Tag Archives: childhood

Parenthood and childhood

19 Jun

I was just reading about school choices by parents – and yes, I read homeschool choices too. In fact, primarily those because blogging seems like a major outlet slash networking tool for those mothers!

And one of the comments on one of the posts said something to the effect that children don’t remember what happened when they were two, when they grow up. Do you?

No, the question tag was part of the comment too. And I had a very quick response – yes.

I actually do remember what happened when I was two. I remember walking into the rain on the terrace, falling backwards from the trike and someone running down the stairs and nearly flinging themselves over the balcony on the landing to stop my dad who was on his way to work… that, when you were barefoot, the floor in the kitchen was somehow a little different from the one in the bedroom with the power outlet under the bed and the unconnected plug that served as my mother’s or the maid’s stethoscope or mine, whenever we played together, the sadness on some days when the sunset came and the parents hadn’t yet… These posts I was reading were on separation anxiety. And while the commenter was giving good advice – “Go anyway. Your child does grow up and does learn to be her own person” – my instinctive reaction was that children perhaps do remember.

I remember.

I think children do remember. They hold these memories precious. And if you bring them up well, they know both the wonderful things you have done and given as parents and the things you might do differently. They also know the things they might do differently, if they were parents, given the memories they have as kids.

And after all, isn’t that the point?

I don’t think either extreme of the spectrum have it right – children are neither best served unguided, nor controlled. That sense of the child being a wonderful new person in Christ, as well as that sense of her being your responsibility the moment she steps into or forms into your family – both seem important.

The possibility of being a parent scares me sometimes. And I am often glad that it does. I’ve always wanted to adopt and the intentional choice and mission in that decision is such a symbol to me of the calling that parenthood is. Parenthood is a calling both for husband and wife. When it comes, it probably takes over everything else. Probably changes your choices about e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Like God – he left his home, he left his place with God, he became a servant (becoming is a word for changing, he wasn’t only God anymore, he changed), he let them take his life if it would save the children… You practice for it when you marry someone, already. Too few people see that nowadays, I think. This is why I am glad that the idea of being a parent has not lost its fear for me.

But I’m just a 20-something talking.



21 Mar

My mum always told me how awful she was at art.

I’ve always told everyone how awful I am at art. 

I believed it too. When I grew up a little bit and knew what ‘art’ meant or what people meant by it, that is. And when I had to do it on a thin piece of paper with water colours.

The colours spilled outside my stubby pencil lines, and they were always too precise. The thing is no one taught me to find beauty and put it down. Inadequately but lovingly.

I tried to find the ‘beach scene’ and the ‘festival’ and everything else they assigned,

and I tried to find the beauty in the teacher’s eye.

You know what they say…

I wish I’d sat down and painted what was in my head, one evening outside of homework. But I knew by then I was no good at art.

I mean, I usually made just a couple of careless mistakes in maths. They loved my writing and published it. I knew what was in my head. I called it a picture once. And I could write it. I had learned to love the picture in my head. In the writing box, that is. But art class…

One afternoon, we all brought our art down to the recess area for class. I remember those colours now – I loved the grey and red shades I had managed to achieve. I can’t find them on my computer though 😦

The teacher had comments for books she liked. A select few. The others were tossed to the left of the class, as she ticked them off, in a correction frenzy pushing towards end-of-term.

I walked up to get it as the book gracefully flew out of the teacher’s hand and on to the floor. She wasn’t looking.

That wasn’t the only time my art book got thrown.

I’ve learnt to do pretty cupcake icing after three trials. It takes time. I’ve learnt to put crafty things together, stitch a bag, make a card better than the last one, calligraphy. I LOVE some of my photographs and I’ve made posters.

Maybe my mum’s not that awful at art.

One day, I want to find a friend, a large canvas and some paints…

Jana Sterbak’s Sisyphus Sport, 1997. Granite backpack. Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Hey, Littlest

11 Feb

My students – well, not mine. But it’s either that or calling them ‘the kids’ which is misinterpretable to the uninitiated, not the least of the reasons being that there are about forty of them!

Anyway… Start over. My students keep asking me if I have any nicknames. What is my favorite shortened version of my name? Did my family really call me by name…? My name is a three-syllabled thing. Shorter than Elisabeth. Longer than Charlotte. Not Anglo-Saxon. But it’s not hard to say and it always strikes me that people who complain about saying it, complain not so much because it’s ‘long’ which is what they think they’re complaint because 😉 but because it’s ‘foreign’ and when someone’s name is foreign AND long, I mean that’s just way too much trouble. Not only do you expect to learn something non-English, non-American – you want us to not even make it easier on ourselves…

And yet, no one complains about say, Giovanni, Madonna or even Angelina Jolie. Just something I suspect, but I daresay no one even notices as a prejudice in themselves. I am not unsuspect in this either. Me too!

But it is true. My family really always has bothered to call me by my whole name. All three short syllables of it. And the only other nicknames they gave me were terms of endearment.

And pretty unusual ones at that. Ever noticed some terms of endearment come more naturally to some people than others? I could never say ‘darling’. I don’t know why. I try – even to a puppy, I can’t manage it with a straight face.


My mother often calls me ‘her baby girl’ or just her baby. I’m not baby anymore, that’s for sure. I’m definitely not any more the little, plump, curly-haired thing you hauled on to your lap that that phrase brings to mind! Lol.

But it’s the kind of protective, stepping-in-for-you surge of emotion that probably brings that phrase to her mind. And it’s the knowledge of that affection that can still make me clog up when she writes completely ridiculously sentimental stuff like:


I love you, my baby girl.


I mean seriously – how can I ever read my email in a library?! Haha. But my eyes still well up, because I know she does love me. And I miss her.

So no. I got the whole three syllables plus a whole lotta love in eeeeven LONGER terms of endearment from that source. So still trying to find a response to my students, my mind tracked back to my dad.

The dad is pretty stoic in some ways. He’s the kind of dad who, when faced with the teary-eyed, trembling lip precursor to a good cry, will quickly and staunchly pat you awkwardly on the back and say ‘Now, now’. In as soothing a tone as he can manage. He gave pretty decent hugs though – if you managed to get one off him as his daughter, he’d grunt comfortably and give you a hug… Before, of course, patting you strongly and firmly on the back with a ‘Now, now’ equivalent.

Yet he’s also pretty emotional when he’s emotional.

And then my mind tracked again to the father who’s always been near. I must admit my father unashamedly hovers. Like he did at creation. Good habits die hard 🙂

I have so much love to be thankful for. The father, my mum and dad… Today I’m thinking about them. My dad’s nickname for me was a Tamil variant – Chinza – that simply meant ‘a little person’. I figure he didn’t lose out on the protective streak either. But it’s a diminutive (look that up, if you need to). In English, it would sound sorta like ‘Hey, Littlie’ but not in any demeaning way that that could imply. When the dad wanted a game or to pick me up or to go on a drive together, he’d often start with ‘Hey, Chinza!’

Hey, Littlest.

It is one of those words I’ve never heard without love. So last night, I pushed my bike up the hill considering my rather-unsharable nicknames. Considering proofs of love I knew. And I think my head became quite silent inside. God stopped me. My father stopped me.

Hey, Littlest.

I love you more than anyone else. More than you can ever know. 

I keep coming back…

13 Apr

The heady heat of a mercilessly cloudless, tropical sky is inescapable even inside the sparsely decorated – in fact, undecorated – hall, a long, wide cuboid divided into units which will serve as classrooms by thin, movable plywood and plastic ‘walls’. The classroom is neither visually nor audially isolated from any others, and the choral recitations of a,b,c’ s is as intimate to my 10th graders, rocking forward and back with their physics textbooks, reading aloud the English in un-English syllabic rhythms, as if the whole school were crouched on one bed.

I have come to this school, really, to fulfil an obligation. I cannot go back without teaching them. It is hard to see the faces of the privileged where I work, and not remember these other faces. They are so excited to see me. They measure my affection against the time other volunteers spend with them. I lose. I am unable to volunteer my whole time – and yet, I feel like I ought to. Everyone ought to and resources shouldn’t be a constraint. The need is here. That ought to drive the price that we are willing to pay higher than the laissez-faire system it operates on now… It hurts when my amount of time equals my amount of affection.

But it is something I learn from these ungainly teenagers, giggling and gawking and interested, yet uninterested in learning and advancement. The amount of time I choose to spend with the people and the causes I love is, in fact and inescapably, directly proportional to the amount of commitment I have towards them.

Uncomfortably I shift in my seat.

I decide to scrap the lesson plan I have, the literacy methods and the grammar. I want to talk to them. They learn language and literacy, conversation, application skills. I learn to remember the important things, and to see that one’s heart can get fogged in the confines of an air-conditioned classroom with anger management problems from six-year-olds, or the politics of who sits in which meetings, all simmering under the pervasive garnish of one’s own aspirations. I think I have more to gain from this encounter than they do. Selfishly, I take it.

We talk about who we want to be when we grow up. There are, applaudably, cardiologists and teachers and ophthalmologists and surgeons amongst us. My hidden agenda – because I am a boring grown-up – is to make them realise the pivotal role of school in all of these dreams. There are, of course, actors and singers and dancers. These too I am able, with all the finesse of years of manipulating conversations, to deflect to the point I am trying to make. Yes, I did roll my eyes as did the future cardiologist. But actually I ought to have guessed. The kids have no compunction tearing those blinkers off as I race forward clumsily.

I am stumped when several of the boys want to become policemen. Here they do not need an education beyond school to join the police force. They joke about maintaining a six-pack, ducking their heads shyly as their teenage awkwardness overcomes them – and I joke back about the fact (I kid you not) that most policemen we see have evidences of a different kind of six-pack inclination. And they challenge me about my statement that a college education is important, and that they have the choice to pursue it.

So, foolishly, I change tack and ask, with suitably raised eyebrows, why they would want to be policemen, of all things. These children have, it must be said, told me that they want to earn well and support their mothers. Pickings for policemen in these parts are acknowledgedly scarce, if legal.

I told you I was stumped. With little dissembling now that they are serious, three boys who have been poking, punching and distracting each other (but, annoyingly, giving their attention to me too!) now look up at me.

Big sister, we want to become policemen to stop the fights. We need policemen in our neighbourhood.

The fights? They’ve seen these fights? I know, objectively, that they have. But it is hard to face the retelling. It is also hard not to push to a point I was trying to make. No, not college. Making an effort. I desperately want them to simply try.

So what about the police now? Where are they? Don’t they stop the fights?

Yeah, like, when we call the police guys now they show up after two hours and it is too late.

The fight’s over.

I start to offer a smile because I am nothing, if not stupidly resilient. Children are intuitive though. They pre-empt me.

Yeah, the fight’s over and the man’s already been stabbed. And killed.

Haunting, yes. But do you see it yet? There, in those clear responses, is the stubbornness of grace and redemption.

The Crazies

7 Mar

“Oh, R”, I laughed to one of my co-teachers, after hearing her itemised list of which teachers sit with which grades and in which appointed places in the sprawling gym area, “we just sit with the crazies 😀 .”

I meant it. First grade can be pretty crazy and even crazier if you’ve been teaching adults for most of your professional and academic life! Strange little humming noises, five off-key tunes together, head-banging to nursery rhymes, a random trip to centre-stage, intense debates on why the sun has bigger muscles than the moon, on why your teacher is tall, and what your latest snot sculpture was – really, you name it… we’ve probably got it.

Some moments, in the middle of our guided reading workshops, I’ll hear ‘Twinkle twinkle… the fuuuuu-uhst NoEEEEERRRRRR… jingle bells jingle bells jingle bells jingle jingle bells jingle bells-one ‘ouse open say, YAY’. My co-teacher is patient. I admit to having said ‘Cut it out’ once. The selection of music depends on the season. The selection of fantasy story ideas also depends on the season, or whatever real thing has happened that can be moulded into magic. Yes, it’s pretty crazy.

It’s also pretty full of energy and affection. Affection that people learn to hold back in later years. Little children don’t, y’know – if they love you, then they just do. They’ll pick favourites. They will take sides. And they’re terribly loyal. And they depend on you to sort out anything from snot to bullying to romantic relationships (even when you can’t quite believe they have them). And any moment in the day, when they see you walk past, whether they are doing Math or Literacy or P.E. or recess, they will appreciate you in whatever way. The classroom or the chairs or the rules don’t constrain them. Or whether they’re in a different school and they have no classroom, or teacher, and they’re waiting for your time. You get introduced to their (real and imaginary) friends, their betrayals, their plotting and everything else inbetween. And just as you finish one station, and ask them to clean up their whiteboards, they’ll quickly scribble ‘I love you’ on it and show it to you shyly. And it short-circuits your thought processes (and your lesson plans!) incredibly quickly and leaves you only with a familiar, stupid grin. Funny – never had that effect on me with the adult learners!

I think that is what Jesus meant when he said this. I have, in my old Children’s Bible, an illustration of many different kids scrambling up on Jesus’ lap or responding as he makes them laugh with (I imagine) his stories. This is the God I know. The picture I carried with me for a long time, before I gave my life to him even. And all through my life in him, I’ve returned often to this sense of relief to be found in getting up there. Right by my father. Letting him make me laugh. This is the God we know.

They drive me crazy, yes. But the kids also trust me. Some of them, not all. Some of them are starting to consider other things. But when they do trust me – WOWZA! I feel so honoured.

And they’ll do the things I ask them to do. I might think of a zany activity like ‘Write about camping’ eeeerrrrr ‘under your tables’. It’s cool – it works for them to imagine the tent idea – and they remember the exercise for next time. We turn the lights off maybe… Or I make up rules like ‘Write your names on the whiteboard and I’ll come to you in turn’, so that they aren’t always following me and my co-teacher around the room. Sometimes I decide to go to where they’re at. And I’ll make up whacko actions. And they’ll do it – like touch your nose round your head. And sometimes I have a unit plan that I want to stretch over days because of some literacy skill or the other, and they’ll ask me why they can’t finish today – but for the most part, they’ll stick to my crazies.

Maybe that is the second reason Jesus said that and that. I know I posted about thinking Christianity – in thinking about God and seeking him in his word, the experience of an everyday, working relationship with God in complete obedience only becomes more real. I read this today, over at (in)courage. I almost copied it here and said nothing myself 😀

We sat with the crazies that day. And had them cheer for us every time we breathed. And chatter every time someone else breathed. Seriously, pretty intense. 🙂

Lessons from a father

24 Jan

Today is for my dad. You might already know that my dad and I have a fraught relationship. I have learned so much from my heavenly Father, that I sometimes forget what I have learned from my father. Growing up, he did love me… and I have learned good things, beautiful things from him. I will not show this to my father because although he has talked about our relationship to others and to me, he would feel it presumptuous in me to do so. He has said this before. But too often, I have held on to the barbs that hurt, the little lines, the marks of childhood, teenage and womanhood… because it was hard to forgive, but it is so hard to forget. Today, I’m ignoring the thorns that came with the plucking. And I am opening a box of pressed petals… birthday cards, lessons, laughs.

“Always read a chapter of the Bible in the morning, before you do anything.” That has come to be translated in my life as beginning the day with God, so you’ll get through it with Him. Every morning, to this day, I try. And if I don’t, I know nothing feels right.

“Keep your eyes on the ball. Don’t move them anywhere else.” Philippians 3: 13-14

“Got to put a shirt on to pray.” OK, this one’s funny. It made me laugh and it annoyed him that it made me laugh :). But it reminds me to give God my best and on the other hand, it reminds me of why I smiled too. I want to be naked before God, open to Him, vulnerable to His probing my heart and my hurts. But I also want to make every effort to give Him everything, to give Him my messy best. I don’t want to reduce grace to an excuse, but honour it as God’s greatest gift.

Generosity. My father never liked to be caught out without being able to give to people who asked. It irked him if he couldn’t, like duty undone! It has taught me to not be proud of my giving and let my ego be hurt by having less, but to trust God to bless me to give more. It has taught me also that giving is important. I have learned that giving is for closed doors, and that need is more obvious than we want to know. That not all who ask need and not all who need ask. Would that we did all ask our heavenly Father! I have learned more from his actions than my father ever sat down to teach me, but I have learned it well.

One day, when I was 15, my father said he was sorry… to me. That was the only time. I asked him not to, and we both cried. That wasn’t the end of our fraught relationship – I’ve said ‘sorry’ too for unthinking, reactionary words but it wasn’t. Yet it is one of my most precious memories.

It has taught me to say sorry, even when it is such a bitter thing to do. It needs to be said, and if you were wrong or unloving, you need to love again and seek peace. It. IS. Necessary. Even after healing, sometimes not always, hearing someone say that they know you were hurting is comfort. And you could give that to someone.

%d bloggers like this: