Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Readiness, Chores, Unschooling and More....

I have come to realise now that many of the things that come up in my life today have their roots way back in my childhood and early adulthood. The way I see most of the things that I believe in today go back to my first experiences with them. I understand a little more now how those experiences were necessary and inherent to the life I was going to live, even though I had no clue about them then. I can only connect the dots backwards, never forwards.

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching Raghav slowly start to do things around the house on his own, without us asking him. It has been many many years since I stopped asking him to help with things around the house. This new milestone has been a pleasant surprise for me and has given me so much joy! There is a specialness to this joy because I can sense the joy he feels in doing these things now. He has been putting his things away after playing, wants to cut vegetables and cook his own meal, helps me with putting vegetables away, carries shopping bags, chooses his clothes to wear, puts away clothes in his cupboard, and so many other little things.

From being nervous about making him 'independent', to being a  lackadaisical mother, this has been a huge learning curve for me like with many other areas. Raghav's interest in doing things around the house waned with the imposed explorations (as part of his 'home-work') that came from school. He stopped showing any interest in any of this. A child who would earlier enjoy shelling peas, filling bottles of water, putting clothespins on clothes, and so on, simply stopped participating in any of that. And soon, I was struck with fear. Fear of how to make him 'finish' his homework, which was often activities of this sort, fear of whether he would detest chores around the house, fear of whether he would ever be independent in these things and a fear of what people would say about all this. Would they say that I was spoiling him or making him lazy? What would he do if and when he got married? (Ah yes! These silly fears don't spare anyone :) do they?) Yes, I went through it all. From desperation, to anger to irritation to pleading with him, I tried it all! Every avenue to make him independent.

But there was nothing I could do about it, no change I could effect in him, except to face my fears. Because my son would not budge. Nothing would make him budge. He would just plain and simply refuse. And that was it. He was someone who couldn't care a hoot about any form of reward or pleasure, and so it was quite impossible to bribe him with anything too. Today, I shudder to think that we tried so many of those covert tactics just to get him to do these few things that were just simply rooted in our own fears. I shudder because I can feel and understand the pain of that helplessness and the narrow mindedness that I had to go through to get here - where I am today. But I did not know any better then. I was like the fallow soil, soaked with toxins leached from previous harvests, that could not nurture any seed in it now....until it was revived and regenerated to be fit to hold fresh new life in it.

All I could do was surrender to him and life and trust that this too would be taken care of in the best possible way for him and us.

Learning life skills related to things to be done in and around the house, was an important part of my growing up too. But it was largely out of choice than out of compulsion. The compulsion was again rooted in fear - perhaps my mother's fear of what people would say, and what we as girls would do if we did not know some basics. I remember being told off time and again about clearing up after dinner - something which my sister and I fought tooth and nail about, and something which bugs me even today :) Funny how these little things stick in our heads like glue.

While we were growing up, it was my grandmother who spent a lot of time with us, more than my mother, and she is largely responsible for making me find joy in doing some of the chores around the house - that joy has stuck with me till today. Perhaps I found joy because she never forced us to do anything. She would just do it all with devotion and sincerity, while we watched. And sometimes I too would join in whenever I felt like. We grew up always having house-help or someone who would do the odd jobs around the house, as my mother also worked full time. And yet,those moments when I did some of those things myself, gave me immense joy! I remember running to sit and watch and try my hand at grinding dosa batter, the traditional way, on the grinding stone; I remember rushing behind water lorries across the street, with buckets and pots and pans to fill water in the smallest of containers, often leaving a stream of water behind me :); I remember learning how to cook from my grandmother, when my mother was away on a trip somewhere - she would teach us to make dosas of different shapes - something which I did happily for Raghav too, besides learning how to make other dishes. It was all good fun as the intent came from within! And that perhaps made all the difference.

As a young special educator, I was 'trained' to see the importance of children (especially kids with special needs) learning to do chores around the house. They were an integral part of their individualized curriculum.Of course, they had to be independent and become contributing members of the society. They had to give back. It was (if I think back now) also a way of managing the fear of parents - the real fear of what will happen to their kids if they die? There is nothing wrong or right about that fear. But I feel that often we do not pause enough to sit with those fears....we brush them aside too quickly....we want to find a solution immediately to make it all work; to make it all okay...and very often, we are so afraid of the fear itself, that we hide behind the sweet cliches that we are made to love so much....'that we need to be independent', 'that we need to contribute to the society', 'that giving back in this way makes us feel good about ourselves' and so on....Again, all these are perfectly fine....but why make them into yardsticks and milestones to be achieved by a particular time frame?....Are we too scared and too impatient to wait for these to emerge on their own? Do we give the kids a choice in these matters? Choice - not as a means to rebel, but as a means to find joy in what they do.

I can talk like this now, but back then, I too fell into the trap set up by all these cliches. Some kids in my class enjoyed working on these things, while some didn't. And we often fell into yet another trap of 'trying to make it more exciting for them' just so they would be 'motivated' to try and learn some of those, as best as they could. Yet, there were also some adults with disabilities who rebelled and chose to seek help from able-bodied friends because they did not like doing some things on their own and causing a mess. The mess was harder to handle I guess than the issue of independence. And I am thankful today to have met souls like that....who put everything in perspective for me.

To contribute or not, to be independent or not, is a choice that rests with the individual. Can we be inclusive enough to see it that way? 

I wasn't. Not with my son. I still fell into those old patterns of fears and traps. But I am grateful that Life showed me the way. Quite early in our unschooling journey, I stumbled upon Pam Laricchia's lovely blog - Living Joyfully. She and her writings about unschooling have been a great source of inspiration to me. It opened me up to new possibilities and choices, new ways of seeing and doing and being with my son, especially when it came to chores around the house. From a mother who was obsessed about 'cleaning up' toys and other stuff, I learned to let his things be. I learned to see what I saw as a 'mess' was his 'creation' and 'learning space'. I learned to see that things flowed into each other, and so something that was started today, could flow into tomorrow, rest for a while and continue after many days. I learned to respect that way of learning and being. And so we left his things as they were, until he was okay about them being cleaned up.

Often our dining table would be converted into a race track for his cars; there would be Lego structures all over the floor and house, train tracks would form mazes under furniture, and unfinished projects stacked up some place. I learned to separate my need to 'clean up' from his need to 'let things be'. Over a period of time, we understood each others' needs. He understood why I needed to put some things away, how my mind needed that order to function, while I understood his need to not clean up and how he learned. Sometimes, he would on his own make 'cleaning up' a game and use his construction vehicles to pick up things and drop them in their respective boxes. But most times, when he was okay for things to be put away, he wouldn't want to help or do it himself. He would ask me to do it. Sometimes I did it grudgingly, sometimes shouted at him for not helping me, out of tiredness, and sometimes just happily did it all myself.

Yes. We are all perfect with our imperfections. I realised soon though that it was my need to put things away and not his. He didn't see why he needed to do that. And reading what Pam wrote, helped me see that helped me give him the space to be helped me trust my child and the ways of Life, knowing that he would learn what he needed to, when he was ready or willing. I am so glad that I was able to give him that space, although it came after the painful explorations of being utterly human.

I also realised that my wanting him to learn to cook and take care of some of these chores, was also rooted in gender issues. I had these strong beliefs that men needed to know how to take care of themselves; that they should not depend on women; that doing things around the house was everyone's job. I had a huge grudge against my husband's lack of interest in helping around the house, his inability to cook a simple meal for me when I was tired or sick or just like that even, and was hell bent on making sure that I brought up my son differently. And the antics I resorted to for that! Now I can laugh over it; but back then I was the incorrigible, ungrateful, nagging wife and mother. I had this weird logic (because of my past conditioning that that was the way) that if my son watched us do things around the house together, and if we were 'role models', he would automatically develop an interest in these.

And so I wanted my husband to get out of being one gender stereotype, to get into being a human stereotype! :) I goaded him to do more stuff than he already was doing around the house; I cribbed about his not being able to cook even a simple meal for me, about not 'helping' me enough with the jobs and so on. It didn't get me anywhere. My son chose to be blind and deaf to all my weird antics, and wisely so :)

And I came to my senses. I finally realised that I was falling into the same trap of 'making something that was not exciting for him, more exciting'. I was trying to control reality instead of trying to understand what reality was, and what lens I was putting on to see it. That was an eye-opening and a mind-opening moment for me. It was not about 'letting go' of something that I was holding on to, but rather a new way of 'seeing' what I was doing. A seeing which set me free, and which in turn set my son free.

Life was so much different after that. My husband started doing things more out of his own volition and not because I was telling him so. And I began to trust my son and life in different ways. It has helped immensely. When you are pushed out of your comfort zone is when you begin to truly live. And my son has a way of doing that to me time and again. I am grateful for that push, that nudge to the edge, where I have found myself over and over again.

There have been many times when well-meaning friends and family have asked me why I do so much for my son, and why he doesn't do so much....'he is always on the iPad, he is not interested in anything else', 'he is grown up now, he can help you more, help himself'....or 'don't you think he will feel good about himself if he contributes in some way to the family?', and I have often been silent, with no or few words coming out to explain myself, or smiled and said that it would happen in its own time. I am glad I trusted my heart and my son. Nothing else matters really. I guess it is good to have blinders on sometimes :)

I am glad that I waited without waiting. I am glad that I sat with my fears as they came up. I am glad I did what I did...and happy with the journey that life has carved out especially for me. That exquisite sculpting has been Life's gift to me. Today, when I see my son put aside his iPad on his own and jump up to come and cook with me in the kitchen or do things around the house, or even get out of the house without it, to help me with my veggie shopping, I know that the soil is now more than ready now and rich to nurture the seed.

Today I can cherish the gift of technology that has made my son understand what it means to be 'obsessed', what it means to be 'bored', what it means to be 'enthused', and what he can do or not do about these, without killing the seed or 'genetically modifying' it to suit and grow in my ideas of reality.

Today, I know that 'excitement' is not something that can be controlled from without, but that it emerges from within. Today I know that my son is as excited about playing with his iPad as much as he is with cooking or Mine Craft or Lego or astronomy or being alone, and that one is not better or worse than the other. Different things excite or bore people at different times, and so the 'thing' is not the cause of the excitement or boredom that one feels. Rather, it is what emerges in the timing and the space that is in the interaction between things.

And that makes me see 'readiness' in a whole new way! When we usually speak of readiness, we think of it as something that comes from within in its own time. So we usually think of a seed being ready to burst open and grow into a seedling, or we speak of the soil being ready to nourish the we think of 'readiness' as a change that happens within something. But what is a seed without the soil? What is the soil without the seed? Can one be 'ready' without the other? Readiness then is what emerges in the space that exists in the interaction between two beings or entities. The change therefore does not happen within, it happens in the space created by the interaction.

Parenting to me is not about preparation anymore. It is not about preparing the seed or the soil for life. It is about opening up to the space in between.....the interaction, that is life. The preparation and readiness emerges from that sacred space.

So what can you do to get ready the space that you find yourself in today? :)

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