There was life before being a mother and there was life after. It is as though I am a different person now. A person I like. As a parent of an unschooled child, I often face questions about my role as a parent. Opinions vary. Many see education, discipline, good ideals for a better future India that current adults cannot create and more as part of their parenting goals. To me, it is simple. It is nurture. It is providing him with an environment where he can thrive.
I see us as companions. I am older, been in the world more, with greater abilities, so I assist this very precious person by doing things he cannot do for himself yet. Helping him discover a world I have some familiarity with. Giving him my highest honesty so that he may never lack for a robust sense of how he is perceived. I am his most enthusiastic supporter, fiercest defender and privileged companion in the journey of life.
A child facing severe disabilities, someone who cannot yet confidently sit or talk at almost 6 years of age, he is still a person I am proud to be associated with (as opposed to have shaped/created/etc). The time many children would spend on learning to move and run and talk has, in his case, translated into a time observing people. He is blessed with an emotional wisdom I envy at times.
Once, an aunty from the building visited us when Nisarga was playing with some toy. True to many bullying adults, she entertained herself interacting with Nisarga for a part of the visit. Alas, the entertainment was at his expense rather than with him. Taking his toy, she held it to herself, said it was hers. Nisarga is not possessive. A toy is for having fun. If you take it from him, he only looks on expectantly to see what you do with it. However, I was irritated. I don’t appreciate my son being poked at for amusement and intervened a bit abruptly telling the woman “aunty, return his toy. I’ll give you another” in the cliched style of telling a child snatching another child’s toy. It was an awkward moment, but the woman stopped trying to make Nisarga feel insecure. I will not be modest. I secretly took great pride in how I put her in her place “That will teach her to mess with MY son”. It was combative, aggressive and perhaps unnecessary, given that the woman did not mean him any harm. I was infatuated with myself as the great Robin Hood of the inequalities of respect for children. The masterstroke of the visit happened when she got up to leave. Nisarga went over and gave the toy to her. Again, when thoroughly charmed, she refused politely.
I have seen him do this over and over. There is no such thing as a person Nisarga cannot relate with. He gives space to those not interested, woos those who show potential, has lured countless people into serving as his escorts for short trips outside (which is his primary interest in people – the potential of going out). He blows kisses to the point people forget he can do little else. My “serial kisser” as I’ve nicknamed him, is an endless source of affection. A friend’s daughter figured it out quickly when she visited. She toddled around the home, returning periodically to squat next to him for a kiss before taking off again.
In a world obsessed with achievement, this disabled child has figured out and aced the one qualification within the scope his current capabilities that can help him – how to invite an endless supply of well wishers willing to make and keep him happy. Even the postman asks after him, if he doesn’t see him instantly peeking to see who’s at the door. The same postman he’d once conned into taking him on an elevator ride with heartbreaking sobs over this utter stranger leaving Nisarga behind when he left after delivering a parcel. Yet, at six, he has managed almost nothing traditionally recognized as achievement. My tweets about his antics have earned him a small chunk of my followers on twitter who ingore everything I tweet (politics, digital rights, opinions, current affairs, more), but never fail to respond to the occasional tiny wry, funny, frustrated updates about my life with him. It could be said I write well about him. It is just as true that he has taught me to appreciate him.
I see this as a part of nurturing him. I have done many things in life. A few that I am proud of too. And yet, being able to provide a space where this “flawed” child will be unconditionally respected, loved, secure is among the things I have done imperfectly and the most precious. He is at the root of some of my most controversial choices. Some of the most difficult challenges to deviate from conventional wisdom and stick my neck out in pursuit 0f something that is better for him.
When I committed to non-violent parenting, Nisarga wasn’t even born. Categorically including not just physical, but verbal and emotional violence to the point of avoidable lack of consent being violence and unacceptable was a move that had almost every “well wisher” painting pictures of doom and gloom with a spoiled child making everyone’s lives hell. And yet, the opposite has happened. Receiving understanding has helped him respond with understanding at an age when children throw tantrums as a default. It has helped him be secure about himself and his place in the scheme of things at home – an assisted equal, not an inferior person without a vote. And his freedom of choice in his own home is not hostage to my convenience as far as I am able to ensure.
Committing to unschooling was easier. Already a staunch believer of experiential learning and having no intentions of sending any child of mine to a school, all it took was finding out what it is called. Allowing him to determine what he wants to learn has probably been the most empowering thing I have done for him. And even more transformingly, it extended seamlessly to his “physical therapy” for his disability, where I gravitated toward the Feldenkrais method which is more like a “psychologist for the body” or unschooling the learning of movement, just like everything else than “training” of the physiotherapy sort.
The common factor in the choices has been putting Nisarga first. What will enable him? What will allow him to do more of what he wants with least input of effort? And I went about learning it. In the process, educating myself thoroughly on several methodologies and philosophies of life.
Is it easy? No. Am I very good at it? No. But it is an unwavering goal. Giving up is not an option. Nor is taking the easy bypass at convenience. As I once explained to a skeptic, “Would I overrule my son jumping from the roof of a building? Yes. Without a doubt. But I wouldn’t lock him in his room over it. I’d probably give him a table to jump off from. If I could afford it, and his physical abilities would allow it, I’d even try to offer him sky diving or bungee jumping if his fascination with jumping off from a height persisted!” In other words, his autonomy and choice will be respected and supported by me to the best of my ability – barring risk to life. Nor would I take away his right to choose as a consequence of his wanting something I did not find appropriate. I would find ways to reach middle ground that could give him what he wanted while managing my concerns as well.
Of course, this is the ideal scenario. This Buddha-like acceptance and love can vanish rather rapidly in the onslaught of daily life. That is the part where it is important to persist. To constantly chase continuous improvement rather than a brittle perfection that fragments into nothing if not achieved. So I get really frustrated. And I vent. Usually on Twitter. An episode last week was when the little terror tried to mop the floor with buttered bread. It ended with a stunning insight into what goes on in that tiny head. I’ve been making mock threats to put him up on Ebay if he didn’t sleep in the next 10 minutes for years. The space to vent and laugh at myself a bit allows me to return to him without grudges.
And sometimes I slip. These days I sometimes find a really tired and ugly whine within me when I go “Why do you do this Nisarga? It is so irritating.” And the attempt is to get a perspective on the issue. Is he doing it to irritate me? Since when is he responsible for catering to my moods? How can I handle this better?
Sometimes there isn’t a better. It is summer now. We are both hot and sticky. I hate summer. Nisarga hates summer. We are both cranky. So we just whine our way through some days.
I see this process as nurture. Of being on his side in a way that offers him the best possibilities in the situation. Of being aware of own baggage enough that I don’t burden him with it as far as I am able. Of persisting to create continuous improvements in our lives.