Being a bully is not cool

A dear friend has been struggling with envy. From a close family person. Who one has supposed in being older and a parent and from a generation that is known to have been inclusive should have been at the very least a neutral presence.

The friend in her wisdom and compassion decided to be the ‘bigger person’ — finding reason to either excuse or overlook the older relative’s foolhardy, provocative and hostile behaviour and expressions — written and spoken.

A couple of days ago, when the older relative decided, unilaterally, presumptuously and inconsiderately to heap some more unwanted responsibility on my friend’s head without once checking with her, my friend decided, appropriately that enough was enough.

And she confronted the relative with plain speak about the series of unfair and unkind decisions that had been made over her head, requiring her work, involvement, time and energy. That she in her civility and maturity she had so far put her head down and just got done. For her own sanity for the sanity and safety of her children.

And she said, ‘no more’. And somehow, the newness of it — her changing tack, the unexpectedness of it, and the obvious injustice of the situation so far, together made the relative ‘turn a new leaf’. Or so it seems. The relative acknowledged, by not saying anything in response, that what had happened so far was indeed unjust and that the way she had conducted herself was, to put it mildly, a shame.

Sometimes it seems that the only thing bullies respect is just this — a loud refusal to cow down to their bullying. For people like my friend who are mild-mannered, peace-loving and not interested in contests, the need to have to do so seems an unnecessary drain on their energies, time and grace. But this episode to me proves better than anything else that sometimes we need to reach outside our propensities and fight the good fight to say no to bullies, no to habitually presumptuous behaviour and no to arrogant entitlements from those who profess to being close without a clue about the responsibilities that accompany it.

A love for words; a love for song

One of my earliest adult memories of my father is about how deeply moved he was by an extraordinary turn of phrase, or a soaring song. In my teenage years I used to be puzzled by how his eyes welled up and then at times embarrassed that there seemed no immediate or evident cause for his momentarily altered state.

As I grew older, I understood more and more how receptive he was to the beauty of words and sound and how easily he was able to relate to the most distant and unfamiliar pieces of work irrespective of their place of origin and sometimes irrespective of the language that the eclectic music he gradually collected over the years and had us unconsciously partake of.

I cannot be gladder to have grown up in a home that every Sunday woke up to the scratch of a needle finding its groove on an LP – often classical vocal music from both the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions but also a lot of instrumental music and a fair bit of western classical and an equally fair bit of folk music from what was then called the Eastern Bloc, from some parts of Africa apart from silly favorites of mine including an LP from the children’s film Annie.

Now when I read to my little girl at night and sometimes insist on choosing my favorite stories (including right now the fabulous Julia Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale) I find myself morphing into my old man, throwing my voice to suit the rhyming lines, terribly involved in what they portray and unabashedly moved by the perfection and beauty of the story it tells. And I think to myself it’s no wonder I can already see my little girl looking at me with a mix of concern and puzzlement wondering why her mum seems to tear up about a story so distant and unrelated to our lives – and yet internalizing in her own way, a love for words and a love for song.

Celebrating the parent who is present

In having lost one parent much sooner than any of my close friends did, I have spent a great deal of time and heart in thinking about and celebrating my father’s spirit and presence and mourning his passing.

But I have never paid enough tribute to the parent who he left behind, who is alive, here and now, and whose daily and unending labour of love has given my young child and me the rock-solid home, refuge and tireless attention and care that enables and defines who we are and who we have become in our lives together, each in our own person, and together as a family.

Always the seemingly more reticent of the two, my mother was the quiet strength beside my expressive and gregarious father. Far apart in age, from different cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds, the two were always one of the best examples to me of a loving and respectful companionship.

During my teen years, when I was drawn a great deal to books and as a result of that drawn to and mesmerised by my father’s formidable intellect, I can never forget how he gently but firmly reprimanded me for seeming to put him on a pedestal writing in one of his letters to me at boarding school that the example my mother set with her effortless integrity, unflinching humility and unconditional humanity were by far the more coveted virtues, no matter how scintillating being widely read or a word he loathed, being intellectual seemed to be.

I have never forgotten that. Both for what it taught me about me and my blinkered view then and for the renewed admiration and love I felt for the way he loved my mother.

Although my mother has of course told me over the course of the years, that the usual, gendered differences existed between them too, she has always said my father was rare in considering her at all times with the deepest respect for being the kind of woman she was and for the kind of mindful, attentive and unbelievably generous mother she became.

I cannot ever be grateful enough to her for having always let me make my decisions, no matter how flawed, and often contrary to her expressed wishes or opinions, for never withholding her support, labour and love simply because I have found myself face down after following some of my mad plans, for having stuck her neck out for my young child and me when I have needed someone to rely on unconditionally and for being the kind of loving, patient and fun ‘present in the moment’ grandma who despite her getting older and frailer never whines or protests or grudges the entire lack of ‘me time’ and who runs this house and home for us in a way that makes the hardest and most invisible work and labour seem like a cake walk.

A mother’s gift

As a young child grows, some of the concerns and worries about her safety, happiness and well-being recede, as she becomes stronger, bigger and more articulate. Some don’t, of course, and stay for as long as one is alive.

Worry, as a fellow mother one said, especially on behalf of a girl child, comes with the territory.

But what has come to my mind is that nothing makes a young child feel more secure and confident than knowing that you are alive to her every small and big expression – especially when that of sorrow, hurt or discomfort – in any situation with anybody – and that you believe completely and utterly in her feeling.

My mother gave me that incredible gift as a child and I feel honoured to pass it on to mine.

Imposter schools

No institution that says it’s about encouraging talent in young children should be given any legitimacy when it fails so badly in spotting, including and encouraging a ‘non-member’ child’s incredibly brave, spirited and joyous participation in a public event.

We had taken our little girl to a Christmas carols performance by a well-known music group (on the lawns of a well-known luxury hotel) which says it’s dedicated to bringing out the latent musical talent in all children.

They were strict with their security and said only the little ones were allowed to enter a sort of picketed fence area right in front of a raised stage where the musicians and instruments were.

At first I didn’t think she’d go – but the moment the music started and she reassured herself that we were all right around her, just outside the pickets, she got completely involved in the throbbing music and actually stood up to dance when the group leader asked her class children if they could come up.

Although we were all teary eyed with pride and joy to see how spunky she was – our precious little girl – with a sea of unknown faces around her – mostly children but older than her – we also got very soon really mad when nobody noticed how incredible she was – not because she is ours – not at all – but because she was so fearless and involved and happy – all the things that the teacher out there wanted HER students to be – and nearly nobody was nearly AS spontaneous, immersed, (in step and keeping to the beat without a fault, effortlessly) and happy as her.

Shame on such places. Really. Thank God that she didn’t take the few insidious jibes that came her way too badly – and none badly enough to give up her dancing – but it did hurt that NONE of the organisers were able to lovingly include her in ‘their class’s’ ‘performance’ and worse still, in my view, the parent or family of the older child who nearly thew away my little girl’s hand when she tried to hold it to join a bunch of students dancing and singing in circles were happily oblivious to what their child was doing.

Raising children is an all-time thing – an attentive thing – an absorbing thing – (and so, often enough, needless to say, also an exhausting thing) and I wish everyone – parents and ‘the public’ alike would seriously revisit the reasons why they produce/reproduce or consciously engage with young children in the first place when they are too preoccupied with their own individual interests (which is fine, of course), think it is everyone else’s responsibility to bring up their children, and in the case of music institutions like this, why they exist at all – and who do they think they are fooling when they say they are dedicated to fostering a sense of delight in music in ‘all’ young ones.

My little girl and all young children deserve all the gentle and non-prying attention they can get to blossom into the best people they can be.

And they would do better without such fake academies.

Putting it Together

“Putting it together,
That’s what counts!…

Putting it together
Small amounts…”

Dear readers mine,

It’s been about three months now since I plunged into the world of blogging — and my word, do I love it!

I don’t get to read as much of the wonderful writing out there as I’d like to — but in a funny way I feel more connected to writers and writing, everywhere — and progressively less fearful and anxious of publishing in this manner — a rather aptly, naked form in our hyper connected, post-modern world.

I really admire the searing honesty with which some of you, especially the parents among you, share your raw experiences — and I feel humbled by your courage and openness in sharing them.

They make me fell, suffice to say, less alone in my own ‘mountain climbing’.

I cannot think of any other experience so profoundly life-changing that is so poorly portrayed (or partially portrayed) in order to resemble at all times, a perfectly lit and perfectly composed work of art.

And yet the taboos against describing it, in its many hues, are many and deep-seated and understandably universally shared.

So thank goodness for humour and wit; grace and wisdom which help us re-tell and re-imagine our lives and help us transform those sometimes harrowing moments of utter despair and heart-break as parents into dazzling luminosity.

Simple vanities

About 10 minutes ahead of our young children’s arrival, we, a motley group of mums, in our mid to late 30s, gather together outside the school gates and have some of the most ingeniously compressed chats about how we are keeping up/coping with our still new selves as mothers.

Today, Radhika, mum of two, and adept civil and criminal lawyer, came wearing eyeglasses for the first time. When we enquired after the circumstances of this new acquisition she said in half jest that it was either too many hours spent wilfully in front of the idiot box late in the night or sleep deprivation. (The latter, in being a common affliction, didn’t even register a flicker of sympathy.)

But what did catch our attention was the former — and when we asked how she managed (as though it was an achievement) to even find an hour to watch the idiot box, on her own, late in the night, she said it was her detox therapy, her way of finding some much-needed ‘me-time’ after the children had been put to bed and after she had caught up with the day’s news with the husband who tended to get back from work, late.

She also confessed to gorging on hot chocolate fudge (yum, yum yum) originally bought and stored with the intention of sprucing up dessert for unforseen guests — during her nighttime sojourns!

Although I haven’t yet begun hoarding sweetmeats, I too remember having stayed up late one night watching a semi decent Hollywood flick with Bruce Willis — and enjoying it all the more because I got to do it on my own, in the house, with little T fast asleep and with this deep sense of contentment that I was doing something I loved without having to handover T to anyone or worrying about how she was doing, or feeling horribly guilty about doing something for myself.

And the only reason I haven’t repeated it much is because of how wrung out it had got me the day after — and pretty incapable of being a steady hand on board the parenting ship which made me cringe and fill up with unnecessary guilt.

But another favourite and convenient ‘indulgence’ we have discovered is a good haircut. And although most of us wistfully long for the luxurious after services that other women seem to indulge in after a hair cut such as a slow, time consuming, head massage, we are more than happy and grateful in knowing that we can have a haircut at all! For it is just the kind of one hour indulgence that fits perfectly into the three hours when our little ones are safe and happy at playschool and just the kind of ‘lift’ we seem to currently need to pay attention to our little girl selves that we have lost sight of in our ongoing busyness as mums to high energy toddlers — and a celebration of our respective vanities!