Friday, August 20, 2010

Special and not so special children

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 viz. 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 admired 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 retarded 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 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 naïve 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 themselves? 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.


R's Mom said...

This is one of the best posts that I have read in ages..and it has touched me in ways I cant describe a mother to a 2 year old...I think this is something I will always keep with me all my life...thank you so much for writing this...My mom is a teacher and she is something like how you have described your daughter's teacher to be...never lets parents know other kids marks and always tells them what their child is :):) thanks HHG for a lovely post :)

Anonymous said...

My god, I learned a lot from this post. I will remember it forever...Yes my older one 6 years old so called gifted and i see that and i give her extra activity to channel her energy. My little one is 2 and i see she has different personality. I am doing my best, like you said, we will see the result in future.

sandhya said...

Wonderful post. I've learnt much from it. True, every child is different, but then so is every mother, and so is every set of circumstances. We need to play it by the ear so often.

starry eyed said...

True Hiphopgrandmom, denial does not help. We had a tough year last year with severe behaviour issues in our 3 year old, and took assessment and help, and things are back to normal now. I blogged about it here

And teacher Huntley was so great!!! her words should be framed and hung on every classroom wall!

Renu said...

I always look forward to your postings.they are always so inspiring and interesting...Parenting is nevr easy and it cant be said enough.

Today when parents worry about over pressurising the children, sometimes it backfires also, as I have seen one child not studying enough and taking the easy way out..and today one who is capable of better things has been accepted in a mediocre school I dont know what is the right way..

Shachi said...

An amazing of the best ones I have read in a while....

Each point you have talked about is so true....compassion is what we all need for each other!

radha said...

Well said. While I do agree with everything you have said here, I also feel that in retrospect we know where we went wrong or what we did right. But when the children are younger and when we are also young and not so patient,with so many constraints of time and money, we unwittingly make many mistakes. Luckily some are not earth-shattering. And in the process we learn.

Hip Grandma said...

R's Mom:Thanks. I always felt that in search of so called excellence we parents miss out on a lot of little pleasure while our children grow. this is mainly seen in underdeveloped countries like ours.

anon:thanks.When people of your generation take the trouble to comment here I feel encouraged.

sandhya:I understand what you say about each mother being different. I know I am.It sometimes make me feel very inadequate.But then just as a child has to be accepted for what they happen to be,the same applies for parents. unfortunately grown up children fail to understand that.

starry eyed:i read and re-read the post mentioned by you. Kudos to you for recognizing your child's need and accepting to adapt yourself to his needs. He is a lucky child to have you both for parents. usually parents expect the child to stand upto their expectations without realizimg that the child also has a right to have expectations and little acts like carefully listening to the child's side of a story is equally important and has a great deal of impact on the child's growth.

Renu:the right way is to stop comparing the child with other children and appreciate him/her for what they are. But it is easier said than done and all of are guilty of having imposed our unrealistic expectations on them.unfortunately all children cannot take it in their stride tho' most do.

shachi:Life teaches so many things and we learn parenting by trial and error. openness helps one to compare notes. Unfortunately we are so busy projecting our children as the best that knowingly or unknowingly we tend to ignore or cover up their short comings instead of addressing them.

radha:you are right. As parents we too have our inadequacies and limitations. I know I did. But if one's intentions were to be the sole consideration it is easier to defend ourselves. But when intentions are misunderstood it hurts in ways one cannot express in words.

Poornima said...

Im amazed at parent's blind spots in matters related to their children...

I have several friends who are Educational Psychologists & Nursery Teachers & they often echo these sentiments: ''The biggest stumbling blocks in a child's life are often their own parents'' & ''a child is MUCH easier to handle than their finicky cant say ANYTHING 'negative' to them about their child. How would they know which areas to work on at home?? They behave as if we have a personal grouse against their child & end up agressively defending him/ her more than ever, thereby hindering the childs progress even further'' I was reminded of those comments when I read about the lady with the grown up mentally challenged son who's (in this case) mother-in-law refused to have him asessed.

Please, we cant lose our sense of judgement as parents in the name of niceties, really.

Chandrika Shubham said...

Thanks for sharing the mythological story.

I enjoyed reading ur post. :)

Vishesh said...

There are a couple of people who are 'different' in my does take a lot of patience...I have seen..

being 'intelligent'(well at least if ppl think you are one) can become keep getting comments like "you have the potential..", "we expect better.." ..and our system is rather irritating..if you don't enough marks, there is immediate pressure on you..

Hip Grandma said...

chandrika;thanks and welcome here.

vishesh:you are dead right. Children who are not labeled 'bright' work at their own pace and more often than not do very well in life.on the other hand the so called 'broght' ones feel bogged down by the expectations placed on them by others and are not able to enjoy life to the fullest.

Hip Grandma said...

poornima:parents in their anxiety for their child's welfare often over react and cannot handle negativities about them. they need to be counselled more than the kids.

hillgrandmom said...

HHG, it is only today that I am getting to read this post. It is a wonderful post. There is so much I want to say about this post that it would become a post in itself! Let me just say I agree with you on all the points you have addressed.