Of self-respect and other things

R was called a loser by his best friend today. I was standing right there. I instinctively told the friend (nicely) that it wasn't a nice thing to say. The friend looked embarrassed and mumbled something. I let it go. It kept playing at the back of my mind, though. My son showed no signs of having felt bad but when I later spoke to him about the incident, he confessed that he did not like it. Why did he not, then, take offense? I asked. He simply shrugged.

How do I even begin teaching an eight-year-old about self-respect? I wondered. In many ways, I realized, he is like me when I was his age. Or perhaps, many kids this age are like this-holding friends in high esteem, eager to please and anxious to enter their good books. Even at the cost of getting hurt, literally and otherwise. He might eventually learn, without my intervention, that this is not the best thing to do and that his self-respect should always come first.

"Stand up for yourself," I sermonized to the boy who was now looking keenly at me. In my mind, several voices spoke out. "Am I over-reacting? They are after all just a bunch of 8 and 9-year-olds," said one voice. "Whether you're eight or eighty, you cannot have anybody trampling your dignity and self-respect," spoke another, aghast at the first. Call it a mother's heart, I felt a need to sensitize R towards his feelings. I realized the key to it came from within you. For, even before you learned to take a dignified stand or fight back as the situation demanded, you needed to identify the red flag situations.

I softened my words to convey that no matter how important the friend may be in his life, he/she had no right to say mean things or make him feel small and inadequate. When that happens, it's a clear indication to put his foot down even if that meant letting go of a friendship. I resisted the urge to add that not just in friendships, you should always find the courage to walk away from people and situations who do not value you. But, some lessons would have to wait. Others could be taught only by life.

R did not look too convinced. Perhaps, the last bit of having to forgo a cherished friendship bothered him or maybe the whole conversation didn't make too much sense, as yet. I had to contend with letting it go at this stage. I'd have to, in all likelihood, revisit this lesson many times in future. Some kids are equipped with sensors to effectively deal with threatening situations. Others, like mine, need extra fittings because they are too eager to please.

I've been, of late, a witness to many a disturbing trend amongst kids. Conversations are always about being one up on the other. Sample this:

"Know what? I'm reading 'A' book." says one with obvious pride in his voice.

"Oh, what's the big deal? I already finished that one last grade! The boy in the end...." replies the friend squeezing all the emotions out of the first and also spoiling the book without remorse.

"So, do you know what happens to this character in this movie?" asks another gloating over the fact that he had watched a movie that wasn't exactly meant for kids.

"Ya, of course, it's...." says the second not wanting to be left behind.

"Dude, you know nothing. It's nothing like that. I don't think you even watched it!" the boy smirks and laughs aloud.

Tender feelings are unceremoniously hurt by one, the victim then generously passes on the baton to another. For, that's how they all learn it. Meanness is more contagious than goodness. Kids being mean and forming cliques is age-old. But, this is something else. Even a silly tete-a-tete about the activities at school results in mindless debates about who has it better.

I can't even begin to wrap my head around the general obnoxious bragging about brands and gadgets. Who's teaching them the difference between a Mac and a Windows 10? How do they know about owning an iPhone is considered high amongst other status symbols? We do not discuss gadgets at home or own anything fancy other than a mid-end smartphone. I suspect (although I reckon that the peer education system is far more effective and up-to-date) R has no clue about a Mac or the latest high-end smartphone in the market.

I sometimes feel like the world has leaped two generations ahead when I was not looking.

The cosmos and I

It's a usual day in the household. I wake up after hitting the snooze button a couple of times. The inky blue sky outside is about to burst into a bright shade of daylight. I know it's only a matter of a few minutes. Is the darkness aware, I wonder, of the simmering ball of fire underneath the surface that's about to erase its identity? The rays either sneak its way, without a fuss like a blushing bride, casting a warm glow all over or scream for attention like a melodramatic model, throwing generous doses of orange and pink kisses to the night that gracefully recedes into oblivion. Does the night ever resent the day for its ability to make heads turn its way each morning?

On some days, my mind is free from the mundane clutter and I receive the bounty of nature with a smile, my hands cupped in gratitude. Most other days, I ignore the drama in the sky.  A teasing interplay of the cosmos, filled with life lessons for those who care to seek. It would never matter to the day or the night whether I partake in their intimate discussions. I could choose to be a part of their clique, but if I did not, I certainly wouldn't be missed.

As I set the milk to boil on one stove and watch the veggies sizzle on the other, I take a deep breath, a reminder to myself. I could afford, today, to sip my coffee in the quiet darkness, letting the caffeine work its way slowly into wiping off the traces of sleep-induced lethargy. I savour these brief moments of languidness before I get consumed by the regular drill of routine life.

I play the roles of a mother, wife, homemaker. These are impressed finitely upon my person like the thick primary lines on my palm. The other fine lines criss-cross and intercept the primary ones but taper off abruptly; an eerie reflection of my life. For, every so often I seek out the person who might be someone other than these titles. Not out of any feeling of inadequacy but perhaps a curiosity to find out if there was a person ever waiting to be discovered. I fancy calling myself a person of importance - a freelancer, a blogger, a writer- at various points but they remain transient. They tempt me with a sense of purpose but I find myself retreating to the familiar and comforting territories of my primary roles each time these turn into shackles.

It is then, I realize, the feeling of importance that appeals to me. The ego bloats up in the know that my contribution makes a difference to someone out there and I add value. The fallacy of it all dawns sooner or later and I realize that I'm just a speck in the sea of humanity. I could be flicked away and just like my place in the cosmos, the world will only carry on in my absence, cleaner and lighter.