Until about three weeks back, the tomato plants in my yard were all green. They had grown to a size that I was expecting them to flower. But the flowers weren’t blooming. Every morning and afternoon and evening I would go inspecting in the hope of spotting tiny yellow flowers. But, only beautiful green leaves greeted me. And then, one fine day I spot a few flowers. A few days later some more. Within 10 days, most of my plants were wearing their flowery yellow embellishments. Oh, how it suited them! I couldn’t stop admiring and telling them how gorgeous they looked. My yard looked like a cosmos of stars, only they twinkled in bright daylight. (My home is a cosmos too. My children the stars – the tomatoes – waiting to ripen to their bright red, ripe, juicy glory – given the nurturing environment, the time and space and the creative freedom.)
Okay, so the flowers were blooming left, right center. I wasn’t thinking about tomatoes yet. I was just so positive that the tomatoes will show up when they know it’s time. But, my house-help would not refrain from a worrisome comment every once a while. “Where are the tomatoes?” If there are so many flowers, there have to be some tomatoes by now. I don’t think your plants are growing well.”
I would brush aside her negative remarks and tell her my tomato plants are alright. I just need to wait and do my bit. I need to make sure the plants are getting all the nutrients so they develop a strong root system; they’re not being eyed upon by pests. And, if there are any pests, I can use some organic remedies (home-made pesticides) – turmeric solution, citronella oil in water, neem oil, panchgavya. My plants don’t need any harmful chemicals.
And, I continued to nurture them with organic compost, build support around them for sturdy growth. Avie and I would drool over the invigorating fragrance of the tomato leaves; we would dream about what tomato dishes to make – pasta, chutney, pickles, jams. I would talk to my tomato plants. I would do visual meditation wherein I visualized my tomato plants loaded with sumptuous, red, juicy tomatoes.
And, I would squat on the ground sometimes to see if a tomato has sprung up. I would tell myself, it’s alright – they’ll show up. I had trust in my love for them. I wasn’t going to doubt and short change the care and nurturing I’ve showered on them. And yet, when the leaves started curling, I noticed myself lose sleep worrying about that notorious infection that can leave the tomato plants all curled up and stunted. I started reading frantically to find out what I could do. So, there goes more love and more care and more panchgavya (the nutritious plant health promoter made with five elements from the cow – cow urine, cow dung, cow milk, cow curd, cow ghee).
And then, as if magically out of nowhere – I spot five tomatoes on a single plant. Five tomatoes, overnight? Or, was I not present enough to see this magic unfold?
Where was I all these days?
Well, I was right there. Wasn’t I? It was the result of my love, my nurturing, creating the right space and environment. The fruits was only a matter of time.
And then, slowly and surely, all my tomato plants were weighing heavy – with plump tomatoes sitting on every branch!
Aren’t my children much like my tomato plants.
I nurture them with love and care and time and curiosity. I have conversations with them to understand them, so they understand me. I dream for them, I dream with them. Sometimes (actually, more often than that!), I start expecting of them – like I did with my tomato plants. I expect for them to flower and when they don’t, I relook at the home environment that I’m creating for them, the soil that I’ve laid for them. The soil or the environment being the relationship I share with them, the relationship I share with my husband, the time we spend together -at home and outside, the things we explore together.
I review our home environment like I do for my tomato plants. Just like deficiency (calcium, potassium, micro organisms, humus) in the soil should not go unnoticed, deficiency in the home soil can be hugely detrimental to the health of my kids. Deficiency of love, of free time, free play, freedom to voice their opinion, freedom to vent the negative emotions….
I can’t overcrowd my tomato plants by growing them too close. Air circulation will be compromised and they’ll suffer. Likewise, I can’t pack my child’s day with too many things – activities, structured classes, subject studies. More the free time, better the learning. Free time will give her the mind space and creative space to explore and imagine and be the person that she wants to be.
I Myself Could be a Pest Sometimes…
And yet, inspite of all my well-meaning intentions and thoughts and self-talk, I often times end up expecting that given such a rich environment, Pari should be a prolific learner. In my heart of heart, I watch myself – how I’m expecting of her – to be curious and active and creative. ” I’m exposing her to such interesting things –
“Pari, let’s check out these maps to spot where the Nepal earthquake occurred.”
“Hey, let’s read this article together – about the Salt Pans of Goa. You know how only yesterday I was talking about how we get this natural salt!”
“What amazing pattern this leaf has created, Pari. You want to see it under the lens.”
She echoes her excitement with me and then moves on. I ask her if we should spend some time exploring more. But, she’s not inclined.
“Not now, Mamma.” “I’m not interested in this, right now.” “That’s okay, Paro. We’ll take this up when you want.” At other times –
“..but Mamma, you know ancient India and all that – I find it boring.” “Oh, but am not going to read it out to you from a boring book, you see. That way it’s boring for me too. I’ve found this book – ‘Land of Seven Rivers’, which narrates how India’s history was affected by the change in the shape and size of her land and rivers and mountains.” “We’ll read a few pages to begin with. If you don’t like, we’ll quit the book. See, we don’t have to finish a book you know. We can quit even after a single page…”
So, I am giving her choices. I’m letting her think and weigh and decide and navigate. But, I’m also nurturing expectations within myself. Those expectations of what I want her to learn. As a learner, the route that she takes is different from the path I show her. She could spend days and weeks and months wanting to tinker with art and craft. Or, read books. Dozens and hundreds of books – children’s fiction mostly. Or, write blog posts: in-depth blog posts that shed a different light altogether on the kind of patience and focus children CAN have.
Aren’t these clear signs of how a passionate learner learns, I tell myself. To follow a passion you need time. You need to be in the flow. Art, reading, writing. She’s found her calling. As of now. Or, may be for the long-term. Possibly, for a life-time. Or, may be she’ll outgrow it. But, in any case, she’s learning what SHE has to.
But, then, I get restless. She’s not showing interest in anything else. There’s so much to stir your curiosity. The natural world, the history of the place you live in (such an interesting place – Goa!), the science behind things. To be fair to myself, these expectations don’t surge often and they don’t surge like a tempest in the ocean. But, they do come up like those high tides at the turn of the moon.
This lunar tide does pass over and I tell myself to let go and release my children – from the gravitational clasp of my expectations and parental fears and concerns. My children are born to be themselves. I’m only a facilitator to help them realize their calling. Yes, that’s what I am. That’s why they chose ME – not to fulfill MY mission and my curiosity, but to realize their own mission on this earth. I can’t allow my expectations to cast a shadow on their dreams and goals. All I can do is stay tuned to my curious self, keep the active learner within myself alive and kicking. Stay happy. A happy, content mother is the best gift for the children to bloom.
So, a little introspection and self talk and brooding – every once a while – helps me stay focused on unschooling. It helps me and it helps my children. It helps my tomato plants too. Each of us have our own inner curriculum. If we’re tuned to that, and in case of children – if the parents and educators give that freedom to the young souls – to stay tuned to their inner curriculum – we all will blossom to our full red, ripe, plump tomato glory – without the aid of insecticides, pesticides, herbicides (read training, tests and temptations/rewards).
As I write this the count of tomatoes on my tomato plants is growing each day. I’ve stopped counting. And, my kiddos – well, the other day Avie had taken Sufiana to the park and when they got home, he told me Sufi climbed up that tall slide all by herself. What? My jaws dropped! I couldn’t have imagined my baby going up that sleep incline – seven feet high – without help. But she did. I saw it with my wonder-struck eyes the next day at the park.
Where was I when she learned something like this? Was I not present enough? Nope. I was actually present – good enough. I am present right there – so she can play safely in the yard – in water, in the soil, in rain. I leave her free but within reachable distance so I can alert her about the bees buzzing around, about not taking the sharp turn to the front yard, or when she was about to choke drinking water directly from the tap. Her tiny feet got used to balancing and navigating in mud and water and uneven ground of the yard.
So, with all that free play without fear and building fine motor and gross motor skills, the crawl up the seven feet high slide was just a matter of time. She took to it so naturally and with such ease, I was surprised beyond words!
As for Pari – last week when she wrote that 1000+ words blog post with painstaking details describing every art and craft tool in her art studio, I gasped, and told myself, “ease up, let go and write your own blog post, mommy! It’s been more than a month now. Ha!”
Childhood Won’t Wait
The maps will be explored, the ancient India history will be understood, the natural history phenomena will be examined. There’s a time for everything. But, the childhood that she’s enjoying right now – it has to happen right now and right here. There’s no tomorrow. Childhood won’t wait. These moments filled with free play, nurturing sleep, creative freedom, abundance of time (to gaze, wonder, eat slowly, bathe lazily) and a bounty of love – will last a lifetime.