Saturday, December 22, 2007

Taare Zameen Par -- A Personal Response

When I was queueing up outside the theatre tonight I met some family friends. Husband, wife, two adult sons. I thought of them -- them and my own parents -- all through the movie. Both sets of parents have had children with special needs. I have known all my life that my brother was way more intelligent than I. When I was really young I didn't have very high expectations from myself -- I figured if somebody as smart as my brother couldn't crack the academic system, how could I hope to achieve anything? It took me some more time to work out that my brother may have been smart but he was only smart outside the system; within it, he could be a real klutz.

These two mothers -- my mother and her friend -- fought, long and hard, to get their sons some space, some security, some help of the sort they needed. My mother's friend won through. Her elder son finished his graduation in a law degree, and is now working. Her younger son made it through school and is now ploughing through college. A regular course. He's not brilliant, but he gets through. My mother though did not win. And she rues it every day she lives.

When Rahul was born, I watched the fear and the sorrow cross her face every now and then. Her face and Giga's -- they were the ones who loved my brother the best, apart from my grandfather -- and they were the ones who tried to understand his needs, to work out why such a bright child shown so much love, denied nothing that could be got, could fail every exam. Even when he knew the answers, why he wouldn't write a word. A day came when Giga too began walking away. Incidentally, Giga was what my brother called her at Rahul's age. When I was trying to figure out what Rahul should call her, she insisted that this long-abandoned name be resurrected. And I can see how she and my mother are trying to ensure that they -- and I -- don't repeat the mistakes made twenty years ago. Because in a lot of ways Rahul shows his temperamental similarities with my brother. That same quick frustration. The same flaring temper. The same undeniable charm. The same open heart.

Rahul can be so frustrating. He is obviously intelligent, doesn't miss a thing. You'll say that I'm a besotted mother who thinks her son is perfect. But that does not change what he is. He is so sharp, so quick to follow, to pick up. But he does not like being taught. There are only two ways he is willing to learn something new -- either he watches somebody do something once and picks it up instantly, or he approaches the new thing from all angles and works out a way to do it. Few of his toys survive this treatment. It upset me when I saw younger children play with simple toys that he didn't know how to handle. And then I watched a little while longer and saw that these kids knew only the one way of playing with any toy. Rahul, refusing to accept any demonstrated method, often destroyed the toy in his attempts to play with it, but when the toy survived, he had figured out several ways of playing with it. So while he takes longer, often much longer, to figure a new game out, he is also less scared of approaching new things, new places, new people.

I'm not saying he is smarter than the other kids. But he is already demonstrating that his approach to learning is a little, shall we say, hatke? I have spent the last three months turning this round and round my head. I've been hounding Choxbox to tell me more about the Montessori system. I fitted well enough into the academic system. I've never been a brilliant scholar but I did get my first divs and was satisfied. V's academic record on the other hand is nothing close to impressive. His brother showed great promise but refused to study beyond his engineering degree. My own brother never finished class XI. They are three of the most intelligent men I know. Thanks to my father, I have learnt to appreciate a keen intellect when I find it. Anyway, so these are the genes my little boy carries. And I watch him very keenly so that I can give him the kind of support he needs. I don't yet know what he will require but I am trying my best to learn from past mistakes. I can't find another system to fit him into. But I can help him find, as his father has and my brother hasn't, a place where his talent shines.

There was a moment in the movie that hit very close home. When the mother cries, asking herself what she did wrong; didn't she give up her job and career, what was it all for. I guess it's now time and beyond that I made my peace with the kind of life I'm going to live. I know I can't go back to a full-time job and leave my son with somebody else. I would trust him with V and my mother -- one has his own career to follow and the other lives 1600 km away. So, if I'm going to stay at home, I might as well come to terms with it. I have to stop feeling so cheated, so denied, so repressed. And I have to remember how much I valued having my own mum around all the time. I knew, no matter what else drew her attention away from me, that she was around, that some time in the day I would eventually find her alone and responsive. Am I attacking working mothers? No. I think if you and your children are comfortable away from each other most of the day, then you're wise to hang on to your careers. My mother rues the career she never had. But secretly I'm glad she didn't, because I got to have her all to myself.

What I'm saying is, I've got to stop whining and get down to making this place a home. Start putting Vicky and Rahul before myself. I don't do that nearly enough.


Trishna said...

ohh honey, dont! Dont feel guilty!
I just got the talking to of my life today from a dear friend about how I should be working or studying more to set a better example for aadya and guess what.. though I was overwhelmed then.. and feeling like a useless bad mother..I figured this is what she needs the most now..after reading your post,I realised why I was upset.because this is what I need to do right now. I dont know if this helped .. but I am sure you'll do the right thing :) They know you love them! *Hugs*

S said...

a poignant post indeed ..

dipali said...

Very moving post, Sue.

Aqua said...

a very touching post. looks like 'taare zameen par' is worth a watch. i have a friend who is funny, smart and intelligent but could never crack the adad system. he was diagonsed with dyslexia a few yrs back only after they moved to the US. I wish he had been offered the treatment he needed as a child.
Also, i have this very tiny bone to pick with you. why is the poor working mother dragged into every soul searching post by a momblogger. i know you said you aren't attacking working moms but the silent BUT rings loud!

D said...

No, you're being unfair to yourself. You don't have to put anybody before yourself. They can be with you, you can be with them, but why before or after you? And do you never think how a child is as much a father's as he is a mother's? I get so upset at the idea that fathers are not even expected to give up their careers for their children! Isn't a problem child as much his responsibility as he is a mother's.
You can't feel guilty about this, Sue.

Sparx said...

Hi Sue - it sounds like the Bhablet is a very lucky boy, with a mother who knows what to look out for and is already thinking about how to make his world work for him.

I've left you something on my blog, by the way!

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hummingbird said...

Whenever she got a new toy, my daughter used to grab it, bang it hard once on the floor, and then turn it upside down to see what lay beneath.It always left me wondering what she was going to become when she grew up?
She is an architect now!

And i agree with D you don't have to put anybody before yourself! Believe me, that never works.

Sam said...

it really is a thoughtful post!! thogh i'm yet to get anywer close to that path.. but somehow after watching the movie i had no option but to go back to my old muse... bashing teh education system, and the entire gamut of activities that r attched with it!!
and soemhow, for the future set of parents the movie ws a lesson of sorts!! warning dem of things dat can happen and wer parenting can go wrong!!!
an excellent movie with great lessons!!

Mona said...

What a touching post, Sue.
The biggest thing is discovering, understanding and accepting this condition. I have a cousin who was dyslexic and had ADHD and was diagnosed very late. Until then, they just thought he was slow and hard work would conquer it. Made it worse. He started to hate school and books. All of them. Even after, my uncle and aunt were unable to accept the situation leading to a very tense and difficult five year period for them and my cousin – it took a while, but they’ve found their peace now and they’re all happier for it. I still don’t know if my cousin will be able to find his place, like your V, but I sure hope so. He’s truly brilliant. And so loving and affectionate.

Poppins said...

Sue, I totally appreciate the sentiment behind this post, it was very touching.

My query is something else, how are you assuming that Rahul is going to find it hard to crack the academic system? Or is that just something I'm reading into unnecessarily?

Just because he's different when it comes to toys that is? Or do you know what to look for because of your personal experience? I mean I get all sorts of doubts once in a while about Poppin as well, but I brush it aside thinking I'm just neurotic. How would I know that she's different if she was really?

Very puzzling this. And yes Choxbox convinced me on Montessori as well, so Poppin starts Montessori school soon :)

The Believer said...

Once again you proved that you are the best blogger I have ever come across who can connect different things altogether in a very nice manner.One can see a critic mother's response(and not a personal response) in this post and it touches reader's heart.
You post has encouraged me to buy the next show ticket of this movie :)

Sue said...

Trishna -- When I wrote this, I really wasn't giving the boy(s) enough of my attention. Trust me, I never feel guilty without overwhelming reason. I mean, I stay at home to do something, so I may as well as stop cribbing and do it, na?

S, Dipali -- Thank you.

Aqua -- Oh it is worth watching indeed. Perhaps the working outside vs. working from home comes up because it's a debate I'm fighting every day within myself? Or perhaps I was merely trying to forestall Rohini!

D -- I should have been clearer. V does his bit, I can safely say that. But I resent staying at home so much, the bitterness gets the better of me. Which is pointless. So I was saying, I should stop whining so much and go and enjoy my family.

Sparx -- Well, this mother learnt the hard way how tough it can be for a kid who's different. I'm not sure The Bhablet is, but I'm willing to take the trouble IF he is.

Oh, and thanks so much!

Hummingbird -- LOL! So first she broke, now she builds. I can see my son likes to figure out what makes things tick, so I try to let him explore a bit. It does mean a lot of broken things, though. :(

Hip Grandma said...

Rahul is only a kid and don't read too much into his activities.but as you say if you find that his needs are different you can always do the for having or not having a career the ultimate choice is yours but you can always opt for some creative pursuit from home.That way you will be able to relax.

Anonymous said...

T goes to montessori and it is a great handson system. I think Bhablet would fit right into it. I've always wondered when T is so smart with one thing and then when you expect him to be that smart on all other things, cuz he just demonstrated it, he just doesnt seem to get it. I think maybe its a left brain right brain thing, i am not yet familiar with it, but what you had written, struck such a chord with my own son. And yet you have put it down beautifully in writing. The gift of expression.

Squiggles Mom said...

Your post touched a chord. Hope you get going on the making-it-a-home bit.

Sue said...

Sam -- The education system works well enough for the average types like me. Some people though need more options.

Mona -- Sounds horrid. Sounds something like my brother. Vicky doesn't have any problems that I know of. I was just saying that a less rigid system would have helped him get more out of his years at school. Not everybody needs this, but he, his brother and my brother would have greatly benefited from a more individual-oriented teaching. That's what I feel.

Sunita -- I don't think he is showing any problems at all so far. I also think it's too early to diagnose with any degree of certainty. But I do think his way of learning is a little different from the other kids his age -- the ones that I have met at least. So what I'm saying is, I'm waiting and watching, very carefully. If he needs a different kind of educational environment, I'll try to recognise it in time. That really is the best I can do.

The Believer -- I'm glad you're going. It was a very good film in all senses -- thought-provoking as well as entertaining. And that kid can sure act!

Hip Grandma -- I know, it's way too early. I'm just being careful with him because his whole approach is so different, and it is like his father, his two uncles -- regular education didn't really work for any of them. So, for now, I'm waiting and watching; if he needs more than the average school, I'll try to give him that, and if he doesn't need it I'll be glad that life is at least that little bit easier on him.

TAAMommy -- Hello. Yeah, I don't think he's a genius in the making, but I do think he can make good use of greater freedom than most junior schools provide. Kids like me didn't need it, we were content to learn as we were told. But some kids learn better if they are allowed to work it out themselves, I find. I'm not sure yet whether Rahul fits into this category, but I'm trying to keep an open mind about it all.

Sqiggle's Mom -- Have you been wrestling with resentment too? It's so pointless, and I know it was I who chose. Mostly, I'm even happy with my choice. It's just that there are these bad phases...

eve's lungs said...

Your post has forced me to de lurk. Dont read too much into Rahul's actions with his toys - some kids are a little confused with simple toys so let him be . I am a working mother and sometimes I feel I've let my children down at times when work has taken the upper hand . So enjoy every minute you spend with the Bhablet , who I understand is the cutest thing around!

choxbox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue said...

Eve's Lungs -- It's like this -- I grew up with a kid (my elder brother) who did not get the kind of help he needed. In a lot of ways The Bhablet is like my brother, so I'm going to watch him very carefully when he starts school to see if he is like my brother in academics as well. My brother's IQ is well into the 140s and he has an infinitely better memory and sharper understanding than I. All of these qualities were wasted because he failed exam after exam and learnt to think of himself as stupid. I don't know whether my son will also have learning difficulties, but if he does I'll try to recognise it in time to help him through it. That's what this post was all about.

Choxbox -- Thank you. For reading the post carefully and for taking the time then and now, to explain. :) I try not to feel guilty about my shortcomings as a parent.

My mum talks to me now and then. I know she watches Rahul as carefully as I do. We just don't want to repeat history. What ruined my brother was not a lack of love but of understanding. That's why the movie hit me so hard.

eve's lungs said...

Sue I did read your post through and therefore know what you are talking about. Having brought up 2 children who are as apart as chalk from cheese where learning abilities are concerned I have agonised over my younger daughter ,and suffered and fought with teachers who have been insensitive with her . Perhaps I have over reacted at times but the truth remains that my younger daughter will respond favourably with certain subjects and withdraw herself totally with others to the extent of not getting a passing grade despite being very sensitive and more perceptive than other children her age The system has to realise that it cannot mass produce "achievers". And yes , the film affected me as well as her because I could see her clenching her fists and trying not to cry .

Sue said...

Eve's Lungs -- I really cannot keep calling you that, how about Evie? -- I was not referring to you! A couple of friends of mine read this post and deduced that V was dyslexic and The Bhablet has learning difficulties.

Thanks for telling me about your daughter. I imagine you and my mother have a lot in common then.

I don't really spend a lot of time on this in my daily dealings with Rahul. It's just something I try to keep an eye out for. Unorthodox schooling suited my father and I think it would have saved my brother years of pain. Sometimes, Rahul looks like taking after them. I know it's far too early to tell, but having been through it all once, I'm just saying this is something I watch out for. Like I know diabetes runs in my family, a calcium deficiency in my mum's side, things like that. Doesn't mean I think I'll end up with them, but I am careful.

karmickids said...

Sue: A Big Hug. And dont you bother girl. Just give the Bhablet all the love you can, and he'll be the kid who makes you proud by being the most charming kid around. Damn them grades. And yes, that moment in the film was what twisted a knife in my chest too.

Sue said...

Hey Kiran. You know exactly what I'm talking about, sadly for us both. Actually, reading about Krish is rather encouraging. And thank god he has his mother standing up for him, trying to ensure he can do everything he wants to despite his difficulties.