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Mythology mentions that when Markandeya s mother was given the option of having a short lived but intelligent son or a son low on intelligence but blessed with a long life, she preferred to have an intelligent son even if he was destined to live for just sixteen years. Thus was born Markandeya, an exemplary son who grew up to be a devotee of Lord Shiva. However, since Markandeya worshipped Lord Shiva, the God of death, Yama failed in his efforts to take him away when his time came because he clung to the Shivalingam that he worshipped. Yama threw the noose of death around Markandeya s neck but it accidentally landed on the Shivalingam thereby enraging the lord. He attacked Yama and almost killed him. Yama was revived on condition that Markandeya would live on forever.
I ve heard this story from my mother several times and as a child I often wondered if it would have been better for her to have opted for a less gifted son and saved herself and her son the trauma that followed. I also felt that as a mother she should have wanted her son to live long, gifted or otherwise. (I wish I had remained a child in her pre teens not exposed to the harsh realities of life.)
Years went by and I have had the opportunity to witness and admire parents with mentally/physically handicapped children and have marveled at the patience with which they dealt with them. There have been others whose children may not have been bright sparks but were otherwise gifted and it required a lot of patience and understanding to deal with them in accordance to their needs. Is it therefore easier to bring up a bright and gifted child as compared to the average and below average ones? I am afraid not. Parenting/teaching a bright child poses challenges in ways unforeseen and one actually starts wishing that such children were easier to handle. My children were not out of the ordinary nor could they be called geniuses. However, I remember being upset when my older daughter and son were vocal and I would be equally upset when my second daughter would give me a strange look and walk away without saying a word. I could never decide which type of behavior was more preferable and today I do feel glad that my role as a parent is over and my children lead their own lives without my having to worry too much about them. Whether I may take credit for their success I would not know but I do like to believe that I played a role in making them what they are today.
Parenting has never been easy. Long back when my daughter was in Standard I, the school did not rank their performance and gave them grades. I was curious to know where she stood in class. My curiosity took over and I asked her teacher, a fifty plus woman with years of experience to her credit, how my daughter fared in class and where she stood as compared to the others in her class.
She is a promising child. That is all I can say for now, was the teacher s response.
Could you tell me how L has done in the terminal exam? I persisted.
Now L was a very good student and had won several prizes the previous year. Somehow I wanted to know how my daughter had fared as compared to her.
That put the teacher off. During her long span as a teacher she must have dealt with many others like me.
Mrs. R , she said, why should I give you any information about another student? For you to compare notes and demoralize your daughter at every step? Is it not sufficient that your child is good and promising enough? You worry about your daughter but I am concerned about all forty of them. I want the weaker ones to improve. I d rather identify their shortcomings and work on them. And do you know that it is the average student that does well in life? He/she can handle set backs better and is always willing to learn and take corrections. And for God s sake, the child is just six years old. Why not let her learn at her own pace and enjoy her time in primary school? She has all the time in the world to take on a world full of competition.
Teacher Huntley s words have remained with me ever since. Shortly after our meeting I took up my present job. I try my best to accommodate the interest of students from the weaker sections of society those who did not get the opportunity that my children got and feel happy even if a few among them make it big.
Parenting is therefore a learning process. Each day teaches us a new lesson. More than other things parenting teaches us to tolerate and forgive. I have a friend who was a cleanliness freak and would criticize the parents of unruly children on their upbringing. Her children when they came were little charms and up to all sorts of pranks. These days she understands that children would be children and a messy house no longer upsets her. In fact she advises other parents to take it easy saying that children would soon grow up, leave home and one would have nothing but memories of their childhood to remember.
Finally parenting is a responsibility. I have a friend with a mentally handicapped son who is now around 28 years of age. I ve watched her taking care of him since the past twenty years. Her life simply centers round him. He has to be fed and she is literally on her toes all day long. Yes, the boy keeps walking around the house every waking minute and she keeps walking behind him either with a bowl of food in hand or a towel to wipe his mouth. Otherwise she has to see to it that there is nothing obstructing his way. He will either trample the object or tumble and fall. She occasionally calls me up for a long chat. Ours is the only place she brings her son and that too very rarely. She does not complain but I understand how difficult it must be for her to look after the son who is now about 8 inches taller than her. I once remarked that she was god s own choice for the boy. Anyone else in her place would have given up.
I wish I had been less patient didi, she said. Had I been so, I might have understood that all was not well with the boy and we could have taken him for treatment much earlier. He might never have been normal but at least as doctors say, he could have been trained to do something making him self – reliant. I was young and na ve and failed to look for the milestones that mark a child s growth and development. He was a fussy child always wanting to be carried. Physically he was a chubby child but would never make eye contact or show signs of recognition even when he was a year old. My mother-in-law would not hear of anything negative being said about him so when he did not try to talk and made strange sounds instead, she insisted that several children learnt to speak at the age of three and there was nothing unusual about it. When we finally sensed that something was wrong and took him to Vellore at the age of three, irrevocable damage to his brain had been done and the doctors could do nothing more.
A final word. Nature and nurture are both responsible in shaping a person. The environment provided by society also matters. If the children become self reliant and responsible adults one need not worry. But, if god forbid, something goes wrong, denial will not help. One should act fast and do whatever possible to help the child. I was surprised that under pressure many of our college going youngsters take anti-depressant pills and regularly go for psychiatric counseling. Is this perhaps an indication that they are not comfortable turning to their parents or older siblings for help? Are they finding the competition in this world of ours too much to handle? I agree that a teenager tends to drift away from his/her parents and resists authority in whatever form. Is it not our duty to reach out to these youngsters in whatever little way and help them redeem themselve
s? Can we at least stop looking down upon parents with physically or mentally challenged children and/or those dealing with a troublesome teenager? They have enough to cope with without our probing eyes and wagging tongues adding to their misery.
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