You Lied, Mother

‘Leaving the Nest’ by Siobhan Knox

You lied, Mother.

You said it will be easy.

You said the world was a beautiful place to grow up.

 

You pushed me gently out

Coaxing me to go a little more,

Just a little further on the branch.

You told me not to be afraid

As the wind swayed me about.

You lied, Mother.

You said I will not fall.

 

I took off, nearly toppling,

In what was a miserable attempt at flight.

The nest seemed so far off,

Its thought itself so cozy.

You told me to enjoy the sunlight on my face.

You lied, Mother.

You said the world was warm.

 

You said I will not fall.

I fell many times,

Hard on my face, flat on my back.

You said the world was warm.

It cold-shouldered me,

Its tragedies chilled my bone.

Why did you lie, Mother?

 

The world keeps telling me

That each time I fell, I failed.

It keeps reminding me of my bloodied nose,

Of my injured, drained body.

Is that why you lied, Mother?

So that I would be unable to see

My falls as my failures?

 

The world keeps closing its doors

Leaving me out in snowy, wintry days.

It teases me by lighting fires far from my reach.

Evoking desires of what is not mine.

Is that why you lied, Mother?

To give me this gift

Of warm satisfaction with my flight?

 

Your lies have made me blind.

Your lies have made me strong.

You lied, Mother, but I forgive you.

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Grief

It was her decision to abort the child. Her own. No one asked her to. No one advised her to.

Her husband wanted her to abort. He knew the pregnancy was dangerous. He knew he loved her too much to risk losing her. And yet, when she had told him her decision, there was…something. Surprise, a mild shock, or was it disgust? Did he want her to beg and cry to keep the child? Did he want to be that voice of reason in the midst of unreasonable maternal instinct? Did he want to prove that he loved her but he considered the fact that she loved herself to be unwomanly?

She saw these emotions passing through his face, but the final one was relief. She was relieved herself to find that emotion on his face. Relieved to know that despite all, he loved her.

The doctor came in then. He nodded when they told him, his eyes all the while on her husband. He was the one who must have convinced her, of course. He waited politely for her to shed a few tears, which she did. But the doctor looked on quizzically. She was in physical and emotional pain, no doubt. But she seemed composed when she signed the papers. No hysteria, no drama, no refusal, no changing the mind at the last moment. Perhaps she was in denial; this was all a bad dream.

 

Photo via Google Images

 

She felt every movement, everything that was being done to her. For all her years to come, she would be able to remember exactly what was done to tear her baby apart from her. Her husband said all the right things, did all the right things, and still, she felt he wanted to detach himself from it all. His comforting her felt slightly cold, his demeanour slightly icy.

The following few months were painful; the words and the sympathy felt forced. She wondered whether he blamed her for losing the child. She wondered if their families thought so too. His mother resolutely accepted when they told her, but she kept waiting for her daughter-in-law to break, to reproach him for making her do this.

“Maybe it’s all for the best. She isn’t…well, it’s difficult for women nowadays to appreciate the love for a child…” her mother-in-law broke off when she saw her standing at the doorway. She had been stricken by the words. Was she really not loving enough to be a mother? Did people imagine it was easy for her to let go of her child?

If she had wanted to risk her own life for the child, would that have made her a good mother? Wasn’t “sacrifice” the accepted standard for the society for being a good mother? Wanting to live, wanting to try again for a child, wanting a healthy pregnancy, wanting to be able to see her child alive and happy; this was perhaps, too selfish.

“I want to try again,” she told her husband one day. “We should see a doctor about the complications.”

He agreed, if only to make her happy.

“Do you think I’ll be a good mother?”, she asked him, five months into her pregnancy.

He nodded, smiling slightly, before turning away.

He didn’t ask whether she thought he would be a good father. Neither did his parents, who were very supportive of him when he wanted her to terminate the first pregnancy.

The girl was born healthy and on time. The family rejoiced. She was the perfect baby.

“Do you think I am a good mother?” she asked again when Tanya was a feisty seven-year-old.

He hugged her impulsively and tightly. She caught the words I’m sorry… breathed into her ear.

She grieved again, after all these years; this time, only for her lost child.

Authority, Obedience and Creativity

In second grade, my teacher was the ultimate authority, the one who decided what was right and what was wrong, the one that we complained to in case somebody took our big red-coloured Kit-Kat eraser. I was in awe of her, though I found her a bit strict.

Outside our school there were a few laaris (carts), where a whole lot of low-quality eatables were sold. It was stuff like tamarind, etc. One such taste-bud-tantalizer was some sort of tamarind powder. I never bought these things because my parents said they were bad for health. Our teachers also discouraged it.

Once, Miss B as I’ll call her, caught a boy in my class eating the said powder. She scolded him in front of the entire class, but that wasn’t all. She proceeded to read the ingredients on the packet too. One of them was citrus acid.

Now, mind you, we were in second grade, and didn’t really know the difference between edible acids and cleaning stuff. For us, any acid was ACID, THAT THING WHICH WILL BURN YOU, as was taught to us. Miss B, taking advantage  of the fact, lectured  us on the terrors of eating the thing.

I went home horrified at the foolishness of the boy. Over lunch, I told my parents all about it. My parents very gently informed me how fruits like oranges actually contain citrus acid and that it is completely harmless and edible.

My first reaction was disbelief. How could a teacher lie to us? How could she take advantage of our ignorance?

But soon, I realised why she did so. It was easier for her to say that the powder contained acid rather than explain the details of why exactly it was bad for health. Considering the fact that I was seven and idealistic, I think I forgave her quite easily.

How easy it is, to not explain and merely order. Explaining would take more time, more efforts and probably lead to further questions. Scolding, ordering and even scorning, would take only a few minutes and have a more immediate impact. And of course, a deeper impact, though that part is neglected: Children stop asking “Why?”

dontask

Don’t ask silly questions!

When I was growing up, keeping quiet was a virtue. All students of my generation have heard this from their teachers at least once: Finger on your lips! Don’t talk! Don’t disturb the class! Don’t ask silly questions! I’ve even heard of some teachers completely discouraging any questions when they are in the middle of their teaching, lest they lose their track!

I was a good student. I was, in fact, a model pupil. I even got an award for it: Best Conduct and Discipline. What does it mean really? Good conduct and being disciplined? In my day, it meant being silent in class, accepting the teacher’s authority, not talking back. It meant that I would never question the teacher. I was fed these “virtues” as food everyday. Distinguishing between proper questions and silly questions came easily to me; I knew instinctively which questions shouldn’t be asked. The teachers adored me!

But it also meant that a lot of those silly questions were never asked even though I was curious. I stopped daring to be creative with answers because I was afraid that the teachers would expect me to follow the right and taught methods. For each question asked, I had two answers in my mind; one that I wanted to give, and one which I knew the teacher wanted to listen. I always gave the latter one.

Times have changed now. Questions are encouraged. Creativity is rewarded. The definition of a good student has been changing. Now, we are told that one who asks the most questions learns the most. One who accepts the things as they are told is obedient, but not bright. “Out of the Box thinking” (a much abused expression) is encouraged. For some, the transition has been smooth. For others, it comes with effort.

I was systematically taught to be obedient. And now, it has taken a good amount of conscious effort to revamp the way my mind works, to stop the instinct to give a “desirable” answer and try giving one which may sound silly.

It takes courage to wonder, to be in any way, out of the ordinary. Thank goodness, those questions and those answers were only silenced and not completely removed. Thank goodness, that “creative” wondering was encouraged at home. I realise that school played a very major role in shaping the way I think, but I’m glad, that the very basis of my thought process was formed at home. Beneath those layers of obedience, the inquisitiveness remained, though a little rusty.

Children are curious by nature. Organised learning often kills that curiosity, one question at a time. Every time a teacher gives an order and refuses to answer “Why?”, the child learns to never question authority, to be a doormat.

Is it that difficult to tell a child Why she should/should not do something? How can one expect a child to choose between obedience and inquisitiveness?

How was your experience in school? Were all questions encouraged?

Virtuosity and Lies: What Does It Mean To Be Good?

I remember exactly the first time I lied to be thought virtuous. It was a school test. It had general questions. One question was this: Do you help your mother around the house regularly? I’ll ignore the assumption that only “mothers” are supposed to work around the house for now. I wrote “Yes” as the answer.

Now I did help around the house. Sometimes. When I felt like it. It wasn’t a compulsion or a duty or anything. If I was asked to do something, I did it sometimes, sometimes I refused saying I was doing important things like playing. It wasn’t a big deal. So the true answer would have been “Sometimes”. But we were asked to answer in just Yes or No.

I wrote Yes because of two reasons. One was to account for the “Sometimes”; I didn’t think it was fair to ignore all of the work that I did in the face of the times that I didn’t. The second reason brings us to today’s topic: I wanted the teacher to think that I was good.

What does being good mean exactly?

A simple definition would be to be kind, generous, helpful to the people around you. But these words themselves are pretty vague as far as their own definitions are concerned. What does being kind mean? What is the line between being generous and being taken advantage of? What constitutes help and where do we stop it?

Being selfless combines all of the above if we look at it simplistically. And selflessness?

Altruism: the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

To be unselfish?

A selfish person is one “lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”

I refuse to believe that anybody is completely selfless. All of us are selfish in varying degrees. And all of us know it deep down. And it’s not such a bad thing. Why then, this need to be considered “selfless” by others?

I think I’m considerate enough towards people as a general rule. I think I help them reasonably; not doing their entire work, of course, but as much as is genuinely needed. If had to choose a path that benefits everyone, I would choose it over the one that benefits just me. I would try and avoid the path that hinders others. But if there was a choice between a path benefits somebody else but harms me in any way, I don’t think I’m selfless enough or virtuous enough to choose it. I don’t think I can let anyone matter more than me.

It sounds harsh when I say this perhaps. But I don’t think I’m wrong. There’s a difference between being good and being taken for granted. I have no qualms in doing something for another being; I can take a little bit of trouble for it. Because it makes me feel good. I have to admit that it is about me even then. It is always about me.

And yet, we have this inherent need to be considered good by others, especially when we are young and in school. Hence, I have to tell my teacher that I’m “helpful” and “obedient” in my house. I have to share that last bit of cake with my classmates even though it is my favourite and I don’t want anybody else to eat it. But I have to share because I’m good and “generous”. I have to help people with their homework because I’m a “kind” person, and it doesn’t matter that they gave some superficial excuse not to do it. Otherwise, I shall be considered “selfish”. It’s okay if I’m not actually good inside my head, with my thoughts, as long as I’m being considered good by the world.

thought

It has become easier to think for myself first and then others as I’ve grown older. But as a society, we continue to expect people to confirm to these behaviours. Don’t get me wrong. The children have to be taught these things, even if it doesn’t come naturally to them at first. But what about teaching them about that fine line of difference? What about when they grow older? Do we still expect them to be just as “virtuous”?

All of this does not mean that one should always keep oneself above others at all times. But real kindness, generosity or helpfulness is, in fact, completely selfish.

To be selfless is completely selfish.

It is in our own selfish interest of feeling good that we help somebody. And that, right there, is goodness.

What do you consider to be good? How do you learn what is the right sort of kindness/helpfulness/generosity? Is it easy to teach children about being good rather than just being considered good?

Mommy Trap

Blogtember Day #13

Thursday, September 19: Creative writing day: write a (very short) fictional story that starts with this sentence: “To say I was dreading the dinner party would be the understatement of the century.” The story does not necessarily need to have a conclusion – you can leave your readers wishing for more!

To say I was dreading the dinner party would be the understatement of the century. But my older sister was organising it and I had no excuse to miss it.

Shalini was 34, married and had a 5 year old son. The guests invited to the party were mostly her friends. They were all mothers with kids ranging from 4 to 7 years of  age. Needless to say, as a snarky seventeen-year-old, I wasn’t too thrilled at having noisy kids all over me, calling me auntie.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the Competition. Oh, it wasn’t called that, of course. It was called “Encouraging the kids to speak in public.” Which translated into “My kid recites poetry better than yours does!”

And thus, the torture began. For forty-five excruciating minutes, I was subjected to repeated recitations of “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, “Twinkle twinkle” and “Hickory Dickory Dock.” Some kids were multi-taskers and could sing and dance at the same time. Action song, the enthusiastic moms called it.

The kids were enthusiastic too. They had no qualms in being asked to recite something that their previous competitor had just recited. Or maybe they were convinced that they could do it better. Oh, the winning spirit!

That night, I made myself a promise. I would never, ever make an exhibition of my kid like that, whenever I had one. I would always remember the plight of poor guests. More importantly, I would never try to show that my child was better than the others. My child would never be a rat-race contender.

*

12 years later.

To say I was dreading the dinner party would be the understatement of the century. I was organising it for the PTA members of the kindergarten school that my four-year-old daughter, Aisha went to. All the mothers were coming along with their kids of course. The dreaded Competition had come back to haunt me!

The starters were served and all the moms and kids sat in the living room. The room had the buzz of last-minute preparations before the beginning of a play.

The room began to quieten slowly. The stage was set. With a deep breath I braced myself.

competition

And said, “Aisha! Come and recite the “Baa Baa Black Sheep” poetry that you learnt in school!”, and to the audience, proudly, “She does it so great with actions!”