” It takes a village to raise a child”
I spent the first 8-10 months of parenting solo really, desperately trying to wing it alone. But over the last few months, I’ve opened up.
I realized that I was the only adult he was getting inputs from – well, other than his teachers in school. The only real live interactions he saw, were through me. And that’s a very limited viewpoint. Plus, the way we live, is in no way ‘normal’. From food, habits, thoughts, ways of behaving. Eg. we’re asleep by 8pm most days; I make rotis/parathas once a week; other days it’s pasta, rice, salad, sanwhiches and other combos of single dish meals etc… all a very stark contrast to other Indian households here.
Over the last few months I opened, I’ve worked consciously to creating more exposure, to be around other grown ups, people.
My parents and brother have become his go-to folks. He picks up the phone and calls them for all things big and small. Like when he stubbed his toe cycling and I assured him it’s not a fracture, just put ice on it.. and he was disappointed (he wanted a plaster) .. he dialled my Mom, who said the same thing. Then he called my father .. who walked him through a QnA and then ‘diagnosed’ it as a stubbed toe needing just ice. No plaster… When we went to select tiles for the new flat, and I was confused.. he told me I should get some advice from my Dad and my bro. “Unko maloom hoga” ie “They’ll know”. All very matter of factly.He ‘knows’ he has family he can reach out to any time – even if they don’t live in the same city. And that’s amazingly reassuring.
Here… I now have 3 awesome friends who mother him like crazy; and support my parenting. It helps that all 3 of them are as enthusiastic about plants and gardens as we are, so he has these lovely looong conversations with them. He also gets to see their parenting styles, how they interact with their kids; and ways that I’m similar and different. Helps a lot when we have a stand-off him vs me.
I’ve taken to FB with some madness. I now post cute photos of him, his achievements, our outings by the dozen. Before this, my FM timeline was mostly forwards and quotes. Now it actually has personal updates. My way of capturing and sharing his special moments. Because I no longer have “the – other – half” ..to share them with in real life. I want to remember these growing up years. I want someone other than me to remember his growing up years. Perhaps from my own insecurities. I’ve moved around so much… cities, countries.. that I’ve rarely had friends close by to share those “remember when we …” moments. And growing up I always felt that vacuum.. that there’s no one around who “knows” me, or shares the same memories. Every few years, I start from scratch, all over again. Perhaps that’s why I love FB so much.. It preserves my memories, let’s me share them with others, and stay in touch with those I moved away from long ago.
The lil fella has also taken to FB. Each time I post a photo of him, or our trips, the little dude checks in to read all comments (yep, he can now read paragraphs easily! I’m so missing the days when he could just read a word or two) and asks me who all these people are, how I know them, where I met them, and why they’re interested in him. I love the last parent. It means he’s aware and questioning why people interact with him the way they do.
I’m dreading the day he gets his own mail / FB account. I’m hoping I still have a few years to prepare for that.
I’ve also taken to showing him random movies.. other cultures, other ways of thinking, some interesting, some not. Beyond the staple kids cartoons. And also some shows with single parent households. It’s interesting to watch his reaction as he opens up and sees ways of living, of doing, of thinking that are so different from ours.
When we go out, I treat him like an adult. He gets to choose what he wants from the menu. He has to read the menu though. Each week he gets his Rs 10 (yep, measly I know.. but for him it’s a treasure) and go to the grocery store nearby and talk to that “bhaiya” (ie owner) to ask what he can get for Rs 10, and then choose and pick. I’ve been shopping there since the store opened. So he kinda ‘knows’ us. So the shop owner humors him, talks to him, tells him the options, and makes him feel all special.
And then there are the one off’s. Like yesterday’s trek. There was a team of 5 instructors for the group (~15 kids, ~15 adults). They queued the kids up ahead – parents all queued up behind. My lil fella stuck to the head of the queue, and as the instructors took turns guiding the kids, showing them how to climb, keeping them on course; this lil fella held his own with the instructors, engaging them in conversation, asking a million questions – and they humored him, answered him, made ‘real’ conversation with him.
In our everydays, many other people step up to help us. Most of them don’t know we’re a single parent family. But when they see me treating the kiddo as a ‘person’ and not-just-a-kid, explaining stuff, asking his opinion, letting him make decisions; they’re often surprised; but they play along. They also treat him similarly. They give him their attention, their patience; they help him. And he learns a little more about the world, and grows a little more confident navigating it.
After the first few tumultuous months of adjusting to this new family scenario..His world is no longer just him and me. It’s a large network of people, in our real lives, in our virtual lives. People that he’s slowly building connections with.
While I try to walk the fine line between letting him reach out and explore, interact with other people, and keeping him safe…