The lessons we can learn from our children
Listening is a powerful force, it nurtures and creates us. When we are heard with tenderness, we grow freely
Aliza, will you still love me when you are older?” I ask my daughter on our way back from school.
“Yes, Mamma,” she says. Aliza can be very poker-faced when she needs to maintain her composure.
After a significant pause, she speaks to me again.
“Mamma, can a child ever stop loving her mother?”
It is framed like a question, but for me it is an answer.
“No, Aliza, I don’t think they can,” I say, making a permanent note of this in my mind.
Another morning, I ask a barely-awake Aliza to help me with a speech on the importance of reading for children.
“Please don’t tell the children who don’t like to read that they have to read,” she says groggily.
“They can watch movies of the same stories.”
“The only difference between movies and books,” says Aliza, “is that in books you get to know the spellings also.”
If you are an adult and reading this, please pause and make a note of this. If you are a child, of course you know this already.
Standing behind her, I am combing Naseem’s tight curls, trying not to hurt her scalp. “Mamma, I like losers,” she says to me.
“Yes, Mamma, losers are sad for a little while, but winners are so...so...,” she struggles for a word. “That day in the race, Alman came third, so he was sad for a while. But Kanishka, who came first, was heckling him so much, Mamma. You lost to a girl, you lost to a girl…”
She turns to me, ready to use a new word. “Mamma, winners are so arrogant.”
If you are a winner and reading this, then remember to practise grace when you win the next time. The children are watching.
On my request, one weekend, Aliza has shampooed and conditioned her little sister’s hair. I overhear Aliza trying to cut a deal with her in exchange for the favour.
“When you grow up,” she says, “you will have to get pachaas ice creams for me.”
“What is pachaas?” asks Naseem.
“I only know counting till bees,” admits Naseem. “Twenty.”
Never be afraid to confess the limits of your knowledge. It can turn out to be advantageous for you.
Across the room, as I watch Sahar get up from her school project to look for a pair of scissors or something, I ask her loudly, “Have I raised you well?”
“Yes, Mamma,” she says. “Very well.”
After a pause I ask, “How do you know?”
“I know! I’m the one who has been raised, Mamma.” She is incredulous. She uses her hands to express the rest of her answer since she has no more words.
“How do I know? I know because it’s about me. Who else will know better than me, Mamma?”
Home is where you blurt out questions without worrying about sounding clever. The answers are precious. Do whatever it takes to hear them being spelt out.
“Do you know what I am good at?” she tells me. She is eating corn on the cob at home on a school day. She is wearing a red and gold skirt. Purple crocs.
“Yes,” I say.
“At being happy.”
“I’m good at being a child,” she tells me.
“You are an expert child,” I say, realizing that I would love to sit on the floor and eat some steamed corn on the cob too.
“Is Mamma angry?” The youngest enters the living room and asks the older sibling.
“No,” she answers.
“Is Papa angry?”
“Are you angry?”
“Then the chair must be angry,” says the child. She can smell something in the air and she will tell us what it is.
“Are there any guests at home?” asks Aliza, as I pick her up from school.
“Good, then I can get home and be weird,” she says, telling me in one line what it means to truly come back home after a day spent with the world outside.
“Your mother is going for a party. We will stay at home and have fun,” declares the father to his daughters.
“Actually, I don’t think I will go,” I say, my social phobia kicking in.
“Mamma, do you want us to have fun or not have fun?” asks the little one.
“I want you to have fun,” I say.
“Then please go to your party,” she says, putting me firmly in my place.
One morning, Sahar finds a new way to articulate why she doesn’t want to go to school.
“I don’t get any alone time in school, Mamma,” she says. We chat about friends of mine who bother me and friends of hers who bother her. We laugh a little and feel relieved to be able to vent about our friends to each other and she forgets she didn’t want to go to school.
Conversations reassure us. They are the thread in the patchwork of our lives. When we are heard with tenderness, we feel cherished. Listening is love; it nurtures and creates us.
“Why do you write when you hate it so much?” my child asks me.
“I don’t hate it.”
“Then why are you crying and making these noises?”
“I love it but it makes me suffer.”
She stares at me.
“It’s like having children,” I add.
She stares at me some more. I am satisfied with my answer. I won’t cry and make noises any more.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.
She tweets at @natashabadhwar