Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Getting her started on the journey of her life !

Ruhi's rather elite little Play School has branched out and added a full curriculum school in Greater Noida. The very first session will begin in the April of next year and grudgingly I have resigned to send her to the back of the beyond for the rest of her 12 years of growing up ! I always like to complain that I have no other option except this. But, if I were honest there are probably only a couple of schools in Delhi that I really would have felt happy sending her to. The others I visited were cramped, overcrowded, had teachers who bully kids, gave senseless homework with a mad rigid schedule. Or that is what I felt watching and asking around. Those couple of schools that I wanted - didn't want us. We did not have the right credentials and in retrospect I understand that.

Ruhi's new school had a written exam for Ruhi and ten others in her class who have applied to the new school besides kids from other schools. And they called us today along with Ruhi for an 'interview' the dirty word which in context of school admissions in Delhi means that a few stern and important looking women will grill you with questions aimed at making you feel small and useless. I know everyone in Ruhi's Nursery school. She has been going there since she was two, yet I started getting that same creepy feeling that I used to get while visiting other schools for her Nursery admission.

After a long wait, as Ruhi played on the swings with mad abandon - her brand new white trousers soiled completely at the knees, I sat outside wondering if many years down the line, I would regret my decisions about Ruhi's education.

We were ushered in to meet a tall, fair big lady with light eyes and pleasant features. As soon as we sat she looked at Ruhi and said she was happy to invite her for admission to class 1 in the Step by Step world school.......they started having an adult conversation and I kept wondeing if Ruhi knew what was happening. They spoke about what she likes and laughed and talked. We sat there, Wasi and I, each on one side of Ruhi, feeling and looking quite useless in the context of things. It made me so incredibly happy. It didn't matter who I was, where and what I had studied or where we lived or what we did - the only thing that mattered was the child who they were going to bring up for me.

Ruhi was saying she loves to swim and that she can make a 'roti' but cannot put it on a 'tawa' and that she loves to play with clay but not so much with toys though she loves best the 'Ballerina' Barbie but she doesn't have one yet and that the best thing she likes in the world is to get gifts !.....and that she loves to eat Papaya and all other fruit but doesnt care too much for food except Rajma Chawal and Maggie Noodles !

After their little tete a tete was over Mrs Raina asked me if I'd like to tell her something about the child. I told her Ruhi was a shy, introvert and a sensitive child. I told her that she was growing up too fast and that I was concerned that she may not be able to enjoy the innocence and abandon of childhood like other kids. About her being madly jealous of my attentions to little Rayyan. I told her about her questions about God about poverty, beggars, about the good and the bad. About how she gets bullied and that she was the only one in her class who was not naughty and that I never wanted anything more than for her to be naughty and 'normal' like other kids.

She heard me through and then said to me that the world was becoming an insensitive place because our kids are taught to be tough and aggressive from the start and that in fact what is required today are 'more Ruhis'. She said it will be a painful journey for me because I will have to handhold her much earlier than other kids, through her struggle with life and its understanding, but I must learn to be stronger myself and to let her be. Because she is OK like she is.

In my heart I believe that too. I realize I am only looking for reassurance.

Friday, December 07, 2007

John Holt, How Children Learn

Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing or bullying.We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can... into their lives; give children as much help and guidance as they ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.


Ruhi hardly slept last night in her excitement about her school Play at Kamani. She sprang out of bed and was ready in a jiffy this morning. I must mention here that it is quite a chore to get her up and ready for school on most ordinary mornings. They had the full dress rehearsal today. Ruhi knew all along that she was going to be a clown in the play but when I went to fetch her back this afternoon she had a glum expression and looked quite comical with her cherry red painted nose, dark pink circles on both cheeks and her large sad eyes. I had parked the car quite some distance away and on the way, a bus full of school kids hooted and waved when they saw her and that was the cue for those tears which had just been waiting to pour out. She was inconsolable.

My heart broke when she said she was so upset that all the other kids had such nice costumes but she had to wear a clown's dress. She said she wanted to be a Penguin or a Fairy instead like Rhea and Trisha. She said her teacher had promised to wash the Clown makeup from her face and then forgot to do it and how could she. I told her that everyone loved a Clown and that Clowns make sad people happy but she wouldn't listen. I started speculating in my mind how they could have chosen this shy little sombre child to play a clown ! And then I realised I was once again trying to carry her cross for her. I know she has to learn to accept that that life also offers lemons. But my heart bled when she cried.

I suddenly remembered I had seen her friend Rivan Mehra walking out of the auditorium rather sheepishly with green make up on his face. When I asked she said he was to play a Frog and that in fact Rivan Mehra looked the silliest of them all. I told her was she not glad she wasn't a frog instead of a Clown. She thought for a while and said she was really glad and then asked for some wet tissues from me to scrub off the red paint from her nose.

Tomorrow is the play and as part of the PTA I have to mind the very last rows of the Hall. I cry shamelessly every year when I see her up on stage and I don't know why I cry. I am glad I wouldn't probably be able to see her from back there. But on Sunday I get to mind the first few rows.

God knows I need help to survive her growing up. :)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Kids on TV / Santa Claus - best before ?

About an year ago a Journo friend of mine raised an issue about if it is morally right / wrong to show Kids in Ads. Its one of those so many things that I have never really thought about. But when I did sit down to think, I realised I frankly enjoy watching kids in Ads. They are much more entertaining and convincing than adults. I go cootchie koo each time I see the Huggies Ad. Or that Maruti Ad some time ago where a cute-as-a-button serdy kid goes: papa petrol khatam hi nahin hunda.

I don’t take TV too seriously and I hope my kids will inherit my absolute irreverence for anything ‘advertising’. But I think TV plays a unique role in imparting messages to kids and on my once-in-a-blue-moon TV audience it was truly appalling to watch a program on one of the popular Hindi channels which showed heroic feats like people lifting stuff with eyelids and the like. The episode featured a 4-year boy driving a car with proud papa sitting next to the driver’s seat. This was last year and I noticed my then - five-year-old daughter make intense mental notes. And though she is such a wimp I am sure some other gutsy five yr old would definitely try the heroism if he accidentally found the car keys hanging in mom’s car. Specially since there was such applause from the make believe audience at the show.

The TV also creates stereotypes...I have always wanted Ruhi to have long hair and till a year and half ago, Ruhi had an obsessive crush on Superman ( in his Christopher Reeve avtaar) and wanted a hairstyle just like him with that one lock curled up in the front ! It was an unresolved difference between us until I started showing her all the pretty little girls in television commercials and their long flowing hair. I think it’s conditioned her enough and since then she has kept quiet about her hair thanks to some good old Advertising. Wonder if that’s good or bad ?

To give credit where it is deserved - she learnt milk is good for her from the Bournvita Ad. She is a teeth-brushing champion because of all the toothpaste advertising she watches. I think by and large Indian Advertising around kids is fairly responsible advertising with feel good messages about the girl child etc etc ad infinitum. And I feel gratitude towards any advertising that shows happy kids enjoying eating mommy’s cooking even if it is Maggie noodles! Its more convincing than me telling her the Popeye story night after night.

Except for that "Princess Fairy Barbie' Ad on Cartoon Network that I so absolutely hate because I cant bear to spend another hard earned rupee on YET ANOTHER Barbie doll, I can’t remember feeling unhealthy about kids in Ads. My husband used to go all mushy whenever he saw the last Raymond man with that pretty little thing with blue eyes…I think kids touch chords in everyone’s hearts and by and large they create good advertising.

There may of course be exceptions but then I hardly watch any TV. And yet I am the eternal Ad Cynic. I mistrust ALL advertising. Having worked in ad agencies for a long stretch in my career, the damage is irreversibly done.
But I do not yet teach my children to mistrust advertising messages yet since they are too little to understand that the TV is trying to ‘sell’ something to them. I'd rather Ruhi believes she will become Rupanzel by using X hair oil or Rayyan could become 'Krishh' by drinking Y drink. Its part of the fairytale that I want their chilhood to be. I am sure in a couple of years I will have to handhold them out to the real world !

Incidentally Ruhi announced 2 days ago that she 'knew' there was no Santa Claus and that its me who keeps gifts in her socks every X Mas. I was dumbstruck and heartbroken. How much I was loving my plans for this year's X Mas surprise and it had all already gone down the drain ! I told her that was utter non sense and that if there was a Tooth Fairy and the Ghost who she is convinced comes by her window every night then how dare she say there was no Santa Claus. She said the maid had told her that Mama keeps the gifts under the pillow. I told her that the Maid knew nothing since she never went to school and that I would educate the maid. Ruhi was delighted. She promptly summoned Kirti didi and demanded that I explain to her that Santa Claus was indeed that nice old man with a white beard and a reindeer.....

I wonder if the Fairy Tale expires next Christmas when she turns seven !