Friday, February 26, 2010

Childhood massacred: How can we stop this tragedy?

I was recently in India. It was a 15-day trip spread across five cities. Hectic for sure, but it gave me the opportunity to talk to people about the latest trends, culture, society etc. and make my own observations about different parts of the country. The cities were unique in many ways, but the pressures of childhood were equally heart-wrenching everywhere.

As I chatted with cousins and their kids, friends and their children, I sensed a pattern: Childhood is about hauling books and running from one class to the other. Seriously, these kids already have longer hours than working professionals. There is school and school-related homework. Then there is a trend to sign up kids for tuition classes. Plus, every parent within their own abilities wants to give their children the best, which means extra curricular activities (in abundance) are a big part of six-year olds’ lives. So, before you hit your pre-teens, you probably play a sport, a musical instrument, and excel at one of the Indian classical dances along with excruciating amounts of schoolwork. And I am talking about the minimum here. There are kids who go beyond and enroll in specialized creative classes (Art, flower-making etc.) and Asian learning centers (to enhance their Math skills).

What broke my heart: When I asked a very dear friend’s daughter, in Bombay, about her free time/playtime, she said, “Masi, I play on the weekends.” Those innocent words, at least for me, wore a tragic garb. How can a child not play everyday? Isn’t that incumbent upon them for their healthy growth? What kinds of pressures are we dealing with here where a five-year old brings home assignments that ask them to “Fill up the blank,” or “Do addition/subtraction?”

One of my childhood friends is a teacher in Bombay. In fact, she is the headmistress of her elementary school. She told me that suicide cases in India have shot through the roof. And it’s mostly kids in the fifth and sixth grade. It breaks my heart to think that children with milk teeth have begun to believe that death is their only option. How do they even know about death?

When I was young, there was a lot of pressure about grades and homework, but somewhere my generation was permitted to enjoy our childhood. Make mistakes. Get bruises on our knees. Expend our energy. It scares me that children these days are expected to be these picture perfect porcelain dolls who excel at everything. I mean, isn’t that what adulthood is about?

Unfortunately, parents can’t do much because of the pressure from both the school and the society. They are caught in the middle. If every child in your universe is juggling multiple things, you don’t want to deprive your child. But can no one see how it will all end? Do you really want a ten-year old to think, act, and behave like a thirty-year old?


More until next time,


Copyright © 02. 26.2010


“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught” - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Where are social services when you need 'em?

So, my husband and I were in India the last couple of weeks. It was a wonderful trip! We met many of our dear, loved ones – both family and friends.  In fact, I am still homesick. Anyways, on our return, as we boarded the aircraft with a heavy heart and memories of an extraordinary visit, Lady Luck nudged and said, “All good things must come to an end.”

Our 14-hour flight to NYC was one from hell. There were six infants, between the ages of six months to twelve months, in the row in front of us. The babies decided to put up an unfettered, non-stop “crying-show” for all aboard. To be fair, three of the kids cried intermittently, which was understandable - given their age and the pressure on their ears and limited movement etc. etc.  But the other three children, who were triplets,  were uninhibited tear-exhibitionists. They wailed incessantly for fourteen hours. I am not kidding! I mean, there was nothing stopping them! I wanted to pull a Van Gogh and chop off my ears. The piercing noise still awakens me at night. I saw couple of my in-flight neighbors ask for headache-relievers (Tylenol) and earplugs. So much so that one of the stewardesses, towards the end, lost her patience and asked if the children were just unhappy by nature. Clearly, I wasn’t overreacting.

Here comes the interesting part: Three adults accompanied the three infants - the mother and the maternal grandparents. These immature and selfish so called adults a.k.a. parents with zero parenting skills did nothing throughout. They shamelessly slept through the nightmare while the rest of the passengers writhe in misery for more than half a day. An occasional, nonchalant “What’s wrong with them?” from the mother sounded very pretentious! Did I mention that the imbeciles were prompt about acquiring and finishing their “Asian vegetarian meals” without fail? I mean, most of us could barely breathe on the flight, but this family managed to stuff themselves with three meals, around all the howling, while their kids starved.

My husband, who is otherwise a very patient man, couldn’t resist the urge to give the family a piece of his mind. Could you blame him? I was tempted too! But thankfully, just as he stood up, the stewardess intervened. The parsimonious three idiots made the triplets share their pacifier. Are you kidding me? The minute they pulled the pacifier out of one kid’s mouth, the deprived one would have a meltdown. On seeing the bawling child, the other two kids would put up an unstoppable performance. These parents/grandparents barely got up to walk the kids. Or tried calming them. Or feeding them on time. They pretty much held the triplets hostage between those four middle seats and shared food bottles. The mother and the grandmother slept like maniacs as if they were in a spa getting a chocolate massage while the infants looked hungry and exhausted.

I know; it’s too much to ask for adults-only flight, but can the airlines at least create sections on the plane and sound proof areas with irresponsible parents?! I believe the child isn’t at fault! What does an infant know about socially appropriate conduct and understanding responsibilities? They are dependant! But parents need to concede that becoming a parent and learning parenting skills are two different dynamics. Any unprepared person can become a parent but very few can take the role seriously to think beyond themselves and embrace the role of good parenting.

C’mon, haven’t you met those people who never say NO to their children? Their kid could be wiping their dirty hands on your sofa or throwing things around your house, but not a word. My youngest niece is 18 months old. My husband and I recently met her in Bombay. My mother-in-law has gorgeous Swarovski crystal pieces and Lladro figurines on display, but this kid doesn’t touch a thing. I am not suggesting that the little one is God’s gift to mankind just because she’s my niece.  All I am saying is that my sister-in-law and brother-in-law take the time out of their lives to teach and preach her. They make an effort to guide her because good parenting requires spending time and teaching your children the right things versus just winging it at other people’s expense! And as a bystander, sometimes all you need to see is effort.


More until next time,


Copyright © 02. 17.2010


"The Hebrew word for parents is horim, and it comes from the same root as moreh, teacher. The parent is, and remains, the first and most important teacher that the child will have"
-- Rabbi Kassel Abelson