post that I wrote earlier about our experience in Bhavya, that first opened my eyes to empathy, respect and trust and what they really mean. I realised then what extent kids can go to, to listen deeply, trust and show respect to another human being - even someone who they had never met before. Can we as adults even come close to that, I wonder?

Some of the kids were playing in the sand pit and Raghav wanted a spade and a bucket that they had, to play by himself. He just went up to them and asked without any hesitation whatsoever - something that he rarely does! I am usually asked to be his voice or mouthpiece - a role that I am quite used to now. One of them asked him to wait till he finished, while another handed one of the things over to him immediately. Raghav then dug a bit in the sand pit, imagining that he was cooking something, while some of the kids watched, and then wanted to move to another sandy area near the pit. Sensing that, my friend told him that the sand in the sand pit was cleaner and different from the other sand, and the other kids around asked him to be careful not to mix up the sand from the two areas. That was my first learning point from the kids - that little things that we might not really give much thought to, are SO important to them.

After Raghav had finished his cooking and wanted to go on and explore other things, he was walking around with the bucket and spade in hand, saying that he wanted to keep it in a safe place, where no one would disturb it. He tried putting it down in different places, and at every spot, the kids told him how that place might not be so safe as it was in the way of kids running or walking around. They also said that others may not know when they see that bucket and spade, that it was something that he had made and might take it away or destroy it unknowingly. Finally, my friend's son, who was much older than the others, offered to make a sign board that said "DO NOT DISTURB THIS" and stick it into the bucket of sand; he also suggested that the bucket be kept under the slide as kids usually would go only on the slide. Raghav was finally satisfied with these suggestions, kept his creation under the slide with the sign in it, and went away content, with faith that his creation was finally in a safe place.

The extent to which each of them went to understand how precious that creation was to my son, moved and touched me so deeply, that even today it brings tears to my eyes. And they did not know my son - that was the first time they were seeing him, and the first time he was seeing them. Yet, there was a huge effort to understand and interact with trust and empathy, spontaneously, without any adult intervention or facilitation.

So then, do children really learn what they live? What do you think?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When unlearning can be joyful....

Bathroom Conversations. I love those because often that is the only time I get to talk to Raghav when he will listen to me with nothing else in mind! At other times, when we talk, it is usually he who is doing most of the talking :)

My grandmother and father came home today, to spend the day and have lunch with us. Raghav and I were in the bathroom and while I was giving him a bath, I was telling him about how much I wanted my grandmother (his great grandmother) to stay with us for a few days. I was sharing with him how much she had taken care of me as a baby, how she grew up from very young in an orphanage, how she loved food and cooking for others and how she had nine children. "She probably has a lot of interesting stories to share", I said.

"Nine children! Did she really have nine children?" he asked me, looking stunned. This was surely not the first time he was hearing that, but had obviously forgotten.

"You know, women usually have only two or three children, not more. I sure am lucky to have a 'kollu patti' (great grandmother) who has nine children!", he said, beaming happily.

"But why do you feel you are lucky?" I persisted, trying my best to get more than those words from him. But no, he would not say anything more than that. "I sure am lucky!" is all that he said and felt :)
"In those days, it was quite common to have so many children", I told him. He smiled. "Maybe....but I sure am lucky to have a kollu patti who has nine children!" was his refrain. Nothing else mattered.

Later in the afternoon, I revisited those moments with him and found out why nothing else seemed to matter. He shared with me that he had watched a video on BrainPop on Motherhood where he had learned that women usually have only two children :)....and I reveled in the thought that at least for a moment, his BrainPop world had cracked (in a happy way) just a teeny weeny bit :)

Unlearning can be joyful when YOU crack open the egg yourself!