Somanjana’s Note: It was in the crazy busy Training & Placement office of KIIT University, Bhubaneswar I met Prof. Beena Menon for the first time, about 4-5 years back. We were just standing there, talking about this and that in the middle of all the chaos; Students running by, people making calls, some hitting the computer keypads with zesty vigour. Since then she’s been with me through time and space, ups and downs and in many a hearty conversations. Beside her eclectic professional achievements, her personal gait- that of a nurturer, preserver and feminine embodiment inspires me to live wholesome womanhood in holistic ways.
It’s a haze…. A nebulous haze… from the clouds of memory, myriad sensations surface – a lifetime of feeling; fulfilment, a sense of ‘completeness’, inner peace, and joy; a lifetime of everything – and more – thinking, judgement, decisions, doing, straining, pain, pleasure, pride, responsibility, revelations, despair, disappointments, elation and relief, trials, triumphs, discoveries…the unfolding of life itself – equally – as destiny decreed and as we chose…
We’re faced with life at point blank range – Nobody prepares us for anything that happens to us; we all learn on the job by living life at point-blank range…there are no manuals, no self-help guides or DIY kits; there are no accurate universal predictions or standard solutions.
We must blunder and bungle our way, forever comparing notes, wondering, wondering continually, incessantly and hoping that we are doing the best there is to do, being the best model to emulate; being there as an everlasting strong support, the miracle maker, who will make everything right whatever the conditions – the one to hold out the arms for your child to run into from the bewildering world, the one haven of refuge and the beacon of light, the guiding force, the permanent presence… we take on a lot when we pledge our life to this little mite who makes life worthwhile by simply arriving!
Through a haze of pain tearing my body and exploding inside my brain driving me nearly senseless… I felt the little life I’d created with every atom of my being, my love, my dreams and hopes leave my body… and nearly passed out with relief mingled with joy and exhaustion – everything was okay…it was a baby girl!
… after months of anxious anticipation as the mysterious little being inside of me whom I could neither see nor touch grew within me, drawing nourishment and life from me, a part of me – forever…after months of wondering how it would be…
It’s this little precious creation that made me whole, validated me and gave me a place in the carriage marked “Mother” forever…
As an expectant mother one listens with avid interest to tales of other mothers, making mental notes and sorting “will it be the same for me?” from “will it not?” but the moment my perfect little girl opened her eyes to the world, it became my own special experience of becoming ‘mother’ that came to the fore.
My baby would seek me out from a crowd, hold out her chubby fair arms for me, smile and be contented when she was with me and generally want me all the time… For the first time in my life, I felt ‘most wanted’ and important, rather, being most wanted’ by the ‘most wanted, most important little person’ in our little family!
For the first time in my life, I felt like a queen!
My heart would rent painfully when I saw tears in her eyes,; I never wanted her to cry…
For sure…I too like all mothers, had a lot of hopes dreams and aspirations and wanted to bring my girl up to be unique and special. But mostly, I wanted to become that unique and special presence in her life – the one she would like to emulate as she grew up.
My two other children followed, a few years later, and I consider each of them “unique”. I am the mother of 3 ‘only children’ because they’re similar yet different in the most interesting ways. The ‘sameness’ and the ‘differences’ are so intriguing that I find myself seeking each one’s opinion and marvelling at the variations of each articulate expression. The one common thing, though, is that they’re all united in their deep love for me. I feel so honoured! These are the 3 most precious pieces of my heart and I’m a different and unique mother to each of them. They represent 3 different periods of my life and reflect them in their individual natures and personalities; so I have to vary myself to accommodate them and their “different-ness” for they’re 3 parts of “me”…
The way I see it is, at the end of the day, parenting is nothing but a revision of the data (remodelling/transforming/improving and improvising/changing/discarding) already programmed within us – of ‘being children’ and watching our parents in action; it is our experience of parenting from the ‘other side’ and as intimate and close to the model of parenting as we can ever get.
From this model, we’ve already been programmed ‘how to be’ and also ‘how not to be’ …In the last 25 years of being “mother” and looking back, I’ve used a few of things which I think worked in my parents’ policies, have changed a few others to suit the changing times and entirely scrapped a few others per discretion, because they didn’t fit into my personal ideas of being ‘mother’:
- I have taught my children that even if they’re the very pivot around which my life revolves, to others they’re ordinary and unimportant. It is okay to be that! They should not expect special/exclusive treatment from the whole world, because they’re my/our children but rather deserve to be treated well as themselves.
- I believe that I do not own my children; that they are wandering souls that chose to be born through me. As such I respect their individuality and support them as unique persons. I insist on not pinning on them any unrealistic personal expectations.
- I have pledged to exert and to make available to them myriad choices of possible worlds and experiences, and promised to support their choices in any case.
- My children are the most important thing in my life; in fact they’re the purpose of my life – when they no longer need me, I’d choose to stop existing, but that does not give them the right to ride rough-shod over me – I insist on a code of respect – none of that “Mom, don’t be stupid/silly” business at all! In fact if they’ve ever been disrespectful I’ve made my rejection absolutely clear through my words and my silences. They are trained to hold their tongues even at the height of anger and never to cross that sacred line between parent and child.
- I believe in the importance of whacking/spanking and mild physical punishment in the early years of the child’s life rather than later. Agreed that one feels very cruel, punishing the most beloved and cutest little piece of one’s heart. In the early years, children cannot understand anything much but physical discomfort, and I believe in teaching/training through this if things get to that stage through the child’s wilful behaviour. In later years, however I’ve taught them to respond to reason. We discuss everything and come to a consensus.
- This does not mean that I use my child to vent my anger/angst on, nor that that’s the first of all options, (in fact it’s the last one) but more as therapy through which to instruct him to conform and become increasingly suitable for life as a responsible, socially acceptable human.
- I am bringing my children up to become responsible citizens of this world – first – and that they should inculcate and reflect values of good persons –
1. Be compassionate and kind to others above every other consideration
2. Be generous and selfless/offer to serve and ease pain/effort of others. Be
3. Be honest, even if makes them look bad and they find themselves alone.
4. Try their best (which may not necessarily be the ‘best in class’ but must still
be their best and most honest effort not necessarily ‘play to win’ but try
their damnedest hard to get there; this last, not because I’ll glow as the
proud mother in reflected pride and get to show off on basis of their
success, but so that they themselves revel in their personal sense of self-
5. Be neat at all times, clean and tidy up after themselves, help me to clean the
house and clear out things regularly; not to litter or clutter.
6. To be helpful and give the ‘underdog’ of their class at school a helping
hand and encouragement. To see in other people good human beings, and
not insist on association only with others who do as well as themselves, but
to make friends with others who need a boost in self-esteem too.
- Whenever my child came to me with a complaint about a teacher/another kid,
- or a story where s/he presented her/him self as innocent and the other party as ‘the bad one’, I always took care to glean all the details patiently and then, if my child was wrong, gently told her/him how and also how to go about rectifying the wrong and being fair. And especially when it concerned an elder, I encouraged the child to apologise and accept humility.
- I feel, what’s the most important thing is that I’ve always insisted that the child take responsibility for her/him self and her/his actions. Their performance at school, for instance, should not be pinned on an absent parent.
- To accept onus and never to blame others for failure.
- To ensure all this, I’ve had to resist some things as an “individual”; compromise them for the role of mother. I did not indulge in drinking and undignified behaviour for I knew my children were watching and judging. I took care of our home, made sure to cook the food myself, and looked after my personal appearance, so that they would never feel embarrassed or ashamed of me. Above all, I spent a lot of time with them, talking to them, sorting issues of the day, helping them to make sense of the life around them.
Both my daughters (aged 25 and 21) are living independently in Bangkok. The eldest, Devaki, has a job with a high-profile Australian company. The younger, Rukmini is studying her BBA course in Hospitality Admin. She works hard not to lose the first rank in her course.
My son (aged 15) is at home in India with my husband. He has recently been chosen “Prefect” of his “house” at school. He is also a champion debater and a fairly good chess player.
All my children are doing very well academically and at extra-curricular and co-curricular activities; and not because I’ve ever insisted on it.
To me what’s most important is that my kids are simple, fun-loving (we laugh a lot in our family), clean and honest. It’s a pleasure to watch them together. They’re close and united; they have each other and will always be there for each other. I don’t have to worry. This is what I have achieved as “Mother”. (I can die in peace…:)
I love it when I go to my daughters’ condos. They’re scrupulously clean… I feel fulfilled when I see that each in her/his place is doing what they must do….
And all I’d ever wanted was for them to be happy!
Author Bio: Dr. Beena Menon currently teaches English in Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, Thailand.
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