The Need for Control

On a helpless morning when life just happened and all I could do was let it, I walked in late into the Elementary class that had just settled down, all absorbed in work. I bulldozed my way in…
How many times will you work on dinosaurs! Finish up your table of factors.

I don’t want to see the two of you working together. You’ve been so very noisy all week! 

Why haven’t you gotten to work yet? Come, I will show you what to do.

Who let you take the magnifying lens out of the class? You could’ve broken it!

A throbbing toothache, pure fatigue, the feeling of helplessness and bleakness, a basic instinct to take control – the powerful conquer the weak… But I realized that stories run deeper.

Why do Montessori teachers feel the need for control? calvin 1

  • Lack of learning resources in the environment

To begin with very concrete reasons; Montessori Education is activity-based learning, placing great significance on the prepared environment.

Montessori materials, which have evolved over years of perfection,                magically reveal the secrets of the universe to little seeking hands. Teachers working in environments with incomplete sets of materials fill these gaps with teaching, worksheets, and assignments – all taking away the child’s freedom and bringing in control.

  • Limitation of time for work of free choice

Football, music, pottery, drama, yoga, chess, environmental club, painting, debate, dance, martial arts… While extracurricular activities are most beneficial for the wholesome development of the child, a school day choc-a-blocked with scheduled sessions interrupts work cycles inhibiting children from engaging in absorbed activity. Teachers cope with the interruptions by taking control, trying to get necessary skills in place within the limited time.

  • Lacking proficiency in technique of lessons

“A teacher must therefore be well acquainted with the material and keep it constantly before her mind. She must acquire a precise knowledge of the techniques that have been determined for the presentation of the material and for dealing with the child so that he is effectively guided. All this constitutes a major part of the preparation of the teacher.” – Dr Maria Montessori

The hundreds of lessons that need to be perfected often leave the Montessori teacher overwhelmed. Inadequate teacher training augments the feeling of helplessness; forcing the teacher to teach, to protect herself by repressing children’s learning, by taking control.

  • Do not know how to shift the responsibility of learning to the child

On a cold cloudy morning, a crisp clear lesson on Kinds of Angles was slayed by, “Now children, I want all of you to draw the angles in your notebooks and label them. Show me your books before you put them away.”

I recently sat down with a group of Elementary teachers to help recognize and record the purpose of activities presented in the various areas.

“To know, to make the children learn, to teach,” the teachers said, all words that stressed the need for teaching. No wonder these teachers spent hours in giving lessons, quizzing, testing, correcting.

“The directress must be convinced of two things – that the guidance is the responsibility of the teacher, and that individual exercise is the work of the child.” – Dr Maria Montessori

But children, especially in the Elementary class, need help with planning and structuring their day, and this the teacher supports by giving them the tools for self-directing their learning. Teachers, who are ignorant of this, take control, substituting children’s learning with teaching.

  • Do not understand the meaning and importance of observation

“Observation – loving, exact, modest, continuous, and especially objective is the cornerstone of Dr Montessori’s work of art. With this finely shaped and delicately handled brush she painted and retouched for us the very real, majestic and inspiring picture of the ‘new’ child.” – A M Joosten

All Montessori teachers need to ask themselves, “When was the last time I paused from the demands of planning, presenting, record-keeping, report-writing to “look” at the child? To observe with love, with a deep interest?”

Observation is the very basis of scientific pedagogy and teachers who do not understand this, run their classes with authority and control, the feeling of, “I know what’s best for you.”

  • Lack of understanding of self

A child walked expectantly into the class, back from a two-month summer break. The teacher’s tight grip on his arm propelled him, “What do want to work with? Math? Fractions? What would you like to do with fractions? Equivalency? Okay.”

The teacher was completely unaware of substituting the child’s will with her own.

As teachers, we must not only observe the child, but also ourselves. We need to watch how we talk, how we respond, how we feel the urge to take control, because transformation can come only from an understanding of the self.

  • The feeling of being judged

Teachers, both Montessori and otherwise, are often under the stress of scrutiny, of being constantly evaluated, by the administration, by consultants and mentors, by other members of staff, by parents, even by the children. It takes many years before a teacher accepts and remains unaffected under these highly judgmental situations.

Whenever somebody walked into class in my early years of work, I would stiffen up, take control, assert myself. I probably did this more as a message to the observer than the need to dictate children’s work. Over years, as I learnt to face myself, to understand my own strengths and anxieties, to accept and transform myself, I let go. I felt safe, to being watched, to discussing my work and receiving help. calvin 2

  • Children being judged

Mock exams, serious standardized tests, science and math Olympiads, even in the most “gentle test environments” nudge the teacher towards control. Some classes try to put aside a part of the day for test preparation, but the spirit of tests permeates all.

Judgment in all forms brings defense and control. When parents complained and caviled that their 5-year old couldn’t write yet, their 8-year old couldn’t multiply, or an 11-year old didn’t know who the Prime Minister of the country was, my thoughts flared in defense, “What are you doing about it?” I went back to class to rap on knuckles, to make all children learn up their multiplication tables and spelling.

  • Lack of trust in the natural process of development

I didn’t always need someone to unsettle my faith in the child’s ability to learn, at his own individual pace. My own confidence in the child’s natural path of learning see-sawed between my intellectual understanding of the psychology of the child, the privilege of witnessing the miracle of a child’s discovery or conquest, and the domineering, traditional adult in me. I wavered between autonomy and authority.

calvin 3

  • Lack of interest in the development of a human being

Dr Montessori’s work with children came from a profound interest in human beings, her steadfast faith in the spirit of man, her vision of unity among all people on earth and their deep connection with the cosmos.

Our work as teachers can only spring forth from a deep love for humanity, a sense of wonder, asking ourselves in the words of Rachel Carson, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” calvin 4

  • Lack of support

A teacher’s task is complex, demanding and often tiring. Yes, it is hugely rewarding and fulfilling but can be lonely and unacknowledged.

Teachers working for years in communities that lack nurturing and support tire and lose courage. They take into their classes boredom and monotony, constantly minding and controlling the children, waiting for the day to end, to return home.

A pat on the back, a reassuring hand, a community of sharing and encouragement go a long way in sustaining the strength of a teacher, reinforce her commitment to the child and affirm her faith in humanity.

A Prayer for Children by Maria Montessori
To respect children – in return to be worthy of their respect.
To praise much and blame little.
To emphasize their successes and minimize their failures

MAY LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING TEACH ME.

To make no promise to children that I cannot keep.
To have unbounded faith in them. To know they have great potential.
To have the patience and wisdom to bring it forth.
To allow children the dignity of their own personality and individuality.
To refrain from making them over to our desire.

MAY LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING HELP ME.

To be cheerful and ready to smile and often to laugh. Children love and thrive on cheer.
As teachers, we have no right to inflict our moods on children.
(Happiness is an outward sign of inward spiritual grace.)
To have infinite patience with children and to make allowances, knowing
there is so much for them to learn and knowing that I myself am not so very wise.

MAY LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING GUIDE ME.

To protect the child always from my nerves and from our own
irritability, prejudice, pessimism, fears – showing and practicing in their
presence only the opposites.

MAY LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING AID ME.

To help them choose their life’s work that they are suited for.
To stir up the gift that is in them.
To discover the talent or talents that they truly have – the inner pattern they came with.

MAY REAL UNDERSTANDING LEAD ME.

To bring fresh energy into the schoolroom engaging all with keen
alertness, interest and enthusiasm.
To help children to meet life bravely, honestly, independently.

MAY LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING SHOW ME.

To give the children freedom and to never confuse liberty with license,
as these two words are not synonymous ever.
To show my friendly interest in each child.
To consciously care for their progress, but to attain this by warmth and love
rather than by rigid cold discipline.
To manage children by the pleasantest of methods, with intelligence and affection
and never by condemnation and fear.

MAY LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING TEACH ME.

To educate truly, by drawing out rather than spoon feeding.
To guide them instead of driving them.
To direct their energy instead of repressing it.
To try always to understand them, instead of sitting in judgment of
them: and through all misdemeanors, both trivial and serious, to let them
know it is the action we deplore and never the child.

OH LEAD ME, OH TEACH ME, OH GUIDE ME.

Lopsided Language

Not so much on a light note I have been studying my middle finger for a fortnight now.

An ingrown nail had become inflamed and to spare you the ghastly details, I will just say that it had swollen and turned red, blue, purple, black, yellow and a few shades I didn’t recognize.

My white coat hypertension got the better of me, and I refused to see a doctor despite the pain and anxiety. Apart from giving it a few warm vinegar baths, I let my finger be. It healed miraculously, a little bit every day, leaving me with a crooked cuticle on an already crooked finger, and in awe of the healing powers of a much-neglected, yet forgiving human body.

Every time I stuck my finger out to win the sympathy of family and friends, they flipped out until they looked closer.

Many years ago, when teachers were not so worldly and children were (I wonder if this has changed?), the Primary teacher at school introduced an innocent song in Circle Time.

(Start with hands behind back)
Where is Thumbkin?
Where is Thumbkin?

Here I am, here I am
(Bring hands with the thumb up)

How are you this morning?
Very well, I thank you.
(Wiggle thumbs)

Run and hide…
(Hide hands behind back)

The song continued peacefully to Pointer and would have to the Ring Man and the Pinkie, if only the Tall Man didn’t disturb 4-year old ‘M’.
“You shouldn’t do that,” he exclaimed as the teacher held up both her middle fingers.
“Do what?” she asked puzzled.
“Show that finger.”
“Why?”
“It’s bad.”
“It’s just a finger, let’s continue”
But the song had lost its charm and the children were all suddenly hungry…

In the Elementary class two explorations cross paths frequently, taking up much time – investigation of meaning and origin of words and gestures, and endless moral exploration of “right and wrong.”
“He said, “——”
“Is it okay to say, “Shut up?”
“But she can’t use that word with me!”
“I didn’t mean THAT.”

It was a simple geometry lesson on Positions of Lines to a bunch of 7-year olds, with the Montessori Stick Material; it was about parallel, convergent and divergent lines…
“Wait,” said ‘P’, eyes alight with discovery, “divergent and divorce, I think they come from the same root word. Here lines move away, in a divorce, people move away.” (Later research did reveal that diverge comes from dis – apart + vergere – to bend or turn; divorce from di – apart + vertere – to turn)
“Divorce is bad,” commented ‘S’.
“Don’t be rude!” admonished another child, all eyes on ‘L’ whose parents were going through separation.
I quickly steered the conversation away, emphatically going on to perpendicular and intersecting lines.

It is important that a teacher draws attention to the etymology of words when introducing a new term in the Elementary class.

“Yikes,” they said, when I presented them with parts of a stem, the word axil comes from Latin axilla, meaning armpit.

I don’t imagine any of them will forget that!

6 to 12 year olds, who don’t seem to have the same great memory for names they had when they were three, four or five, often make up their own connections to help remember terms. 7-year old ‘U’ never got mixed up with the kinds of triangles, “Equilateral is easy – all sides equal; isosceles – ‘eyes osceles’ I have two eyes and the triangle has two equal sides…” While this is certainly creative, it would be of interest to the children to know isosceles comes from Greek, isos – equal + skelos – legs – a triangle with equal legs.

Elementary children are fascinated by the meaning and history of words, “Rama, did you know sugar comes from the Sanskrit word sarkara, shakar? (Shakar is the word for sugar in many Indian languages that have originated from or influenced by Sanskrit.)

Children seldom used the word “Pretty” to describe something attractive because research revealed that its origin lies in Old English prættig, meaning cunning.

The journey of words is most fascinating but some words are a challenge for the teacher…

“What is a vagina? Vanilla comes from Latin vagina.”

I saw an 8-year old obliviously make a list of words and their origins, Pencil – From Latin penis. Little did he know what the word meant, little did I know it meant tail in Latin.

As an Elementary teacher I have no objection to the journey of words from an awkward place to a comfortable one, my problem is with the growing number of innocent words and gestures crossing over into netherworld.

While innocent 6 to 9 year olds giggle shyly at poop and fart, the more informed 9 to 12 year olds chuckle at the words balls, male of a bird, a certain animal of the genus Equus, a synonym for happy, a metal fastener with a tapered shank and a helical thread, and some that I’m not aware of.

Though some of these words go back a long way, every day, hundreds of perfectly innocent words are abducted into hidden meaning and that troubles me immensely as a teacher.

Four-letter words, strictly banned, occasionally popped up in the Elementary class when frustrations and untamed tongues reigned.

What did I do?

  • I ignored, played deaf and blind – “I didn’t hear you, I don’t see what is wrong.”
  • Glared silently at the one or two children responsible for the word, hoping the neighboring innocent ones are not corrupted too.
  • Gave them a piece of my mind!
  • Gave them time-out.
  • Laid down class rules fresh and firm.
  • Lectured parents to watch their language at home and to monitor media inputs.

And then I followed the Montessori principle of Teach teaching, not correcting.

I realized that these words were of great interest to the Elementary child, with his strong need for testing moral limits, mostly because they were taboo. What if we simply accepted them as unpleasant words of the world, words that need graceful substitutes?

After all, a good sense of humour is a powerful tool for an Elementary teacher, one that we often forget to use.

To the bunch of 9 to 12 year olds who gathered for the weekly language group lesson, and to the curious 6 to 9 year olds in their part of the class in the background, I put up a large chart paper and at the top wrote the word in bold letters – SHIT.

After the gasps and the giggles receded, we discussed the meaning and etymology – The unpolluted predecessor of shit is the Old English word scitte meaning excreta, a plain enough word used even in medical texts.

If I were a teacher in an Anglo-Saxon Elementary class, I could have described the anus of an arthropod simply as the opening through which the scitte of the animal leaves the body, and not have to struggle to explain to 6 and 7 year olds who look blankly at the words faeces, excreta, stools, even the word waste.

“Cool,” a 10-year-old exclaimed, at the thought of the word, like many other prohibited words, being quite acceptable once upon a time.

With the word now sitting loudly on the chart, we discovered that it had more than one use and made three columns –
Brainstorming 1 I invited children to brainstorm acceptable words that could be used instead. As the suggestions poured in, I wrote them down after some discussion and agreement, adding my few.
Brainstorming 2 I left the chart on the board so children could add more words and the list continued.

I heard much less of the disagreeable words in class, as children came up with more acceptable, often witty, rather original replacements. Mostly, the words lost their mystery now that they were out of the closet.

Elementary children in their nascent social organization and small steps into the social world need help with –

  • How to ask for help
  • How to ask if they want to join a child/group at work
  • How to thank
  • How to comfort
  • How to express anger, frustration, displeasure
  • How to solve conflicts
  • How to correct sensitively
  • How to say “no”

Language is a powerful tool and as children in the second plane explore the basic conventions of the society related to politeness, respect and consideration, work with Grace and Courtesy must be brought to a new level.   If, up to the present, it was important not to bump someone in passing, it is now considerably more important not to offend that person.

Returning to where it all began…

Getting down to the bottom of things is a virtue (vice?) that has rubbed off on me after years in the Elementary class, and with the power of the Internet at my fingertips, I explored.

When did the middle finger get offensive?

I discovered the shockingly ancient history of the gesture. Used in the 4th century BC by philosopher Diogenes in describing his rival, orator Demosthenes, “It’s one of the most ancient insult gestures known,” according to anthropologist Desmond Morris.

As much as I feel uncomfortable even writing about this, I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit my newfound wonder for the gesture’s long journey before it disturbed the peace of the Primary class Circle Time!

Simplicity of Education

simplicity

“What is a realization?” was the topic of an animated discussion in the Elementary class.

Adding to the many interesting and unexpected responses, 9-year old ‘A’ said, “It’s what comes in a fraction of a second,” he snapped his finger, “and sometimes slips away in the next. But it always makes us different people.”

I woke up with a realization after a good night’s sleep, letting the network of neurons organize themselves, connecting, consolidating. This probably is no new learning, and I must have had the same awareness a few times in the past, yet many thoughts from the last few days fell into place.

I realized that the principle of Montessori Education, in fact all education, is very simple –

  • Knowledge and faith in the natural path of development of human beings from birth to maturity.
  • Preparation of a protected environment with the means of development.
  • Serve, assist, guide.
  • Stand back with your heart in your hands and watch the unfolding of human potential.

How simple is that!

But as it has been often said, “Simple is not easy,” and I began to wonder why.

  • Knowledge and faith in the natural path of development of human beings from birth to maturity.

For many who are interested, curious and not so very interested, introduction to the child, the human being, comes from a training program. Not questioning the quality of the training program, and acknowledging the unambiguity of Montessori pedagogy, what every student takes away, what they learn, depends on their own past experiences because “knowledge is not separate from experience.”

liquids take shape of container

This reminds me of a simple experiment from the Elementary class on the property of liquids – you pour the same liquid into jars of different shapes and see the liquid take the shape of the container.

I enrolled into training, many years ago, with two little sons and a pup at home. I believed with great conviction in the intelligence and superiority of the pup, which ate without fuss and was soon potty-trained, yes it was a bit naughty, but it tried so hard to please all and was adorable. I can’t say the same about my sons.

It took me the very first day of ten months training to believe otherwise!

Even the best training is only an introduction and it takes continued study of Montessori’s profound writings to discover the miracle of the human being.

But all this is pure faith, and like Thomas I needed to see the imprints of nails on the hands of the Lord, to put my hands on His side to believe. I needed to get down on the mat, get my hands dirty, side by side with the child, to watch, to observe.

I had to strive to rise above myself, become the saint and the scientist that Dr Montessori asks of us, “Let us strive to pour into a single soul the keen spirit of sacrifice of a scientist and the ineffable ecstasy of a mystic, and we shall then have the perfect spirit of our “teacher.” Actually, he will learn from the child himself the ways and means to his own education, that is, he will learn from the child how to perfect himself as a teacher.”

How many times I have seen a 2 ½ year old settle down to joyful working, inseparably one with the material, a 4-year old explode into writing, how often I see children discover division without the racks and tubes, the many philosophical questions that humble me, the many social conflicts gracefully independently resolved, how often I went to bed blessed by my interaction with noble adolescents, how many families I see transformed effortlessly by these children!

Yet how easy it is to forget that the child shapes himself, how easy to lose faith in the miracle of human perfection, how easy to dictate, to mould.

After years of joyful work I can only say, “I believe. I try.”

  • Preparation of a protected environment with the means of development. 

To follow the child who develops through work, freedom and love, “preparation of the environment and preparation of the teacher become the foundation of education.”

prepared environment

For years, everywhere I went, my eyes sought the perfect little jug that would invite the tiny hands of the primary child to pick it up. I drool over the online pictures of a beautiful Timeline of Music that I can’t wait to add to the shelves of the Elementary class. I scoured the country until I found the perfect spinning wheel for the adolescent occupation of textiles.

Offering the best for the child is a joy and furnishing a Montessori classroom can turn into a fixation knowing no bounds.

On the other hand, I’ve also often heard it said, “Materials are not necessarily the essence of the Montessori Method,” and I completely agree that bright airy rooms of polished, untouched materials, or even those materials assigned to tiny hands by a teacher, are not means of development.

Dr Montessori says, “Normalization comes about through “concentration” on a piece of work. For this we must provide “motives for activity” so well adapted to the child’s interests that they provoke his deep attention.”

How would I assist a group of primary children without the means for sensorial development, the number rods, or the sand paper letters? How would I run an Elementary class without the grammar material, a library or the opportunity of Going-out into the world, which is indeed as vital as the math materials or the timelines? How would the needs of the adolescent be met without a living space or the tools for an occupation?

Running a school has not been without the limitation of funds and resources; our priority laid with acquiring materials, we worked hard at preparing indigenous teacher-made materials and books, but in every gap left by a lack of means, we nudged aside the child’s freedom and filled it with ourselves – we taught.

I’ve seen superfluous private collections of sparkling Montessori materials and books for a single child in his/her home, longing for many more little pairs of hands, sitting on the shelves unable to teach waiting, sharing, harmony – all that a single set of materials teach to a class of thirty.

I’ve also seen incomplete sets of worn out materials and shelves with no books for a class of sixty; troubled teachers who work hard to fill the void.

Too many, too few, or none take away the child’s freedom replacing activity with instruction.

The middle path lies in Montessori’s words, “Necessary and sufficient.”

  • Serve, assist, guide.

Directerss

Walking into an environment painstakingly prepared for the child whose “work is love made visible,” my mission is fairly simple, “to cast a ray of light and pass on.”

I am often excited “to cast a ray,” but “pass on,” that is the difficult part.

I remember when my son Anurag was seven, he sewed me a beautiful pencil case. As much as I treasured it and took care of it, I saw him constantly watching me. Any one time that I left it unzipped, he would zip it up; when I left it briefly out of my bag, I would find it returned to its place. He kept asking me, “Ma, don’t you like the pencil case I made for you?” I realized Anurag loved the pencil case, and though he had given it to me, he hadn’t let go.

I often do this with the presentations and lessons I give children. I love them too much to let go. I hang on to the materials ignoring eager hands waiting to take over the activity, I cling to the book on the shelf, to stories that I want to gift rather than let the children find them for themselves.

“I am the Teacher, this is MY class, these are MY students and I know best!”
This is such an easy trap to fall into – to teach – to give a lesson, to assign activity, to test, to confirm learning, to pat myself on the back – and this actually works, though momentarily.

One afternoon I left the class with ‘P’, our young well-meaning assistant. I came back to an excited group of 8-year olds who had all been working diligently with the division material for a week.
“Rama, ‘P’ showed us all a quick short cut method to division without the material!”
‘P’, had simply taught them division and they had all solved some problems too.
“Show me,” I invited.
They wrote a problem and struggled, all muddled up.
“We begin from the right.”
“No, from the left.”
“7 times 5 is 35, we write it here.”
“No, we record the quotient here.”
They looked so sad that they had lost what they just learnt.

On some days I’m overwhelmed by the rigour for sowing as many seeds of culture as possible in the Elementary class. I divide my yearly plan of over 300 lessons for each of the three age groups (6 – 9 or 9 – 12) by 180 working days and frantically hurry to give five to six lessons.

On other days I read the transforming words of Dr Montessori and “follow the child,” I “disappear to let the child appear.” I lay off, give no lessons, watch a child struggle with an activity, let children resolve all conflicts, let them direct their own learning.

In the years of seesawing I learnt that “A teacher should avoid what is superfluous, but she should not forget what is necessary.”

  • Stand back with your heart in your hands and watch the unfolding of human potential.

Children working

“Indeed, as long as a child is teaching himself and the material he is using contains its own control over error, the teacher has nothing to do but observe.

One who follows my method teaches little, observes a great deal, but rather directs the psychic activities of the children and their psychological development. This is why I have changed her name from teacher to that of “directress.”

…The directress must be convinced of two things – that the guidance is the responsibility of the teacher, and that individual exercise is the work of the child. Only after they have fixed this clearly in their minds can they rationally proceed to the application of a method which guides the spontaneous education of a child and imparts essential concepts.”

I find this the most challenging. Sit back and enjoy? If I’m petrified of deep sea diving, then this is tenfold more terrifying.

How do I know if I’m sowing the best seeds, and in the right season, unless I dig and check to see if they’re taking root?

What about accountability to parents?

What about Standardized Tests?

What about admission into higher classes?

What about children who fall through the gaps?

Will my student’s results speak for Me? For the School?

I can ask a million questions or I can “help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; for this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.” I can take “my heart in my two hands as though to encourage it to rise to the heights of faith and stand respectfully before the children… to welcome the manifestations of the spirit, answering my faith. Here is the child as he should be: the worker who never tires, the calm child who seeks the maximum effort, who tries to help the weak while knowing how to respect the independence of other, in reality, the true child.”

“And holding in my hands the torch of faith I go on my way.”

Momo and her Kittens

My 21 and 23-year old sons, live close-by with their two cats, undeterred by my every day, “You’re just about taking care of yourselves, some days you don’t even make your beds, a cat is the last thing you need!?!”

Two weeks ago Momo had a litter of five kittens; it was her second.

She had her first litter soon after Anurag, my older son, got her home, about a year ago, in a state of neglect and trauma. The morning after the kittens were born, she killed all five of them as Anurag watched in sheer shock. He took days to accept the actions of “murderous Momo”, “kitten killer”, “cannibalistic cat” with a rational, “They were her kittens, it was her choice.”

This time Anurag and Abhimanyu were prepared for parenting; with shoeboxes, blankets, heating pads and kitten milk formula. But Momo decided to be a devoted mother and the kittens, as you can see, are doing great.
Momo and kittens 1 momo and kittens 2 momo and kittens 3 The morning after an anxious, vigilant night of kittenbirth, Abhimanyu came home for breakfast.
“Morning, Ma.”
“How’s Momo doing?”
“She’s fine, why do you ask?”
“She had kittens only a few hours ago.”
“Yeah, but that’s perfectly normal and she’s fine.”

Even as my troubled mind churned up a million thoughts, Anurag came in declaring how ravenous and tired he was.

“Anurag, Ma was just asking how Momo is.”
“She’s fine, why wouldn’t she be?”
“But she just gave birth to five kittens.”
“She’s a female of a species, giving birth is most natural. Of course she’s fine.”

I prided my sons to be a lot more sensitive to the female of a species and I was hugely disappointed.

An hour later they went to check on the kittens and found Momo not doing very well. They called me in panic. She was vomiting, hadn’t eaten, and could barely walk on her wobbly legs.

I helped make an emergency appointment with the vet who gave her IV fluids and observed her for a while. In a couple of days Momo regained her strength and was fine, and my sons were now a lot more sensitive young men, with a new admiration for the female and the miracle of mothering.

As Abhimanyu says in complete awe, “Ma, even when she could barely walk, she was nursing the kittens. There’s no way we could have cared for them like she does!”

I have watched my sons grow up from being 5 and 7, giggling over girls on MTV, “Look, her belly button,” giggle, giggle, into young men who discreetly tuck in my bra strap without me feeling the least bit embarrassed, who strongly admonish me on an occasional careless remark about a girl’s dressing.

When Abhimanyu was seven and we were on a trip, sharing limited space and comforts, he lay beside my mother-in-law and me on a mat on the floor asking, “Grandpa is older than all of us so it is fine, but why is nana (father) sleeping on the bed when grandma, who is older, is sleeping on the floor?”
“Because they are men,” my mother-in-law replied, before I figured an answer.
Life in a patriarchal society can flow without thought, conveying messages across generations.
I had my husband willingly move to the floor and my mother-in-law most unwillingly move to the bed.

I remember the time Anurag was 14 and packing for a trip that included a bunch of girls his age, I sat at the edge of his bed.
“Get it out, Ma. I know you want to say something,” he sat down beside me.
“Anurag, I want you to always respect that a girl’s body is hers. I understand the rush of hormones and everything, but know that being touched without consent can hurt a girl for a long time.”
“You are talking of ancient times, Ma. Girls today are different.”
“I know times have changed because I’m able to have this conversation with you, and I think girls today are brave and demand a lot more respect, which is wonderful.”

I see my sons share warm, comfortable relationship with friends, both girls and boys, and this is an enormous stride from where I was a teen myself, straight-laced and clumsy.

Young people have always surprised me with their insight and nobility, and I sincerely appreciate my son’s committed and straightforward relationship of three years. When he and his girlfriend decided to part, there was some drama, but much grace and understanding. To be honest, I wouldn’t have given up until I hurt the other person and myself with loud hue and cry.

Coming from a patriarchal, near feudal home, where girls were educated as preparation for marriage, where we tugged and pushed against the 6 p.m. curfew, where prying invasive hands of men knew no restraint, and mothers and grandmothers looked away, I have been acutely mindful of raising two boys.

I have constantly watched my own thoughts and where they come from. Why do I sometimes feel happy, even pride, when women in loud appreciation say, “Oh, you have two boys, how fortunate!”

When I see mothers struggle with setting boundaries for their young daughters, I catch myself thanking the stars for not having a daughter. Would I let my daughter party through the night? Would I let her travel alone? Not constantly complain about her choice of clothing?

While I will never know what it is to be a mother to a daughter, while I can only imagine the warm confidential conversations we would have had, the supportive smiles we would have exchanged, rolled our eyes at the vanity of young men, dreams we would share, I am happy as a mother, as a woman, to have raised two boys worthy of the women in their lives.

Sleepless Science

Woke up at 3 this morning (what kind of time is that!) unable to sleep. I sat down to work on some of the science stuff that I’ve been obsessed with.

As I explored the Internet for the kinship between light and heat, I found this totally random but absolutely fascinating experiment that I tried out at 3.15 a.m. (or was I dreaming it…)

experiment
IMG_1557
It was most easy!

  • Take a plastic bag, Ziploc or otherwise.
  • Fill it ¾ with water and seal the top.
  • Pierce a sharp pencil through it. (It goes in super smooth, like into soft butter.)
  • You can spear in a bunch of pencils…

How it works?

Apparently the plastic of the bag is made of polymers that have long, flexible chains of molecules. The water in the bag further stretches the molecules.

When you puncture the bag with a sharp pencil, the pencil point slides in between the chain of molecules that make up the polymer. The long chains then squeeze in tight around the surface of the pencil, making a seal that won’t let the water out.

Surely try it out and let me know how it went!

Share a Poem…

A dear friend shared this poem with me a few years ago and it has since been one of my favourites.

I share this today, with all the women out there, and invite you to share your favourite poems…

Happy Women’s Day!

Wild Geese - Mary Oliver