Tag Archives: Parenting

Ripples That Create Awareness

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The first time I came across a person with Down’s Syndrome, I don’t remember exactly how old I was at the time but know it was the tween years as it was at that time in life when being under my Maa’s constant reproving glare, I had lost my precocious disregard for keeping my tongue still and had not yet stepped into my obnoxious teen years when I overcame that glare again. What I do remember of that occasion is a deep sense of shame and an overwhelming guilt. The reason for this is that I completely screwed up.

How? The individual was my mother’s cousin visiting my maternal grandmother’s house with his parents. Well I looked at him with great discomfort and then throughout their visit just ignored his presence. Naturally a curious person though, I kept stealing surreptitious glances at him. I watched how he ate, drank his tea and how he sat calmly between his parents not participating in the conversation and how the adults in the room did not address him in any manner at all. He smiled when the others laughed, his eyes darted around taking in everyone, everything. He caught me a few times in my act of furtive curiosity beaming at me every time. In my clumsy tween ignorance, I gave a half smile averting my gaze yet again. But, what I will never forget of that face was his eyes. Completely guileless. Completely innocent. Completely honest. Seeking nothing.

Now why did I not behave better?

Was it because I was not taught to?

Or was it because these conversations were uncomfortable?

Or was it because when we turn a blind eye to something it ceases to exist for us?

Or was it because the sense of inclusion was meant only for the supposedly ‘normal’?

That brings me to my next question. What is normal?

To answer this I looked up the dictionary first to ensure that I did not make any errors. What I found led me to some very interesting ideas. Let me share these with the various meanings that Dictionary.com threw up.

Meaning No 1 for normal: conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural. Well since, I do not consider ever conforming to the standard or the common type I am not normal. I detest the usual, the regular as too humdrum so I am certifiably abnormal. As for the natural! Well with coloured hair (some of it even ombre) certainly not qualifying for normal.

Meaning No 2 for normal: serving to establish a standard. How interesting!  If I were to go by the behaviour of the other grownups in the room to the said relative as serving to establish a standard, it’s a pretty miserable one. I do not want to serve to establish any such standard.

Meaning No 3 for normal: Psychology, says the Dic, normal is approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment. Now how many of us are going to accept that we are approximately average in any way, so are we all then as the venerable Dic, further explains not free from any mental disorder; therefore sane?

Meaning No 4 for normal: In Biological, Medicinal/Medical terms normal is free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation. Hello! With a twist to the wise Prophet of Nazareth’s words “let the first stone be thrown by the normal person.” How many of us can then with certainty claim to be untarred by the brush of fallibility?

So hence my conclusion, Normal does not apply to me. Maybe you feel the same. Maybe you don’t.

There are other meanings for the word ‘normal’ that relate to Mathematics and Chemistry but are hardly relevant to the discussion at hand so I shall not delve there. Also, I feel I have made my point (at least I hope I have) that ‘normal’ ain’t all that special.

So how did I learn to behave better?

That evening I asked my mother, when her relatives had left, what was ‘wrong’ with the uncle. She has always been a woman of gumption and did not sweep my inquisitiveness under the rug as an uncomfortable topic that if not talked about would be soon forgotten. She explained the problem to me in her usual scientific way with a huge smattering of pity in her tone. Pity. As parents, we find ourselves often transferring our biases to our children to protect them from the difficult questions of life. That day my mother transferred pity to mine. Pity. This was a feeling that would repeatedly walk with me as I grew up, crossing paths with more people who were what society terms as different. I honestly think that I got off lucky, pity was an easy bias to overcome. What if she had felt revulsion, disgust or repugnance?  So, let us be careful which bias we are passing on to our children. Once I had rejected the idea of pity my next thought was: Why should we consider them and their caregivers with pity? Isn’t that how we create victims and martyrs. Is that the aim? Over the years having interacted with several people with disabilities and their families there is one thing that I have learned, that ‘pity’ is abhorrent to them.

Then what is it that they want from us?

When I was in school we did not have any child with any kind of developmental disability. There was never any mention of it. It was as if these things did not exist. Nobody at home spoke about it as there was no need for such a discussion. What we didn’t know we did not ask. I do not offer this as an excuse for my behavior in fact on the contrary my reactions on that day were and remain inexcusable. What I offer is a contrast. My kids have had the privilege of studying in schools where inclusion of the differently abled is essential. Thus, I have two beautiful souls who are full of compassion and have never behaved in a manner that would embarrass them later in life as a result resort to writing blogs such as this. My children talk of the wondrous capabilities of their friends and I share their wonder for their friends truly are amazing. What I find most heartening is that my kids talk about these friends with deep affection. Respect and affection that is created by accepting diversity is the beauty of inclusive classroom. Special education professional Gretchen Walsh M.S. Ed., who runs the Academic Support Center at Notre Dame College, gives a concise synopsis when she says “Inclusion is important because through our diversity we certainly add to our creativity. If you don’t have a diverse classroom or a diverse world, you don’t have the same creative levels and I think our strength lies in our diversity.”

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Friendship, love, respect, dignity is that too much to ask? Aren’t these basic human rights? A civilized society is one which is morally and intellectually advanced; that is humane and ethical. Diversity is finding acceptance in the classrooms, our children are moving towards a far better civilization, let us join them walking proudly shoulder to shoulder with them.

What can we do?

Down Syndrome

Solidarity is the union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, that is what the world needs today in all spheres but especially here. When individuals come together to celebrate the rights of the few with Disruptive Abilities heartening stories are born. On the 21st of March the world celebrates World Down Syndrome Awareness Day, it is a day simply for creating awareness. This year in India under National Trust and  IN:For the Cause there were many beautiful stories born. Blue and yellow symbolizing the colors of this very special day emblazoned vistas.17362013_10101577993744884_358703351333889271_n

Names like Google, Microsoft, Nokia,  MED-EL,Harley Davidson, ITC Maurya, Lemon Tree, Forever Mark Diamond Pvt. Ltd., TATA CliQ, We Media Works, Chill Bey, C’est La Vie, Styling Scissors, Madison & Pike, The Social Street, Hotel Red Fox and even a filling station  BP came forward in support blazing the way for their people to pick up the torch to carry the dream into the hearts of hundreds. School children from  Scottish High International School, and from  The Close South, a condominium in Gurgaon, fashioned masterpieces with the two colors winning the joys of many. College students stepped up through the Blue Pencil Blog creating a platform to better understand the chromosomally enhanced who enhance the lives of each one they touch with their beautiful hearts that abound with pure happiness.

Siblings shared journeys of their lives with their very best brothers and sisters.  Parents smiled at their progeny who were successful in every way that society deemed them incapable of. Organisations like MUSKAAN that provide opportunities to the differently abled shared their immense capabilities.   Numerous empathetic individuals also stepped up, ripples are spreading far and wide. Hope has been created. The horizon of many found expansion and the diligent efforts of the organizers were realized.

The busy organizers now work even harder for the next date 2nd of April for World Autism Day. So how about it, will you also join in the efforts to create a better tomorrow?

 

 

Uniqueness

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Another open letter to my seventeen year old and my almost teenager.

Dear Kids,

Today, both of you are at life’s important threshold, one is almost ready to walk out into the world, leaving behind the safety of home and the other steps into a phase where innocence begins to fade. As your Mum, I try to always do my best, don’t roll your eyes, you know what’s coming next. Read carefully and think clearly, I’ll try today, to expound on Uniqueness.

Peer pressure, a word you experience often enough to know its meaning and its implications. This is a word that will chase you all your life, it is not one that begins in your teenage years and gets left behind here. It is how you learn to deal with this fact of life that will set you apart making you the leader or the led. Whenever you are in a dilemma on whom to listen to, the temptations without or the conscience within, the desires of the heart or the brain that cautions, remember that the creator put the brain on top and the heart below it.

Though easier to follow, the footsteps of others, the path they carved was for them alone. It suited their purpose, it might not fit yours. Chart your own course, it might seem daunting but believe me when I say, it will be a lot less taunting. Does that mean you not learn from the achievements of others? No certainly, not.

“Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;”

(-H. W. Longfellow)

You must understand that there is a difference in your own path and following another’s. The satisfaction to be gained from endeavors that are based on our own convictions rather than on those that others have influenced are easier to live with than those followed blindly.

Each of you have in you a certain something that is yours to own, for there is no one else in the world truly like you in any way. The universe gives you your individuality and that is your strength. So recognize it, embrace it and revel in it. Your uniqueness is what defines you, what separates you from the rest.

Love, Mama

 

 

The World of Children vs The World of Adults

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The world of children and the world of adults intersects on so many levels and yet is so disconnected. Reading Saki’s story ‘The Lumber Room’ with a student today I endeavored to bridge the chasm that separated these worlds. In the process I realized that certain conversations that I have with my children are to be questioned.

The story is simple enough on the surface of it. A child, Nicholas, is in ‘disgrace’ for having put a frog into his ‘wholesome bread-and-milk basin’ that constituted his daily breakfast. ‘His sin is enlarged on at great length’ by his aunt, while he wonders why he is being taken to task when the wiser adults have in fact been ‘proved to be profoundly in error.’ The aunt had insisted that a frog could not possibly have gotten into the bread-and-milk, while he knew it was there since he himself had put it into the basin. While I chuckled at the precocity of this child and admitted to my student that what Nicholas claimed was perfectly reasonable, we discussed what the aunt would have probably said scolding him. He laughed while he told me his own parents would say that people were starving in poor homes while he fussed about eating his vegetables and I shared that I would scold my children that there were millions starving and here you have wasted perfectly good food that is now not fit for eating. A child’s mind is not equipped to imagine the scenario that the adults are alluding to and so they cannot relate to the hunger suffered by others who are so far removed from their lives. Our words though stored away for future use somewhere in their minds fall on deaf ears. Does this mean we do not lecture them on the importance of empathy? Or is there another way?

Nicholas’ Aunt then devises an outing to the seaside for the other children to make his ‘disgrace’ more pronounced. He of course is unfazed, expected to be miserable as the others leave he couldn’t care less for the company of the children he finds so uninteresting, leaving her disappointed. She further tries to restrict him by banning him from exploring the ‘gooseberry gardens’ he, the smart cookie that he is strings her along and has her guarding the entryways to the garden while he goes exploring into the banned ‘lumber room’ so full of treasures that she has hidden away. There is a tapestry of a hunting scene, that excites his imagination, a teapot like a china duck far more interesting than the ‘dull and shapeless’ everyday one that was used in her kitchens and ‘little brass figures, hump-necked bulls, and peacocks and goblins, delightful to see and to handle.’ How many times as adults do we keep trinkets and decoratives that may be either fragile, dearly bought or even hold sentimental value to us away from the reach of younger children? We are afraid that they will break or be damaged. Reaching this bit of the story I was struck by the thought that while I guarded my ‘treasures’ did I limit the mind of my children? Were they not entitled to explore and let their imaginations find joy just as I did? Were these baubles more ‘dear’ than their ingenuities?

Nicholas had a few more lessons up his sleeve. He informs the ‘soi-disant aunt’ that though she’s sent the other children off on a fun expedition Bobby, wouldn’t enjoy as his new boots were too tight. The aunt perplexed wonders why Bobby did not tell her, Nicholas’ answer is a crime as a parent I am also oft accused of by my kids. “He told you twice, but you weren’t listening. You often don’t listen when we tell you important things.”

The end of the story had me laughing out loud, I’ll not spoil it for you. Do read this precocious story and appreciate this disconnect that makes the child’s mind such an amazing place to explore. What I will comment upon before I end is at the cleverness of the writer’s mind, set in Edwardian times children did not have the privilege of being understood. Children should be seen and not heard, an adage of yesteryears applying to them rather severely. Schooling and parenting is a lot different today, Nicholas would easily fit into the mould of today’s child and is a complete delight.

 

 

His Mother & Her Mother

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His Mother

Nine months of reading, planning, organizing. Focusing completely on myself as the books said to have a healthy baby eating right, thinking right and reading right I did it all. Now planning in advance and doing things on time is my OCD. So with two weeks left for our ‘due date to meet’ I was taken aback to say the least when my son decided to take matters into his own hands and arrive to be his father’s birthday gift. “How could I be left out of the celebrations?” he seemed to think.

I lay exhilarated yet exhausted with the ordeal, yes, ordeal, the process of natural child birth is not the most beautiful feeling as the books and my well-meaning Aunt’s conned me into believing. In discomfort and in pain I discovered that this tiny little being had come in to turn my world on its axis. I was a mess in those early days, too used to thinking only about myself, putting the needs of my child before mine was a learning I had to go through. Tired, bleary eyed, emotions that seemed to be out of my control and loss of independence are some of the things that I remember of that time. My mother-in-law and then my mother (God bless those ladies and their patience, I did drive them crazy) got me through the first forty days and I learned to feed, massage, change diapers and clean drool, bathe, sooth and rock to sleep my child who was full of beans from the get go. I would often just stare in amazement at the attitude of this 20 inch human being who could send a bunch of normally sensible adults into a tizzy of anxiety when he bunched up his face turned red and let out a bawl or had them in raptures oooooing and awwwwing as he smiled contentedly in his sleep.

Well the ‘holiday’ was soon over and it was time to take my tiny human and get myself back home to another city far from the doting crowd. I was ***t scared, my biggest worry being that I would do something wrong and harm my child. Despite my mother assuring me that I was ready and I should trust my instincts I was not convinced. Life goes on and one learns to adapt, I struggled and persevered and loved, my son got me through it all. He taught me to be patient and to be less compulsive with time and routine. He taught me to put the needs of others before mine. He taught me how to love unconditionally. I learned to cook healthy meals disguised as treats. He taught me to get down on my knees and play in the dirt and blow bubbles again. He asked me questions that had me scrambling to read Encyclopedia’s. He is calm and sensitive, every mother’s dream child yet with a mind of his own. He inspires me with his commitment and  makes me laugh with his humor.

Her Mother

My daughter came into this world much less dramatically than my son. She took her time and did not upset her OCD mother’s plans, staging her entry keeping to the timeline exactly to the day she was supposed to. (That was the only thing she did that was undramatic, the rest of her life continues to be a series of dramatically inspired events with her parents and sibling as audience.) The oooing and awwwwing all were the same and again we had adults making themselves silly over an infant. This time though, I did not read any books and I was far more confident with myself and her, in fact I was a pro and on my feet within hours. I did not drive anyone crazy and handled both my children with aplomb. I had already learnt the ropes from my older child, I thought.

Well yes to a certain extent. But then you tempt fate when you decide to be over-confident. I thought I knew it all but didn’t. My learning began in earnest again with this bundle of energy that could not hold still to discover the world, she was in a tearing hurry. Turning over at 13 days, crawling at 3 months and walking at 6.5 months. Babbling from the earliest and talking at 9 months she was a whirlwind that had me in a daze. She was sunshine in the tinniest frame, who had to be WATCHED constantly. In the blink of an eye she could turn an entire cupboard inside out, hang precariously out of the balcony railing, climb up on anything that she thought needed to be climbed upon and be off to her next escapade gleefully. I learned that the world was one interesting place that needed to be explored fast before the mysteries escaped to God only knows where. Food for her was an unnecessary complication that needed to be avoided and I had to learn to be ingenious about making things for her hiding nutrition with chocolate. I learned patience again and I learned laughter with her. I learned that every shop housed a treasure that she was just ‘dying’ to have and the world would stop spinning if she didn’t. I learned to walk away from her tantrums in crowded places even if people thought I was a bad mother. I learned to negotiate from her not losing and not winning either.

She continues to twist everyone around her little finger and dance to her tunes. Ever since the day she was born I haven’t taken a breath and the world doesn’t seem to want to slow down. She makes me young again.

When I was a student and a working professional, I thought in terms of degrees and in terms of designations. These were the labels that would define my worth. How things change. Today nothing makes me happier than to be called His Mother or Her Mother, these are the labels that are worth having. For from them I have learned the true art of living.

Failure of Fear

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An open letter to my children.

Dear Kids,

We live in the same house but as you have grown older the time we spend together has slowly dwindled. We run about in our busy lives, you in your pursuit for excellence and me in mine. Our paths crisscross through the day, we share mealtimes and bedtimes, we talk about your day and mine, we laugh and tease, we hug and squeeze, you share and vent, I advise and caution. There are so many things that I want to say to you that get left unsaid in the days that roll. Today I’ll take up one of them. Failure.

When you were little people and learning to walk you never thought that you couldn’t and as I watched, you stumbled and got up again never giving up till you mastered the art that was so easy that you looked at me in wonder as I applauded at your success. Over the years there have been many battles that you fought, that to many may seem not so significant, yet, for you they were hurdles that you had to cross. And cross you did, with two people who stood by watching, with our hearts beating wildly, your father and I applauding quietly. There were many you avoided, you said they were not worth the pursuit. We prodded and pushed, but, we couldn’t convince and so we silently acquiesced. The pain of failure though hard to bear, is a reality that we all live with, but never, never fear it, my children. The desire to succeed should exceed your fear, for that will be the turning point of your lives.

There are many people that you admire and hope to be like, you feel that they had it easy and achieved fame because they were lucky. They had their own share of struggles and hurdles both large and small. Let me share some examples. I smile as I anticipate the rolling of your eyes, there she goes again with her examples you will think. Bear with me a bit more, I shall not share too many.

Your heroes of innovation Jobs and Gates did not success at the first go and despite the pressures they faced to give up they did not stop till succeed they did. Einstein, Newton and Edison all faced failure in school yet their names today are synonymous with genius. JK Rowling was jobless, penniless with a dependent child and her success story is your favorite book series. Trained as a Barrister he failed when he couldn’t cross examine a witness in court yet went on to lead our country into freedom, hailed a Mahatma by the world and an iconic symbol of Peace, our very own Mahatma Gandhi.

Like I promised I’ll stop here, for now. Your dreams are big and you will learn to take risks. Many times you will succeed and at other times you will fail. It’s when you fail that you must find your second wind and push on for that is when you turn the fear of failing on its head and make it the Failure of Fear.

Love always,

Mama

 

Empathy a Point of View

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view” –Harper Lee

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Reflection

During my tenure as a Primary School teacher I had the privilege of having special needs children in my classrooms. My first introduction to a special needs child was in a mentor’s Grade 1 Classroom during my training period. The task for that day was to observe the Educator’s interaction with the children. My attention was drawn almost immediately to a child who towered above the rest and was mumbling to himself. Since I knew I too would soon be taking over my own classroom, I was keen to learn from my mentor how she incorporated the needs of this child with the rest of the group. What I saw that day humbled me. My mentor’s patience and her absolute devotion to her group of children was not unknown to me.

How I was humbled.

But, it was the children in that classroom that taught me the most. There was to be a group activity that day. Team leaders were chosen by the Educator and she asked them to choose the other members of their team one by one. I expected this child to be the last to be chosen and already a wave of pity overcame me. That he would be the first to be chosen surprised me and I was even more surprised with the fact that the other team leaders looked disappointed. One very helpful and talkative young lady sitting next to me whispered, that team is sure to win, he’s our classes’ good luck charm.

Through the day I watched the children as they took him under their wing helping him, and guiding him for all the activities of the day. For them this child was no different from them. I adopted the same philosophy in my own classrooms and was blessed to work with these beautiful children who not only respond to the love that we give them, in return they leave us far richer.

My learning grew further.

While all my children and almost all their parents were supportive of their friends I have had my share of difficult questions by parents. But then how could I blame them, they came from a place where they only thought of the needs of their own children. The first few times I was confronted by some of these parents I reacted with anger and tried to make them feel small for their pettiness, as you can imagine that did not go down very well. Then I hit open a novel approach, I asked them to speak to their own children about the child whose presence in the class was of concern to them. Needless to say they never came back to me.

As a society we have come a long way from the times when the differently abled were ostracized and hidden away in homes. I did not study in a school that had integrated learning facilities, my own children do and it makes me so proud to see them develop compassion for their friends. Human actions and consciousness both shape and are shaped by surrounding cultural and social structures. And empathy is the key to understanding, when we learn to walk in the shoes of others we will bring hope to the countless in need of it. Let us learn from our children.

2nd April, 2017. Are we really  that different?

I wrote this post a year back, today in honor of World Autism Awareness Day I am updating it with a few more thoughts that I have  understood with 365 days more added to my search for understanding.  Empathy is a feeling that can come naturally to many, but many a times empathy can also be developed.  Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice puts it perfectly through his speech on Common Universal Humanity, fans of the Bard will remember the lines “If you cut us do we not bleed,” to understand where I am going with this. Without regurgitating the entire speech here I shall come to the point. People with Autism feel the same love, happiness, pain, sadness just like any of us. In fact sometimes they feel each of these emotions to a far larger extent than us. They just express it in a different way than us. But, feel they do.

How to find Empathy.

Who among us cannot recall situations in which we have felt left out, been the underdog or just a misfit. Do you remember those times? Do you remember the hurt that caused? Do you remember how it corroded your self-esteem? If you do, transfer that pain to the part of your psyche that does not understand the need for inclusion. Sit on the bench of hurt for a while. Reflect.  I am hoping now you will find that simple human quality that will set you apart. It is called Empathy.

How can we ensure that we are as inclusive as we can be?

Do not avoid. Do not look away. Speak to these beautiful people just as you would to any interesting stranger. But tread with caution, do not give them a verbal overload. Then give them time to respond they take time to organize their thoughts. Be patient. Be positive. Be supportive. Give them  Love and find it making its way back to you a thousand fold.

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