Growing up with your child

While  accepting generous donations  in New York , Mother  Theresa told the audience – I thank you for  helping me  to help the poor  in other parts of the world . But in your country , you have hunger too. There is hunger for love.

True, wealth cannot buy love. Money  can satisfy the hunger of the stomach  ; not the emotional hunger of the heart. For healthy  growth of your child , both qualities of head and of heart are to imbibed by the child.  The school  help  educating the child but parents  at home have the more important  aspect of molding its character.

These days of unit  families , the child moves far from  the grandparents, uncles, and aunts and cousins. In the single child family, the lonely child may get more time and love from parents but there is a vacuum. Olden days, vacation meant  visit to family  house when the child savoured love from, elders and enjoyed company . These days , sightseeing tours to Singapore or Switzerland  cut down on time spent at  family home.

Young parents move out of the country. Even within the country they would set up home away from parental home.

Devdas had spent 9 months , as a child of 3 years in our family home in Kadri (in Mangalore) with his mother  when I was abroad on study tour. Grandparents , an uncle and an aunt with her four little daughters showered him with love and  enjoyment . Visiting relatives added to the fun . This perhaps moulded his character,  especially hisnethamakka.

On return from France , I was posted in Asansol , 1,500 miles away from family. Luckily, his mother’s parents and younger brother were nearby. But  he missed the happy days back home . His mother and myself  had to  keep  up his spirits . The taste he had developed for stories told  by relatives  at home and by  visiting dear  ones  helped us a lot. Besides  telling him of our own happy childhood , we kept reminding of his own experience  in Kadri and brought in all relatives in various stories he was told at bed time. Thus he went  to sleep with  happy thoughts  about his happy days  with them. They remained fresh in his mind. ( Even when he moved to USA, in my letters I wrote about  family anecdotes,  currents events and happenings  in the family. He picked  up correspondence with many of them. From  my letters he has culled over 60 pages of  family anecdotes from Kadri, thirty  pages each from my dreamland ( Manjeshwar , my mother’s parental place ) and from my gurukula  in Karingana, where my uncle lived in his village. So much  so, he knows more about his elders than their own children. Perhaps knows more about childhood days of his cousins than the cousins themselves.

Five stories at bedtime was the contract. 76 number  of comic- strip illustrated books  on junior classics  and many  books on senior classics  were main source.Great grandma stories also. In the story of two cats stealing  butter and  a monkey  coming in to help  them share the butter equally and ending up in eating all the butter himself , Devdas was told  the cats lived behind Lily Akka’s  house  and sneaked through a window of the kitchen. In another story, the fox had stolen the chicken from Nethamakka’s poultry farm. (She had the hens in her  backyard in Bidar. There is photo of little Malini, Shankeri and Keertanaa in their frocks holding the hens proudly in their arms. ) And he visualized all relatives during story sessions. When he met Lily Akka a year later, he took her to her kitchen  to see for the cats in the backyard  through the window used by cats to sneak in.

Kadri, house had a huge compound with 20 coconut palms, 16 mango trees , 14 jackfruit trees, trees of chickoo , jaamba and  custard  apple. Any number of banana trees and pineapple plants.

The happy time with my Ajja on Sundays  going round the compound picking fruits. Going with sisters to collect flowers during choodipoojaa days. Going up the hill to fetch cashew fruits ,bedasa ( black berries) and other  titbits. Games we  played. All were recounted when I took him to gardens  in Asansol. This I believe gave a sense of  belonging to a large happy family. This sense added to  his feeling of security – that he is loved and wanted by many dear ones.

The comic books had  32 pages. Main story in 30 pages  and a short story ( Aesops Fables , Panchtantra,  etc .) in last two pages. The contract was three long stories and two short stories.  Lying on bed he will turn over  the pages and I narrated the stories. Later he began reading himself  but I would be there to correct  his pronunciation; also put in family, anecdotes at appropriate places.

The number of stories was used to discipline him. If had been mischievous that day, the number would be curtailed  or a long story replaced by a short story. He was told that one of the three little pigs always suffered  from toothache as it did not brush its teeth regularly. He came to brush teeth properly and regularly.The fat cock was greedy and ate  too much without sharing food with other  hens and chickens. It suffered. So don’t  overeat and learn to share.

Earn while you learn , they say. Similarly, learn while  you listen to stories.

Arithmetic: I tell you stories every night. I have told now 3. How many left ? Similar mental sums were asked in between stories and later even multiplication and division sums.

He was never forced  to sit to learn tables or  learn by  heart any nursery rhyme. . Large sheets of paper with tables  printed boldly  were  hung on walls and in the toilet. He would learn by himself while riding his tricycle or while seated on his throne. We will recite rhymes or tables when was in the hearing change .Mostly  he picked up on his own. No force.

Memory testing.Change  the names or course in stories were introduced  to find out how fast he will notice it. I had act different roles in the stories . I even danced.

Observation power. I would pick  few leaves from the plants in the garden and give him. He will run out to locate the plants. He began observing flowers , caterpillars on different plants . They are different caterpillars  for different plants ,  he told me. Similarly on butterflies.  Watched babblers chattering on same branch  for rest in the night on the big neem tree. Parrots pecking on them sunflower seeds.The two owls which came of the hollow in the tamarind tree. Later in Lucknow , we waited for flocks of parrots fly back  home in the evenings . They came exactly at the same hour. Even on cloudy , they did not come early thinking the sun has set. We wondered how they kept to time.

The time you spend with  your child bonds you more and more with it. Watching a seed germinate , appearance of a bud and its gradually blossoming  into  flower , watching a creeper gain in height day by day and such close watching whet up his thirst for knowledge  and in his time remember you as he take his younger ones round.

In the rhyme  Twinkle, twinkle little star , children wonder  at the stars. Children must be taught to keep wondering in life looking for millions of wonder in God’s creation. The red rising sun, the colourful rainbow, the waterfall, flowers and fruits and  so  on. Adults problems  start when they stop wondering . Similarly, encourage children to keep questioning. Encourage inquisitiveness. Never curb them and put them off.. Always give the  correct answer. If you don’t have the right answer , accept it and ask for time to find an answer. If you realize you have given wrong answer , then correct yourself . His confidence in you and his esteem of you will increase.

Lessons in virtues should be by personal examples- by showing courage in speaking the truth at all times and in  all  circumstances , respecting elders , not breaking promises, showing kindness  to others, including animals and plants, developing sportsmanship and the like.

Seed of devotion  to god  must be sown in its heart early in life . Nurture of  devotion  slow and steady . You  gradually withdraw  and let  him realize God loves him more. He becomes your fellow pilgrim .

Wisdom of elders. As Devdas grew older , I told him of elders who had enriched my life. My Ajja instilled devotion to God, my father’s  all-embracing kindness, my mother ‘s  all-embracing love . Netham’s father-in-law , that towering personality ,  introduced me to our scriptures, Pandu Bhavaji to Tagore  and Ramakrushna ,VamanBappa to literature and music world . Love for them blossomed into admiration. Respect to elders is essential in life.  That we must emulate them  becomes a passion.

Well, VamanBappa taught me much by word of mouth but my father was the silent guru. His life was a live commentary  of Geethaa.

And we Indians  ride high on broad  shoulders of spiritual giants . We should be proud of our heritage and culture. Let our children  not miss these.

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