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July 19, 2015

A childhood to remember

Wikipedia defines 'Parenting' as the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. In today's age and time, we are constantly getting weighed down with new responsibilities. Even among these, parenting is one of the most complicated responsibilities, more because it is a magnanimous commitment. We all know of the popular dictum 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.' This kind of authoritarian parenting is based on a strict set of rules that create a kind of fear and miscommunication towards the parent. The child tends to feel misunderstood and misjudged and this kind of rigid behavior is often responsible for strained relationships and behavioral problems. I, for one, am strictly against the authoritarian approach. A very important reason for this is that I have seen all kinds of counter reactions to this 'Strict discipline' theory, and believe me none of them have been pretty. I have watched harassed mothers (usually friends or patients or sometimes even random strangers) punishing their kids only to be countered by bouts of passive hostility. Most often, the hostility is far from passive. I have witnessed doors being slammed, parents spat upon, and even reported (a friends from the US told me her nine year did that once---no serious consequences, but imagine the shame she had to go through. Besides it took a lot of effort convincing the police that it was just a misinterpretation and that she did not mean any harm when she chided her only son that she will lock him up in the cellar if he did not eat his greens. The cops showed a little understanding only when they realized that the house did not even have a cellar). I sometimes stand pretending to be invisible (to save the parents the humiliation) when their brats  complain, fight, stamp their feet, and even roll on the ground. I do not have kids of my own, but have been witness to a fine amount of temper tantrums, mood swings, and careless parenting from people around me thus making me averse to the whole concept. The more the chlld screams, the more the parent yells. The more the parent yells, the child screams even more. This has been the scenario in most failed cases these days. While an authoritarian style of parenting can cause kids to be cheerless, moody and more susceptible to stress, a pampered one often ends up ill behaved, irresponsible and haughty.
So what is the right method of parenting? Is there any 'correct' method at all? A few days ago, I got my answer...

I stumbled upon Samaira at the market the other day, and our brief encounter ended up with her convincing me to drop by her house to meet her daughter. I knew Sam from my school days. She was a few years my senior. But our friendship was fortified by the fact that we were neighbors back then. Later down the line, both families shifted homes. Initially we kept in touch. But eventually, phone calls and visits had dwindled over the years.

Samaira used to be quite the wall flower during school. I never really understood what happened after we shifted homes. But when I met her in medical school, she was a transformed person altogether. She was the head of a rambunctious gang that had ragged me on my first day. However, we had ended up being friends by the end of the freshers party. I remember peeping in her hostel room only to find a clutter of notes, books, pages, letters, stationary, stray lipsticks. Samaira did not understand the meaning of the word 'order'. Nothing in her life had a pattern. She would do what she felt like. Impulsive though as she was, she was fun too.

I was a little hesitant to meet her daughter. I was already having a splitting headache and I did not want any pesky, ill mannered tantrum thrower making it any worse. However, I was meeting Samaira in years and she just wouldn't take no for an answer. So I had to agree. As she slowed her pace to match with my reluctant steps, I was mentally rehearsing excuses for a quick exit.

When we finally reached her apartment, I quite expected it to be in a state of disarray. (just like her hostel room used to be). But I was in for a surprise. The apartment was spick and span with everything in perfect order. Wow, how things had changed, I wondered. But a voice in my head warned me, "Wait till you meet the brat..."

My thought was interrupted by another voice.

"Hi, I am Khushi," a cherubic little six year old had appeared from nowhere and was extending her hand for a shake. A grin spread across my face. She was wearing a pink plaid dress that reached just up to her knee. She looked scholarly with brown framed spectacles that she constantly kept pushing up her nose. In her hand, was a coloring book and crayon. As she grinned broadly, I noticed a front tooth missing.

"Hello Khushi. It is lovely to meet you," I smiled and took her hand.

"Likewise," she said. Her etiquette surprised me. Here was a kid with the most impeccable manners as opposed to the Rowdy Rathore's I would generally meet. I continued to gape in awe. The voice in my head told me not to jump to conclusions. This was too good to last.

"Don't be surprised. I taught her that," Samaira exclaimed proudly.

"...and I taught mom to..." Khushi giggled.

"...to make different animal sounds," completed Samaira laughing.

I must have looked confused, because instantly she explained what she meant by bleating like a sheep, mooing like a cow, mewing like a cat and neighing like a horse.

"We have a whole animal farm in there, " she laughed and high-fived her daughter.

I grinned again. I was falling in love with this mother-daughter duo. Khushi showed me her coloring book. I noticed that she had colored only on the left sided pages. As I appreciated her paintings, the creation of a six year old, I noticed that some right hand sided pages were filled with beautiful designs and caricatures filled with a splay of colors---elegant art work that could be pulled off only by an adult.

"The right sided pages are for Ma," Khushi explained.

Samaira had always loved painting. Sharing a common coloring book was a remarkable way of bonding. She told me they spent one hour coloring every day. The book was an album of their memories, with Khushi's childish scrawls and 'outside the line' paintings one one side and Samaira's exquisite art work on the right. It was somewhat an eclectic combination.

"Nothing for Daddy?" I asked.

"Daddy doesn't draw," Khushi giggled.

Samaira elucidated the reason behind the mischievous giggles. Not so long ago, Vivek had happened to doodle a caricature that unintentionally resembled Khushi's class teacher. The poor guy had been oblivious to this. But Khushi had instantly noticed the similarities and prodded Vivek to draw a few other details---gold bangles, flowers, hair clip, and not to forget a lazy paunch thus making the resemblance more stark. Vivek had assumed it was just a toon sketch that his daughter was asking him to draw and so had obliged. He had even scribbled his signature below in true Picasso style. It was only when he was summoned in school the next day that he realized the prank Khushi had played on him. Suppressing a giggle, she had brought the sketch to the teachers notice---the same teacher who turned red with embarrassment on seeing such an ugly portrait. When asked who had done it, she had grinned naughtily and said "Daddy".  Samaira and Khushi had a good laugh over it while a purple faced Vivek stared at them from the principal's office the following day. He had never touched Khushi's crayons since.

Sam recounted many other notorious escapades. I was convinced that this little scholar with her 'granny' glasses was quite a mischief monger. But nobody could deny the cuteness in her pranks. What I particularly loved about this mother-daughter duo was the freedom that was allowed in the relationship. Chatting with Sam convinced me that Samaira and Khushi had found a friend in each other. There were no punishments, just gentle reminders and explanations based on reason and logic---in a way only a child would understand. Samaira told me she often had to become a kid herself to understand Khushi's point of view, and she did that with pleasure. Their mutual love for chocolates and dancing to 'Hakuna Matata' had only reinforced their friendship.

"Khushi is a much better dancer than me. In fact, I have learned a few dance steps from her," Sam winked as Khushi blushed and hid behind her.

Samaira was a perfect example of young parenting...reminded me of a concept Kellogs had introduced 'Buddy Parenting'. Khushi and Samaira were more of buddies. It was a symbiotic relationship which made both of them happy.

"What else do Mommy and you do together?" I asked, giving Khushi a hug. The girl was adorable.

What followed was a long narration of their daily routine. The kid was quite a talker. But I enjoyed listening to her incessant chatter. While Khushi went swimming with her dad in the evening, most of her activities were with her mum. Both Vivek and Sam would take her to the beach every weekend. Sam made sure Khushi spent time connecting with nature---listening to the sea, appreciating sunsets, helping her plant saplings in the backyard. She wanted to introduce her to all the good things in life. What she'd later choose to pursue was up to her. They both reserved a special time slot every evening called 'Story hour' where they would tell each other stories.

"Most of Khushi's stories are nonsense---short narratives that she makes up by herself. But I enjoy listening to them," she laughed.

Khushi narrated one of her stories to me. I could see that the colors were not just restricted to her book but had also spread into her imagination. I loved listening to the story about the talking lion that entered the chocolate factory. I realized she was making it up at the moment, and I admired her innovative creativity. When I asked her to tell me one of her Mum's stories, a glimpse of childhood flashed before my eyes. Samaira told her stories with fine morals that promised to inculcate values like honesty, determination and perseverance in her daughter. That way, she was already schooling her about things that really mattered. Khushi would listen attentively to the stories.

"She always has so many questions to ask. I have to stay alert all the time and make sure I have  my facts right," Sam affectionately complained.

I was impressed. Creative use of a child's time in a fun way is an essential criteria for good parenting. I remember my parents would engage me in stories when I was a kid. I was surprised to find out that, Samaira, in this age where most parents prefer to distract their kids with iphones and play stations, still managed to find the time and patience that is much required for good upbringing. Peppered with reasoning and explanation, her stories developed a healthy  balance between reality and imagination.

While I was chatting up with Sam, I noticed Khushi reach out for the fridge door and take out a jug of milk and a carton of cornflakes that was kept within easy reach. She then proceeded to pour the cold milk and cornflakes into a bowl.

"She must be hungry," Samaira smiled.

I was surprised to see such self dependence at such a young age. Samaira was definitely bringing up Khushi the right way.

"That's her favorite. She has Kellogs Chocos for breakfast too. It's not just healthy but she does not need to depend on anyone for her breakfast/snack. She can fix it herself. It is rich in vitamins and provides her enough energy to go zip zapping throughout the day. So I am not complaining."

"I make chocos for Mom also sometimes," Khushi called out from behind the kitchen counter.

 I looked at Samaira, and we both burst out laughing.

"Guilty as charged," she said sheepishly.

"Your daughter is a darling, Sam. She is so delightful and sensible," I complimented. "Back in college, who'd ever think you'd make such a great parent."

"I don't know if I am a great parent, Pri. But what I know is that I am definitely a great friend to my kid," she sighed. "I guess that is most important. My parents never had time for me. Both, mum and dad would be busy working. The only time I interacted with them was when they had to sign my report card or when I got into trouble. That was the reason I never felt comfortable around them. I never found the friend I was hoping to find in them. It was only in college that I learned to break free, but at the cost of making some real bad choices. I don't want my daughter to suffer like me. I want her to have a happy and secure childhood. I want to create happy childhood memories for her. I want to spend the maximum possible time with Khushi, not as a parent but as a friend."

What she was saying was 100% true. Parenting not just involved being there for your kid in times of trouble. Good parenting meant being there for your child all the time, as a confidante, a well wisher, a guide...and most importantly, a friend---a buddy who interacts not instructs. The best parent-child bonding involved participation in activities. That helped parents learn about their child's world and understand him/her better. Sam was executing buddy parenting down to the T. She made learning fun for Khushi, and this in turn made their bonding a beautiful experience.

"You are doing a fine job, Sam," I said, giving her a tight hug. "I am so proud of you."

On reaching home, I was thinking about Brand Chocos  and  their ‘Khuljyaye Bachpan’ philosophy. Sam had told me that Chocos was their favorite breakfast cereal. Could it be that Kellogs had inspired her to be so unfettered? ‘Khuljaye bachpan’ is about empowerment, not being authoritative. It is about allowing children the freedom to be children. It is symbolic of unlocking the way childhood should be....adventurous and uninhibited, healthy and happy.

Spending some 'khushi ke pal' with Khushi helped me realize that maybe parenting, if done the right way, is not a burdensome responsibility. Maybe it is a very fulfilling one indeed.

Khol do dilon ki khidkiyaan,
aur keh do hawaon se,
ki wapas laaye bachpan ki khushiyaan,
jinka humein aaj bhi intzaar hai...

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2 comments:

khushi said...

Cute post! :)

pri said...

Thanks Khushi :)