Friday, December 5, 2014

Am I Comfortable In My Own Skin?

Today we went to a birthday party - it was my neighbour's kid's birthday and Raghav really likes her. She has a way with him...a fierce persistence to get him to listen and respond to her, and even if he does get irritated sometimes, he generally listens to her and likes being with her, and when he doesn't he just tells her off. She is all of six and a good three years younger than he is. So yes, Raghav really wanted to go.

We haven't been to a birthday party in a long time...more than two years I think. Raghav has a fear of balloons (bursting) and so usually doesn't like to go to birthday parties. But he has often made an effort to go to some, especially if it is his dear friend's. He is then even willing to bear the extreme discomfort and face his fear.

And while he faces his fears, I face mine too - the fear of what people would think if he closes his ears and screams when he sees a balloon, the fear of being different, the fear of being rejected and not being seen for who we are. And so, we have often faced our fears together. There were many times, when I was the only other mom in a birthday party, as most parents would just drop off their kids and go away. But Raghav still needs me in that sense, and always has. And so I would have to be with him, be his voice, encourage him to join in whenever he could in the games and so on. I have felt embarrassed and out of place, much like a fish out of water, and yet stayed with all of that. It has paid us dividends, which I am able to see today.

So, yes we went to the party and had quite a good time too! We knew no one there, except for my neighbour and her kids. But we both felt okay about it. We sat by ourselves for a while, until others started coming in. We were introduced to some of them. One lady, who was the mom of a six year old boy, opened up and chatted with us. She introduced her son to Raghav (who also loved cars and Lego) and they actually sat and chatted for quite a while. For the first time in my life, I felt gratitude towards extroverts like her, who take the first step towards starting a conversation with people like me, who find it challenging to initiate conversations. It was a huge shift for me. All these years, I have felt out of place and extremely uncomfortable with my inability to start up conversations with some people. I have judged myself for being who I was. It has been a painful struggle to be comfortable all the time, with who I was. I have kept away and felt sad about it too. But today was different. I was able to see and love myself for who I was, and able to see the gift that others brought me, by being their bubbly, outgoing selves. When this shift happened inside, it was amazing to see the shift happening outside. I suddenly felt so free and at ease with myself and everyone, even though no one there spoke to me, and I too didn't speak. There was no need. It was perfect as it was.

Raghav was also more at ease with himself. He agreed to go there without his iPad (which happens rarely, but is beginning to happen more now!); he was happy to do nothing and just sit on his chair; he was okay to sit amidst a place full of balloons (even if he closed his ears for most parts of the time); he made friends with a boy he had never met before, and even played with him for a while. These were all huge shifts for us!

Yes, it looks like we are getting more and more comfortable in our own skins (until of course we need to shed them at some point, for some reason! ). But what amazed me the most was what transpired in the conversations between Raghav and his new transient friend. I hardly ever intervened, and am so glad I didn't! (I guess you will figure out why) I share here some parts of the conversation as I remember it....

X: What is your name?
R: Raghav.
X: Which class are you in? Which school do you go to?
R: I don't go to any school. I learn by myself at home.
X: What are you saying? How can you not go to school? Then do you sell flowers??
You must go to school. You are nine years old? You have to now start from baby class!
R: I don't sell flowers. I just don't go to school. I used to go when I was small, but then didn't like it. It was boring.
X: Yes. Actually sometimes when my friends in class trouble me a lot, I also don't feel like going...I tell my mother that I don't want to go to school. But she says that I must.
What is your favourite colour?
R: Red
X: Mine too! What is your favourite food?
R: Pasta and pizza.
X: I like french fries and pizza.
R: How can you have two favourites?
X: What is your favourite fruit?
R: Strawberry.
X: I like custard apple and banana.
And then they went on to talk about favourite vegetables listing them in order of preference.

Then, this little boy wanted to go and play 'catch', and asked Raghav if he would come. Raghav hesitatingly agreed, but wanted me to be around. I went along. Just before they started, he asked Raghav: "So do you have friends if you don't go to school?"
R: Yes, I do have some friends. A (the birthday girl) is also my friend. She is my neighbour.
And then they began to play. When they had finished, he came up to me and said: "He is very slow. See, I am smaller than him, and still I am so fast. I caught him so easily."
R: "Actually, I don't think we can say who is faster or slower. I think (but I may be wrong) we both run at the same speed. But I find it hard to cut corners, while he is good at that. That is why I think I cannot catch him, but he catches me."

Then, everyone was called in to the place where the cake was being cut. Raghav hesitated to go in as some kids had loads of balloons in their hand, and he was scared that they might unwittingly burst them. His friend saw him and asked what had happened.
R: I am scared of balloons.
X: But you are nine years old. You are not a baby. How can you be scared of balloons?
R: I am scared. I am scared that they will burst, and I don't like that....the sound.

After the cake-cutting, Raghav wanted to leave. So we excused ourselves without eating a thing. Raghav didn't want to eat the cake as he felt it would have eggs in it. So we told my neighbour and left. For the first time, I didn't feel bad or guilty or sad about hurting anyone's sentiments.

Later, in the car, we chatted about the party and how he felt there. I had been a silent observer, watching and listening to their conversations. I was able to see the innocence as well as the sarcastic adult-like, adult-influenced remarks of a six year old. I wondered how I might have got hurt with remarks like that from someone.  And so I turned to Raghav and asked him how he felt. He said that he was completely fine with everything and that nothing had upset him. I smiled. I remembered that wooden hand-crafted doll.....which has a rounded bottom, and which when disturbed or pushed, rolls around and eventually comes back to its stable position without toppling over.

"I would like to perhaps play 'catch' with J (his best friend) and see. I have a feeling that he might also not be able to cut corners like me and that we would run at the same speed. That would be more challenging for me, because it would be more fair.....I was also wondering why he said that if someone does not go to school, they must be selling flowers. That is not true. There are so many things we can do if we don't go to school. Not just selling flowers!", he added. He seemed to know exactly what his challenges were, and was willing to explore those. And he was also okay to move out of his comfort zone, like he had done today.

I was quite surprised. Yes - surprised as to how non-intervention (when it is the ask of the moment) can be the best thing to do some times. Surprised as to how one just does not need to 'work on' one's challenges persistently....that there are other 'do nothing' ways of arriving at the same place. There was no need to 'facilitate' children or 'teach' them how to handle the world and themselves...what to say and when and how. They already know.

And there is definitely a moment in time, when one does not feel the need to justify one's actions and choices.....when one's thoughts are not white-washed by redundant conditioning.....when one can smell the sweet aroma of child-like innocence and simply rest in that, enjoy that....when one can simply slip in comfortably into one's own skin. Nothing else matters then. You are centered, grounded and at peace with your own little self....inside your own skin.


“The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are– bald or old or fat or poor, successful or struggling- when you don't feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.” 

― Charles B. Handy

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