Beauty is…

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

This phrase came in my inbox today with my “weekly reflection” of NVC (Non-Violent Communication), together with a beautiful excerpt from Mary Mackenzie’s book “Peaceful living”. And it does ring some bells. A few days back I was having a conversation with a friend and somehow, we ended up talking about my work and education. Then the question came along:
” Are you ever going to work with “normal” children”?

My silence was ominous and those few seconds between the question and my answer felt rather awkward.

“All children are “normal”, the children I work with are children that life did not smile too much at them, that’s all.”

My friend , after a short silence, agreed.

No need to say the conversation finished, in good terms but unexpectedly quick.

Today when I read the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” this morning and I just swap “Beauty” for “Normality” and it made all the sense in the world. “Normality is in the eye of the beholder”.

I kept thinking about it and amazes me how people tend to make a judgement without having the whole context. Something is clear and it is true: it is human to judge and without judging we would not survive. As human beings we live making judgements and decisions to get through the day and life. When judging we can make distinction and separate between “us” and “them”.

As for me all children are “normal”. Some of them had to endure unnecessary trauma; some of them had to survive hostile environments whilst others had to forget all about being children and grow up fast beyond their years.  These are circumstances, contexts. I see all children as beautiful beings full of magic and potential to become the best versions of themselves despite the circumstances and contexts of their own lives. 

I feel that people judge too much; it is easy to do so. If only people could only step back and consider accepting some things as they are, without judging, life could be so much easier. If people could be more open to consider there are many other realities, beauties and normality and perhaps hold conversations about it instead of quickly judging and making the “us” and “them” gap.  


La belleza…

“La belleza está en los ojos de aquel que mira”

Esta frase apareció hoy en mi casilla de emails junto con una reflexión de NVC (Non-Violent Communication) junto con un hermoso extracto del libro de Mary Mackenzie “Peaceful living”. Y es una frase que quedó en mi cabeza, luego de una conversación hace unos dias atrás con un amigo, en la cual no sé como terminamos hablando de mi trabajo y de educación. Y surgió la pregunta de su parte:

“Alguna vez, vas a trabajar con niños “normales”?

Luego de un silencio molesto, ominoso, esos pocos segundos entre la pregunta y mi respuesta fueron mas que incómodos.

“Todos los chicos son “Normales”; que a algunos la vida no les haya sonreído lo suficiente, ese es otro tema.”

Mi amigo, luego de un breve silencio, coincidió conmigo.

Demas está decir que la conversación terminó rápidamente, en buenos términos.

Hoy cuando leí la frase “La belleza está en los ojos de aquel que mira” cambié la palabra “Belleza” por “Normalidad” y cobró todo el sentido del mundo. “La normalidad está en los ojos de aquel que mira”.

Cuanto mas lo pienso mas me sorprendo de como la gente se apresura a juzgar, sin tener en cuenta el contexto. Hay algo que es muy claro y es cierto: es humano juzgar; y sin la capacidad de juzgar, no sobreviviríamos. Como seres humanos que somos, vivimos juzgando, y gracias a esos juicios y decisiones vivimos el día a día, vivimos la vida. Cada vez que juzgamos, hacemos la distinción que nos separa entre “nosotros” y “ellos”.

Para mi, todos los niños son “normales”. Algunos han tenido que soportar traumas innecesarios; otros han tenido que sobrevivir ambientes hostiles, mientras que otros se tuvieron que olvidar de ser niños y crecer rápidamente y ser mas grandes que su edad real. Estas son circunstancias, contextos. En mis ojos, todos los niños son seres llenos de magia y potencial para convertirse en la mejor versión de ellos mismos, mas allá de las circunstancias y contextos de sus vidas.

Siento que la gente juzga muy rápido; al final de cuentas es muy fácil hacerlo. Tal vez si la gente pudiera dar un paso atrás y considerar las cosas por los que son, sin juzgar, la vida sería mas fácil. Si la gente pudiera ser mas abierta y considerar que hay muchísimas otras realidades, bellezas y normalidades, y tal vez conversar acerca de ellas en vez de rápidamente juzgar y generar la brecha entre “ellos” y “nosotros”. 

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Guess what the electronic nanny is doing now….

“I need 5 minutes” thinks carer.

The child is restless, lobbying for the attention of the carer. The child and the carer are both exhausted. The child has many, many toys but they don’t seem to make a difference. The child plays with all of them, the carer plays with the toys to see if the child is interested. Child is interested in seeing the carer play with the toys. And nothing else.

“I need a cup of tea” thinks carer.

“I need 5 minutes to myself” thinks carer.

 And there it is. The tablet.

Carer sits down to select a cartoon that can entertain the child for 5 minutes, whilst putting the kettle on for a cup of tea…perhaps to make that phone call. By now the carer is an expert on multitasking i.e. looking after the child, entertain the child and, whilst the child sleeps, do all the rest.

Finally, a cartoon that is simple, lovely songs and colours, does not seem offensive and the carer likes it. Tap tap tap, there it is.

The child holds the tablet, and the eyes are as round as two teacup saucers.

As the child is absorbed entirely with the screen silence reigns once again – and it is not night time. Ah, that cup of tea. Oh, the phone call. Check for messages or comments on the social networks. Ah, send the email and carry on working on that project. Perhaps gain some time and make a start with meal time. Or tidy up the room, get on with the dishes or get rid of the pile of laundry…

Still silence from the child. By now the child is completely engrossed with the cartoon, a different episode.

Carer comes into the room to check on the child. The child seems happy. Carer is happy to see the child happy; hence the carer carries on with a myriad of tasks which otherwise, would be left for later if not left undone.

“That cartoon is a hit” thinks the carer.

Does any of this sounds familiar?

It is what I simply call “the electronic nanny”. Any electronic device which is capable to entertain the child for endless hours, keeping both child and carer happy to the brim. The carer can get on with day to day life and the child can be entertained. By now the child has a selection of “apps” that can teach numbers, letters, colours, rhymes, songs, stories, shapes and even other language!!! ” This is just genius! How comes no one ever told me about it!” thinks the carer.

Do not take me wrong: the health of the carer is as important as the health of the child. And when I say health, I mean physical and emotional health, not just the healthy food and everything we link with the word “health”.

But compromising the future health of a child for 5 minutes of “peace and quiet” – that you know it will end up becoming an hour if not more; and more still, becomes something regular – is a steep price to pay. There is even an article on the guardian about it: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/dec/25/screen-based-lifestyle-harms-health-of-children

I know it is easy said than done; and I know this because the “electronic nanny” was once a guest in my house. It did take immense strength to remove her from my son’s life: endless hours of crying, tantrums, rage – yes, rage of him throwing everything and making everything and everyone in the house a target – manipulation (those big sulky eyes saying “oh, please, I am about to die here” sort of look) and more tears, screams, kicking and empty gazing – or evil staring.

You name it: I have been there and it is a path where you will be told “not to be cruel to the child” or “what kind of parent does not allow the child to watch TV” “C’mon…put your feet up, give the child some TV, get some time for yourself” or even worse, the silent look.

Then others may say that the child will be “behind his peers” when it comes to technology. Do they mean that the child will not know how to push a button or slide a finger on a screen? Do they mean they will not know how to use Instagram?

It took a lot of patience and a lot of “I’m not going to give in to this”. More than anything: It took me a lot of inner acceptance that my little one could be included on daily chores such as dusting, stretching duvets, putting clothes in the washing machine, putting the dishes away, do some planting, or perhaps help with the shopping. I had to accept that he was not so little anymore and if a plate fell on the floor and broke it was a good excuse to change the service set.

I must accept and adapt to get the electronic nanny out of the house. I had to give more time to the chores and tasks and not rush around if I really wanted to do this. Again, it was not easy to get into this new self-imposed rhythm. But to see the results? Oh boy, that was a real treat.

When my little one discovered that he could put his laundry inside the washing machine – although it took ages, if not eons!  to get done – and then press the button to see the machine working he was as excited as Columbus may have been when he landed in America instead of India. When he discovered the brush and dustpan and the noise it would make on different surfaces; when he realised that shaking the dustpan would undo all the work he has done; when he saw the tulips bulbs he planted starting to sprout. And the list can go on. And the electronic nanny was almost gone.

As horrible as this may sound, I had to stop under estimating my little one’s abilities and strengths. Awful words, are they not “Under estimate”. I was doing so, what I solemnly swore the first time I held him in my arms “I will not do what they did to me: I will not under estimate you”.

I mentioned that the electronic nanny was almost gone. Yes. She is with one foot out. I am still battling to get her completely out. It is hard to leave bad habits and electronic devices on a child’s hand is no different. At least we agreed on only 30 minutes per day – and now we are on 22 minutes a day. And when the bell of the kitchen timer goes off, he, on his own accord, turns the electronic device of his choice off. No moaning no complaining no tears no tantrums. He happily goes to his bedroom to play or gets in the kitchen to see what am I doing.

Now the toys are interesting and he can create his own little world. Or if he sees me reading something he grabs a book and pretends to read. If he sees me around the computer, he asks what am I doing, and soon enough he finds something to do. But he does not crave for a screen or any sort of electronic device.

Yes, it is not easy by any means to go through a “detox” but believe me, it is possible. If someone comes and tells me that “I am damaging him because he is lacking the technology side of life” I can be happy with the fact that he is learning to live without an electronic nanny to “nanny” him when I am doing things such as looking for jobs, house chores or writing. I am sure he will have time to learn technology.

I am certain, however, that the skills he is acquiring now through play and helping around the house will not be learned through technology.

As far as I am aware, there is no software on earth that can mimic the feeling of soil when planting a bulb, or the feeling of warmth inside a house made out of duvets and pillows.

 

The reinvention of the wheel

As I am cleaning my inbox I stumbled across the following:

There are no original ideas. There are only original people. ”

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

No need to mention, courtesy of Goodreads. And it got me thinking about how my last 24 hours have been, struggling  to make a recipe work adding  ingredients – under the suspicion that it had ingredients missing because it did not look right – only to come to the conclusion that it did not have anything missing except for the milk to bind all the ingredients.

Briefly: as I am still unemployed and enough time  I tried to make some Christmas cookies, the way my German grandmother used to do them.  I asked the recipe to my mother, who kindly gave it to me – after translating it from German – and warning me that there was a “catch”: my grandmother used to write down what she knew she would forget. Then the rest, was in her head.  Hence, the chance that it may be some ingredients missing was 50 / 50. It did not say for how long they should be in the oven, not to mention the temperature.

I wondered for quite some time about what ingredients could be missing, for how long they should be in the oven, does the dough need to be in the fridge? All those questions unanswered, hence the frantic scouting over the internet to see if I could somehow complete the recipe.

Last night, when my son was finally asleep, I decided to “reinvent the wheel” preparing a recipe with the ingredients from my grandmother, plus others, plus some instructions. As I am no chef, experimenting was the word of the evening.

Guess what:

WRONG.

This morning I woke up and happily went to the fridge to see a lump of dough, completely unmanageable.

So.

I decided to follow the simple recipe. And use just milk to bind it all. And guess what?

IT WORKED.

Wonders.

Yes, it took me a bit of time – and a small batch of cookies – to figure out the right temperature of the oven and the time for cooking.

Reinvention of the wheel? trying to be original with the great original idea of adding ingredients since I suspected it could be wrong, because it was too simple? Nah.

Tonight a beautiful batch of cookies came out of the oven, scenting the whole house of cinnamon, ginger and clove, with a note of honey. So the wheel did not get reinvented. It got oiled, it came back from good old memories to this century, to this house, to feed the memories of my son.

Simple is best, and as this recipe was ever so simple – I may even post it here – I thought it was too simple, forgetting that sometimes, if not all the times, simple is best. In every aspect of life and that includes being a parent.

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Human minds

What would we have done without such  classics like “Little women” or “Jo’s Boys”? Today is the day when Louisa May Alcott was born back in 1832. And thanks to Goodquotes a beautiful, inspiring phrase from Miss Alcott (Miss because for what I understand she remained unmarried her whole life)  came along on my inbox this morning:

Human minds are more full of mysteries than any written book and more changeable than the cloud shapes in the air.

Louisa May Alcott

Needless to say I relate this phrase to early childhood and it fits so well….