Raising a “creative” child

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For 25 out of the (almost) 30 years of my life I held some very fixed notions about creativity. To me, creative people looked a certain way: crinkly cotton skirts, scarves or stoles, lots of silver jewellery, kajal and a jhola bag. The older ‘Creatives’ wore beautiful saris and blouses and sometimes, these big, pretty bindis. I marveled at these Creatives and I knew without a doubt that I wasn’t one of them. I would look at my plain-Jane, T-shirt clad self in the mirror and wish with all my heart that I could be one of ‘them’ too. To me, creativity was a genetic disposition, something that some people just inherently had, just like I had straight hair.

Then, about 6 years back, two things happened that swept me off my feet, turned me upside down, shook all these thoughts out of my head and made me feel light-headed and clear and dizzy, like a new me. The first was that I met my husband. I would not say that he is the most creative person I know, but he is definitely one of the ‘free-est’ beings I’ve met. Free of rigid notions of how things should be and free of being ‘correct’ and ‘appropriate’. I would watch him dance and sing and act and mimic and paint and do exactly whatever the hell he wanted, without being conscious of anything else but his own pleasure and joy. He would encourage me to do theater and to send out my stories and when I would self-consciously say “ME??” he would always reply with an earnest “Yes” that made me feel like he saw much more of me than I even knew there was. Very slowly, I started becoming that person he saw.

The second thing was a book called ‘The Artist’s Way‘. I first read about that book in Robin Sharma’s ‘Who will cry when you die’ as one of his “things to do to make your life better” recommendations and being the self-improvement junkie that i am, the book landed up in my hands. The entire premise of the book is based on the simple ‘fact’ that each and every one of us is creative. A very simple statement, but one that made my eyes almost pop out of my sockets and pulse quicken. “She actually means that I am creative too! Is that possible? What if that’s true?”

I worked diligently with the book and to say that it changed my life would be the understatement of the decade. This blog is a direct outcome of that. So is Fabric Fables. Although old habits die hard and I still refuse to believe it when anybody says I’m creative, I am learning to be more comfortable with the thought every day that all of us are creative and that creativity can be uncovered and practiced. It is not a privilege gifted to a few but a basic tenet of living; you are creative and meant to create, simply as a virtue of being born and living on this earth.

Because my own process of unearthing my creativity was long and arduous, I take great care to make sure that Rumi knows how creative she is and that she grows up feeling free to create and make and be whatever she wants without a voice in her head constantly reminded her to ‘get real’ and ‘get a proper job’ and so on. As a child, her creativity flows naturally and freely but all this can and normally does quickly change, if we are not careful to safeguard it and nourish it. Out of all that I’ve read, experienced and gleaned over the years, these are some things to make a special note of while nurturing your child’s creative spirit:

  1. Avoiding Tags and Labels as far as possible

Nothing damages or bruises the creative spirit more than the voices we hear in our childhood, that say well-meaning things like “Looks like your brother is the artist in the family” after the child hands you a drawing or “She’s a good dancer but her voice is another matter altogether”. Labels. We are so quick to label and categorize. She’s good at arguing; “Lawyer honar ahe”, she does not like frocks: she’s a ‘tomboy’ and so on. They seem harmless, and to some extent, unavoidable, but when they are repeated to your child or even to other people about your child, they create a conviction that is hard to argue with or change later. If you try something with your child that he does not enjoy, just try again a few days later.  Let likes and dislikes be flexible and ever-changing and let your child know that he is allowed to change, grow into or out of something. Perseverance is very important, but not at the cost of removing the enchantment and pleasure of the sound of the violin or a foreign language altogether.

  1. Leaving lots of time for free play and boredom

With school taking up most of the day, and an after-school activity or two, children hardly find free time pockets to just play or do whatever they want. Sometimes, even play-time is carefully planned by parents who want their kids to put their time to good use instead of just sitting about in front of the TV or Tablet. But it is in this time that a new, fun, language or game gets invented. Also, toddlers don’t need to be provided with state-of-the-art toys. A spoon and vati from the kitchen can become a musical instrument, old shoe boxes can become a toy train – the lesser you provide, the more leg room there is, for their imagination to stretch out.

  1. Allowing the ‘Why’

Sometimes, it can be very exasperating to hear everything you say countered with a ‘why’. Sometimes, you find the time to answer the why, and at other times you just respond curtly with a “Because I say so.” Which is also perfectly OK because there are only 24 hours in a day, and dinner to be served, and laundry to be done, and a million other things to organize. But as far as possible, allow the why and allow the self-discovery of the answer too, as long as safety and hygiene allow it. “Why should I wear my shoes?” “Because your feet will get dirty otherwise and you’ll get hurt.” If your child does not fathom this, maybe you could allow a few shoe-less steps and let them see? And this grubbiness that makes most of us cringe, brings me to my last point of:

  1. Getting dirty

This is not to say that all the standards of hygiene and cleanliness in the house must be dropped but it is important for kids to indulge in some messy play and also for them to know that you are OK with it. Let them experience different textures with their own little fingers. For instance, you may want to allow them to mix their own dal and rice with their fingers, let them ‘help’ in the garden by digging up all the mud or ask them to squish the tomatoes for soup. Most dirty stains can be removed and most surfaces wiped down clean, so roll up your sleeves and get dirty too!

If you have any more inputs or other thoughts on creativity, I’d love to hear them!

What Diwali means to us

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Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is upon us, and I’m decluttering with ferocious intensity. I love clearing out stuff. I just love it. It is extremely therapeutic for me to shred old papers and empty out cupboards and drawers. So I naturally had to marry a man who is the world’s biggest hoarder. He has cartons and cartons of papers. And notebooks. And random knick-knacks. The child seems to have taken after him so far, and has a tussle with the poor Ajji who sweeps every single day; she picks out old rubber-bands and broken crayons from the piles of swept garbage and runs after the poor woman screaming “He nahi nyayche” (Don’t take that) and Ajji literally has to beg her everyday and say “No, I’m not taking anything home”.

I need our spare room for work now and I refuse to work in a musty environment surrounded by old cartons, so Diwali is just an excuse for me to issue the following threat to the husband: “You have five days to look through this rubbish and salvage what’s important, after which rip, rip, RIP papers (haha this pun was totally unintended!)

When I was a teenager, festivals (and even birthdays) seemed like immense pressure. Pressure to do things in a certain way, to enjoy myself. And somehow Diwali has always been a bad time for me, either emotionally or mentally or physically. I still remember this one Diwali with my chaddi buddy Saee, where we spent the whole Diwali week crying and collapsing in each other’s arms over a breakup and a toxic relationship. We walked around the empty streets and everybody was having fun and lighting up those Anaars (the flower pot or fountain firework) and we thought it just could not get worse. We even coined a term for that particular Diwali: “Viraan Samaa” or Tragic Time (taken from that song ‘Kitni Baatein’ from the movie Lakshya). Just recalling all that drama over romantic relationships makes me cringe and wish I had put those years to better use!

Then one Diwali a few years later, my PCOD began where I experienced bleeding for a month and blew up like a balloon. So all in all, I associate feeling low or melancholy with Diwali. When we got married, I really wanted to change that, but sigh, some curses cannot be broken easily and Abhi and I also had some really miserable Diwalis. (Yes, we specialize in fighting on festivals, birthdays, anniversaries and all those big days!)

This year, with Rumi, I was determined to change all of that and really celebrate Diwali. She is two-and-a-half  now and is really beginning to understand and participate in everything around her so we wanted to start building some traditions with her. The problem was to decide what our Diwali tradition as a family was going to be. To me, festivals mean major decluttering, cleaning up, washing and scrubbing and dusting. Every single thing has to be done in a certain way; and more importantly, at the right time, as prescribed by society or the Holy Scriptures. Waking up at 5 and having a bath, Rangoli at the doorstep, Diyas; everything done the way I remember my Ajji doing when I was a kid. For Abhi though, festivals at home are quite a chilled scene. Everything gets done, just a little later than usual. There is no hurry and no mad rush to accomplish anything. Festivals at the Purandares are very relaxed, such that in the initial days of our marriage, I missed the hustle in the air that I associated with festivals. Gradually I grew more relaxed myself, and started enjoying the cool pace.

I think back with great fondness to Eid at Mummy’s with that gorgeous aroma of slow-cooked meat wafting from the kitchen. By the time, the Biryani and Sheer Khurma would be ready, we would all be faint with hunger as breakfast would naturally have to be skipped because there was so much chaos in the kitchen. Mum, after all that hard work, would hardly be able to eat a morsel because she was so fatigued. I understand how much work it is for women and it is unfair that the load falls on them but it breaks my heart a little to order food on Eid and not have Mum’s Biryani.

So I think, what I want most for Rumi, is to establish patterns that are easily manageable, repeatable and continuable. I would just love to make Faraal at home for her but that is being too ambitious especially if I want to also clean the house the way I do. In the Cleaning  Vs. DIY food-items battle, Cleaning wins hands-down so we settle for store-bought stuff. What I really wish for her is to learn to create and enjoy the process of creativity early on. (I learnt all about creativity much too late in life and it really is the antidote to everything! Even now I was irritated by some triviality and I can feel that irritation leave me as I type away).

And what better time than Diwali to DIY and let the creative juices flow? I get together with a dear friend, Aabha, who is such a creative firecracker, and we organize a Diya painting / fairy-lights making / lantern making session together. Killa or fort-making would have been included too but for time constraints. The little girls really have a good time! They dip their fingers into the paint with glee and smear it all over. Aabha and I get involved too and we are almost grabbing the Diyas from the girls in a bid to do it ourselves! This is definitely something I would love to continue for Rumi; making what we need ourselves, from materials that are available at home.

The first day of Diwali dawns; the house is presentable if not exactly how I would have liked it. Abhi has to work so Rumi and I wake up and have a bath and get ready. Then we decide to do a Pooja, but there is no Devghar (household shrine) here, so we make do, with our favorite Ganpati (Lord Ganesha) idol and favorite books and Baba’s laptop. Except that Rumi wants to do things exactly like we do at the in-laws but I do not have the necessary goods or Pooja sahitya here. This leads to a temper tantrum and it is not even mid-morning. “Jay Bappa (God) is going to come over”, I tell her solemnly. “We want to welcome Him with smiles and cheer and pray to him to shower gold coins on us.” (On Dhanteras we pray for wealth hence the shower of gold coins; I totally get symbolism, now that we have a child!). Her eyes open wide and she looks to the skies for a golden rain. “Not immediately. He’s watching how you behave”. The tears immediately stop.

Then I ask her to pose for a picture with the Aakash Kandil (paper lantern). Instagram quality images come to my mind – little girl with bright lantern, beaming. (I can make it my display pic on WhatsApp and upload it on Facebook, goodness, I can even use it on my blog, yay!) But she refuses, and this leads to temper tantrum number two, but by Mommy. “You normally love photos” I mope. “Why can’t you stand still?” and so on and so forth. Here I am, tormenting my child for the pressure to have a lovely smiling picture on social media. Not just that, I want to record memories too. But what sort of memory am I trying to record? Me shrieking like a banshee because my child won’t pose? I put away the phone but things aren’t improving. By noon, Rumi has changed her clothes five times and lost her temper 24 times before I finally start to see where I am going wrong.

I am making Rumi do exactly what I used to hate about festivals. I am under pressure to click pictures and do things that I don’t normally do and she is not enjoying it. I don’t want her to run about in her chaddi and discard that lovely new frock. We tried to cut corners and didn’t shop for Diwali but I insisted on a new dress for Rumi for all five days. Now one of those inexpensive-looking-but-actually-expensive cotton frocks is lying in a crumpled pile on the floor. I almost can’t bear it, but I hold myself back because I realize that she wants it to be like any other day. She is happy sitting naked on the floor and she wants me to get out of my fancy clothes and join her. What I realize here is that I just need to keep it real. Real and achievable and attainable and not how it ‘should’ be celebrated. As much as I want it to be rosy and picture perfect, our family is never going to look like those Diwali ads with fairy lights and children dressed in beautiful Indian wear. I may try my best to hang those fairy lights but my little girl yanks them off. She pulls off her festive clothes and throws those hairbands on the floor and looks like a complete ragamuffin. So let me try to be grateful for this strong-willed, messy, stubborn little powerhouse instead of trying to make her fit into the beatific pictures of my dreams.

So that’s the second Diwali tradition I want for our house: to keep it real. And this is what real will look like: me cleaning frantically in one corner of the house, even as my husband pulls out a sheaf of papers in the other room. Rumi, sprawled on the floor trying to string the fairy lights around her neck like a necklace. She has already pulled out two lights from the cord. Her very old, stained, T-shirt is covered with crumbs from the Laddoo the next door Ajji just gave her. When we put on the lights in the evening, we will all smile and go into the balcony to look at them and we might just get a perfect picture of the three of us. But then again, we may forget to pull out our phones and just enjoy being with each other.

A creative Diwali, but a very real Diwali, with lowered expectations of what things should look like, but filled with grace and abundance and love. My wish this year for us, for all of us.

So proud to raise a little bookworm!

Abhi and I both love books dearly and this love has reached an all-time high with the birth of Rumi and the entry of picture books in our lives. We gleefully hunt online and get super excited when we see all the beautiful artwork and illustrations in some books and argue over “must-haves”. We’ve caused a big dent in our monthly budget so often, but it is all worth it when we see Rumi devour her new loot and beg us to read and re-read her favorite stories. I’m sharing a video of Rumi reading “Love you forever” by Robert Munsch. Rumi hates being caught on camera so we were lucky to even capture what we did. Her words are not so clear in parts but it was a “beam-with-pride-at-the-gem-we’ve-created” moment for us!

An excerpt from the book: (The parts that Rumi has read)

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

The baby grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was two years old, and he ran all around the house. He pulled all the books off the shelves. He pulled all the food out of the refrigerator and he took his mother’s watch and flushed it down the toilet. Sometimes his mother would say, “this kid is driving me CRAZY!”

But at night time, when that two-year-old was quiet, she opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor, looked up over the side of his bed; and if he was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. While she rocked him she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

Love You Forever (a reading by Rumi Abhiraj Purandare)

 

Part 2: