Post 226.

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There’s that Sunday afternoon spent folding still-warm children’s clothes when the next piece you lift and shake out is so small in your hands that you know it is now outgrown. It’s a moment hard to even mention to others, it seems so insignificant, so inevitable and so ordinary. This isn’t the first time you’ve changed the sizes that fill the drawers. The just-born sleepers were soon replaced, the onesies were eventually considered too tight, the two year old’s T-shirts became too short. All began to look like they had shrunk when really a small, warm body had lengthened and filled.

Maybe you stopped and looked deep into your memory then, just as now. Maybe you crushed those clothes to your nose, closing your eyes and breathing in their smell, just as now. Maybe you suddenly heard a clock chime the passing of weeks or months or years, but it’s hard to remember if those moments held your breath as much as this one. Now, you are standing by yourself, surrounded by bright yellow humidity, your hands holding the crumpled clothes as if you could stop the reverberations of that chime from disappearing.

All you can think about is how we measure time by seconds and minutes, by light and dark, by rotations of the earth and the moon. These are discussions easy to have with others, for they are established through scientific, public and impersonal measures. What you mention to only a few are the little marks on the inside of the wooden cupboard door that record changes in height with whatever marker was available, sometimes red, blue or purple. There was such excitement about those recordings. Big efforts to stand tall with heels against the frame, wide eyes looking up as if to see if the mark had to move places before its even made. Pride and display at the smallest of changes and everyone agreeing on the relationship between those calculations and pure joy.

What you’ve probably not shared with anyone at all are the moments when the clothes in the basket, just bigger than the size of your hand or the length of your forearm, signal the dusk of one age and the dawn of another. One pink and black, long-sleeved pajama feeling like sweetest sorrow materialized, for all the times it was worn were precious, but not so much as when you experience them as fleeting, as you do now.

Right then, all you can think about is how you quietly measure time by centimeters, socks that migrated to the dolls’ dress up box, vocabulary changes, capacities like braiding hair or tying shoelaces, and clothes grown too small. What a curious clock, with these strange indicators, whose chime brings you back to the present only to cause you to slip away to the past precisely because you are aware you have reached a once only-imagined future.

Caught between the magical and mundane, you are even a little self-conscious that someone might come in and look at you sideways, for standing mid-way in the room, bizarrely cupping a tiny cotton outfit to your face, like an oxygen mask. Even if you explained, they might not understand, agree with or honour your symbols for changing seasons and for shifts that don’t affect anything as important as commodity prices, though they still you in your step, renewing your sense of priorities.

This is every day, every week parenting. Nothing extraordinary or special. Yet, I know I’m not alone. I know children whose mothers saved a lock of their baby hair, who forty years later can unfold their first baby clothes.

There must be others like me, who have stood amidst clean laundry, wondering where the years went, with something in hand more beloved than expected because of how fast those years have flown.

I know there are others, caught up with jobs, deadlines, extra-curricular activities, chores, meetings and concerns about the state and economy, who also realise that it’s the meanings we hardly quantify or discuss in newspaper Op Eds that can appear in fading shafts of afternoon light as what really matters. Those warm clothes, warmly and lovingly held, no longer found where they used to be.

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Post 229.

I don’t remember being much of a good student in primary school. I was rarely in the top five, maybe once in a while in the top ten. I remember Common Entrance as terrifying. All I have in my head is a picture of sitting at a desk in a room full of wooden desks, with the bright light from a large window to my right and a ‘lucky’ stuffed toy we were allowed to bring with us in those days, perhaps mine was a white unicorn, in front of me, watching me writing, writing, writing until my hand hurt.

I passed for Bishops Anstey High School, while girls who usually had better marks than me, but didn’t survive that one exam as well as I had, cried and cried when results came out. It’s painful to think about even today, that pressure and those immense feelings of relief and failure, when we were so young. Nonetheless, I never attended high school in Trinidad, instead becoming a Queens College student in Barbados, and later attending three additional high schools in Canada. In all of these, I was undeniably, unremarkably average.

I don’t remember any passion for my subjects or any particular drive to do well.  I barely passed physics and chemistry. I feel I like was on automatic, doing school because that’s what adolescents do, not necessarily connecting to a compelling reason, plan or future. I was a reader, and I liked writing poetry, but I had no real hobbies or areas of excellence. My mother most likely despaired, wondering if I’d turn into a delinquent, while I got through reality from shifting locations in my own teenage dream world.

Adults are so different from children that we should reflect on whether they see the world, and our expectations of them, the way that we do. Their inability to connect to our standards and aspirations might not be a sign of present or future failing on their part. They are just growing at their idiosyncratic pace, and partially living in their own world.

Parental expectations can also be wholly unrealistic. We want our children to do well in all subjects as if it’s a national norm for adults to be great at eight separate things simultaneously. By the time we grow up, we accept that we might be better at art and math than biology or creative writing, but we scan report cards with that very measurement rule still in our minds.

Ziya’s only just started primary school, yet parents are already concerned about revising classwork in the afternoons and reviewing term material for assessments, producing a sit down and learn practice, and comparing the percentages that children get at the end of term. I believe in none of these. Afternoons are for self-directed learning, including play. Revising for assessments hides what was actually learned, or not, in class. Sitting still and memorizing book knowledge gives concepts that can be regurgitated without understanding of their applicability or meaning. Percentages are great for knowing how your child performs in assessments, but not whether she or he increasingly loves learning, which is a wide indicator of when students will do well.

Any time spent with our children will tell us how they best learn to think, question, apply and remember, and which skills they have mastered or are still developing. Parents’ job is not to follow the Ministry of Education curriculum, but to do whatever enjoyable activities help to strengthen our children’s’ capacities, without resorting to more school.

All this sounds like letting education slide, but I’m more concerned with our despair when children don’t excel early on. Not all can excel every year for their entire school lives. Not everyone’s academic performance will peak when they are children. They might finally find their feet in university, in a job or in a course that offers an alternative to traditional subjects. That was me.

I began to seriously excel at university, finally. A surprise to many, I ended up with three degrees, plus focus, discipline and ambition. My mother need not have been so worried, and perhaps as parents neither should we. That’s the lesson I now try to live with Zi.

Post 205.

Growing into parenthood is truly an opportunity for life-long learning.

As you prepare your little sapodilla for that memorable moment of starting primary school, you learn that your skills are really not up to that sticky, plastic wrap, book-covering thing. You learn from a next mother (for it seems that it is moms who cover children’s books), and after you paper all the copybooks in brown paper,  that they are sold already covered in plastic. So, you tell yourself you had planned it so to be more environmentally-conscious anyway.

You learn that you can actually iron those tiny school uniform pleats with love in the days before primary school finally starts, even though you hate ironing, and you know that you will likely not iron with such love by week five.

You learn to make new friends with parents with whom you may have nothing in common, but the collective, educational welfare of your children, and the fact that you will attend more of their children’s birthday parties over the next year than adult dinners, drinks or fetes.

You learn you might be the only parent who thinks its scandalous that the mandatory school swimsuit for a four year old costs $45 USD, precisely because education should rely on low cost resources unless those costs are for the best books, labs or musical instruments, and you realize, in a suddenly less naïve moment, that the children of UWI lecturers might be the poorer ones in the classroom.

You learn how to manage your self too, your philosophy and your ways of securing the kind of education you want for your child. I couldn’t find a school that didn’t believe in tests, homework, hierarchical ranking of students, or the idea of learning through competition, rather than in relation to their personal best. All of children’s educational experience from Reception is geared toward that master-test, the SEA, itself a grand, nation-wide, hierarchical and competitive ranking and, eventual, class stratification.

And while we think that discipline, structure, examinations, conformity and competition are the core principles of learning, I’d prefer to see care, cooperation, creativity, acceptance of eccentricity, and fearlessness for nonconformist experimentation emphasized, as these are historically the bases for art, activism, science, philosophy, invention and ecological conservation

So, I know I will have to learn how to negotiate my own values of alternative education with those of Zi’s teachers in a way that puts first her ability to feel at home and forge an enabling relationship with her school.  Zi’s already asking if its okay to make mistakes in her school work, just as she’s asking why its important that her hair be so neat, just as she’s already looking amongst her motley belongings for a present to take for her teacher, just as she asked me to let Miss know that she’s scared of the big children because they are too rough, just as she wants to know why no one else besides me thinks God shouldn’t always be referred to as ‘Father’, for that’s a hidden curriculum in every assembly, just as she will learn to identify who writes, reads or adds well, hopefully realizing children should help rather than judge others with weaknesses where they have strengths. So, listening, I’m aware of this new experience as a complex one for her, and the reflection it requires of me.

As always, there is labour and logistics. There is love and letting go. There is taking the best of what is offered while protectively nurturing a sense of the right and capacity to challenge the status quo in the best ways, based on what most creates confidence and independence, as well as instincts for justice.

There was pride and nostalgia shining like morning dew in mom’s eyes this week as we watched our children step away and into a new experience. Zi entered a school and class I was in, at her exactly her age, thirty-seven years ago.

Life long learning as a woman and mother over that time have brought me this far. As my sapodilla grows with each school lesson, her challenges will also challenge me to best support her learning, as well as her individuality and empowerment, in a holistic, harmonious, healthy and honest way. In this educational experience for us both, I guide, but she’s leading the way.

Post 192.

Watching from backstage. Photo by Maria Nunes.

Watching from backstage. Photo by Maria Nunes.

Rustling with energy backstage, dozens of children waited in darkness and silence, as senior dancers with Lilliput Theatre Company performed lines from Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Laureate acceptance speech. A few girls in front of me mouthed lines as they listened and fidgeted, impatient for their cue.

Malala’s words were starkly humbling. My chest quietly swelled with feeling, over the three nights of this weekend’s performance, every time I heard the young performers quoting her say: “I had two options. One was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up.”

What a lesson for us adults.

When Malala visited Trinidad, I had explained her story to Ziya. I was explicit that Malala had been shot in the head, and that there were men who did not want girls to be educated. “Why?” Zi kept asking, as four-year-olds do, when adults struggle to explain complex situations.

Lilliput’s show now led Zi to seize upon Mighty Gabby’s song, Government Boots, which played just before Zi went on stage. “What are government boots? Who is Tommy?” she started asking, taken with the catchy refrain of “left, right, left, right.”

I explained that the song was telling Barbados’ PM Tom Adams there should not be so many soldiers. “Why?” she asked.

The sound of soldiers’ boots frightens many people. Soldiers hurt people with guns, and some children are forced to be soldiers after being taken away from their families.

Again: “But why?”

Imagine the show, in which Zi played a child bride, making her start these conversations, real ones about girls being forced to marry men they don’t know and boys being forced to hurt people, instead of them all being safe with their families and in schools.

Imagine me wrestling with how and how much to tell her the truth, wondering what constitutes ‘age appropriate’ knowledge when it’s about the realities of children her own age.

Imagine her at night, with her mind effervescing, as all children’s do just as you want them to close their eyes and sleep, with questions about Malala and government boots.

“Do the children see their families again?” she asked. Imagine all this because I only wanted her to grow less shy and more confident, and make friends, by taking a dance class.

But it seems the world doesn’t allow girls to grow up innocent so.

I admired that Noble Douglas and her company compelled parents, past students and more to invest in one way or another in giving our children a chance to dress up and dance to the chorus, “No, no, no.” And there’s one line Zi now remembers from Malala’s speech: “Let this be the last time.”

For me, seeing the whole process, from weeks of Saturday morning classes to rehearsal chaos and finally to a huge cast of exuberant children on stage, also humbling was the show’s determined mix of community parenting, feminism, global politics, children’s rights, Caribbean culture and joyous creativity.

There was a small ‘army’ of mostly women, helping with children, costumes or make up, making me appreciate how much labour matters beyond what is waged and counts toward GDP, making me recognise the sacrifices of women who never saw the show because there wasn’t anyone who equally shared their childcare responsibility, making me want to ask: “But why?” like Zi.

Unbelievably, after all this, all Zi told her school friends about the show was that she had on makeup. I had to laugh. Seems Lilliput also scored in Zi’s world of actual priorities of four-year-old girls.

Me with other mummies, happy and proud that the babies' class got their routine right on the second night after the super cute but chaotic opening performance. Photo by Maria Nunes

Me with other mummies, happy and proud that the babies’ class got their routine right on the second night after their super cute but chaotic opening performance. Photo by Maria Nunes.

Post 157.

It was hard not to spend this week thinking about children. Children in Gaza, in South Sudan, in Brazil, and in Trinidad and Tobago. Children being killed by bombs. Children facing mass starvation. Children living in a state that can find money for football while they barely survive on the street. Children being abused in shelters and in their own homes.

In one way or another, all us adults are collectively responsible for all children. Our responsibility isn’t about charity, though that has its contribution to make. Our responsibility is about ending violence of every kind, relentlessly pursuing disarmament on every front, infusing a commitment to child rights into every culture, and refusing to let children be unprotected against our own mercilessness, whether from cruelty or neglect, from corruption-caused poverty or avoidable war. Who will hold adults like us responsible, and empower us to do better, if not also us?

Here at home, another taskforce presented a vision for a way ahead for children, and we can almost predict being disappointed by its implementation, because of delays regarding personnel, resources, legislation and political will, even as well meaning public servants press on with commitment and passion. Malala Yousafzai came and, because she was a girl child, was silenced from presenting a crucial message to all adults in her midst, including and especially Muslim men, whose leaders somehow missed the entire point of her global struggle against patriarchal definition of girls’ rights. Another video circulated of a child being beaten, this time with a shovel, and we already know there are no social services that can provide true rescue.

If I’m like other parents, there’s that moment of unmatchable peace at those times when I’m falling asleep knowing that Ziya is safe and near to me. I think of her absolute trust in us when she is scared, her reliance on us to provide for her needs, and her unquestioning expectation that she is loved, and can feel at home and be herself. That should be the reality for every child, but also I lie awake at night just thankful that she’s been able to experience what seems like a privilege for precious few, feeling like getting it right for her is as much as I can do.

It was hard not to spend this week thinking about children, knowing that our global failure is not good enough. Marches can bring people together and show that an issue merits public concern, but marches won’t help children in Pakistan, Jamaica, Uganda or here. NGOs can take responsibility where the state and families fail, but we can’t leave often women-run, volunteer- dependent NGOs to fix our society. We can always blame deficient state services, but the problem remains the world that each of us adults allows to continue as is. All us adults are collectively responsible in one way or another for all children because every single one of them is vulnerable in a way each of us is not, because the civility of a society is marked by the quality of life of its most vulnerable, because their vulnerability is a result of our domination.

We can’t entirely prevent what is happening to children in India, China, the US or Europe, but almost a million adults don’t need an extra cent to transform the terms of childhood in Trinidad and Tobago. We adults need to grow up. Commitment by us all is necessary, and possible. Right now, it is heartbreakingly clear, from Gaza to South Sudan, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, children everywhere desperately need our far greater, non-negotiable commitment to care.

Post 146.

Last week, the Single Father’s Association of T and T (SFATT) stated that physical punishment should remain a legitimate way to discipline children in homes and schools. SFATT was attempting to ally with a mother who uploaded her physical and verbal abuse of her daughter, in an effort to discipline and protect through public humiliation and violence.

It’s important to avoid individual woman blame, and instead turn attention to inadequate coping strategies in families, inadequate provision of social services and inadequate understandings of how adolescence, sexuality, status and vulnerability are being reshaped by the internet, media and popular culture. It’s also necessary to protect children from violence of all kinds.

To take any other public position ignores that the nation is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It disregards decades of advocacy against corporal punishment by Caribbean women, rather than learning from and visibly allying with this politics and history. It undermines other men’s collective efforts to create greater peace in relationships, schools and communities.

I’m thrilled that men have been slowly joining women in trying to transform sexism, homophobia and violence. The Caribbean suffered almost three decades of setback by the myth of male marginalization, that fiction that gender equality meant too much woman power, and that men are the victims whose rights now deserve our greatest attention. Pervasive though baseless, this backlash framed how many men expressed their anxieties in a world requiring new kinds of bravery, rather than bravado. Disappointingly, such response to feminist challenges to power distanced men from much needed collaboration with women and children’s rights struggles.

On Sunday, sitting in the audience at the Bocas Lit Festival and Two Cents Movement’s Verses Poetry Slam, I thought that maybe we were finally past that myth. Brilliant performances by young men called for more nurturing, less homophobic, more responsible and less violent manhood. These young men were not invested in returning to an assured authority they never knew and were not experiencing women’s equality as anything other than everyday. Why should they? They grew up more freed from sexism and homophobia than any other generation of our boys and men, ever. Just maybe, older men’s resistances to changing gender relations don’t as easily resonate. In fact, those performers were critical of the men of past generations, who they were calling on their peers to do better than, to be more politically progressive than and to be less violent than. SFATT could take a cue from such a critical, generational view.

Men are now organizing themselves, often with financial, organizational and intellectual support from women, to not only address men’s needs but also advance women’s rights. I welcome them. I especially welcome young men, who may avoid instead of inherit the anger and loss of their uncles, fathers and grandfathers, and their  fears and stereotypes of feminism.

We need men on the front line with us, but in public and state committee debates on familial violence we need them to be clear. Representatives of contemporary men’s groups should connect to the global child rights’ movement, understand why whipping is a long-debunked learning and parenting strategy, and caucus with the women’s movement before going on air.

Violence and domination are approaches that entirely fail to teach respect, love, discipline, rights, good judgment and emotional safety to those in our care. I deeply hope that young men speaking out about new expressions of masculinity, children’s needs of their family and the dysfunction of violence in our communities can give us the full solidarities and new scripts that our airwaves most need to share.