I was unaware of the controversy surrounding the title of Hillary' Clinton's book, "It takes a Village to Raise a Child."  It's a great title, a great proverb, wherever it comes from, but I keep running into situations that make me feel, "It Takes a Mother…"  I'm the mother.  Without me it all falls apart, and that's because generally no one ever cares about kids as much as mothers do. The mother, whatever the origins of her relationship with the children, is their advocate, the one who sees that their uniforms are clean, that their nails are clipped, that their homework is done, and their moods are attended to, mostly within her cultural framework.  For the most part, the village will not take care of the child unless the mother is part of the village.

If I try to single out what feels most important to the girls, it is the individual attention.  I am most aware of this when they are performing, or playing in the park, or showing me their books and papers.  It's having someone to say to, "Look at me."  It's having someone to whom you don't have to say, "Look at me" because she already is.  Sometimes I feel like I am giving out eye contact and a smile dose by dose, spoonful by spoonful, and I feel wonderful as this goes on.  It's all easy because I love watching them.

It's not by accident that our eyes meet.  They are searching and so am I.  I guess I do a lot with my eyes.  I glare, sometimes in jest, sometimes seriously.  Villages don't wink; institutions don't wink; it takes a mother.

This mother has been teaching in the interim between the English teacher leaving and a new one yet to be hired.  I have a Bengali teacher with me, or our Social Worker, so she can explain things I can't.  It is working well, co-teaching.  There is a careful balance between letting "understanding their problems" interfere in their performance, lowering expectations, and being sensitive to their vulnerability.  Two girls were in tears because they didn't know answers.  With the other teachers they have become disruptive, but today two of them became teary eyed and silent, muted.  It says something about how seriously they want to do well, how much they want to please me.  This was in spite of my telling them this was just to see where they were — a test with no consequences (except pride.)  One of the girls later told a teacher she thought she should stop school because she can't do it.  She is one of the brightest.  And she is back to being her cheerful self this evening.  They are so afraid of failing that sometimes they convince us they aren't trying.

I remember when I was young seeing a movie about penguins and the scene where all the little penguins come running to all the mother penguins and they all seem to find themselves.  I kept thinking, How do they find each other?  They all look the same.  Then I was a mother and went to school to pick up my daughter as all the children poured out of the school and all the mothers and children found each other.  Of course, I knew mine right away.  She looked like all the others, like all the other penguins, but something about her made her instantly recognizable.  It takes a mother to know her penguin(s).  I go to school to pick up my children.  All the little penguins are dressed in red and white uniforms,  But mine are instantly recognizable, and I am instantly recognizable to them.  (That's actually not so difficult as I'm easily recognizable by everyone,)  But for my children here, I carry an otherwise invisible beacon that says "mother."

While I have been writing this evening, the girls finished homework, had dinner and then made a concoction of dal, chilis, lemon juice, salt, chana — and maybe more.  They brought it to me to taste, along with a glass of water because they knew it was hot. They gave me a small spoonful;  I savored it as it became very hot and I reached for the water.  Then I tried a bit more.  I used to eat very hot foods — got out of the habit.  The girls asked why I didn't eat hot foods and I told them I had to get used to it again.  So they gave me a bit more, and watched to see what happened.  I took a bit more.  I told them I'd get myself used to it again.  I will.  Like I said, "It takes a mother."




Birla Industrial and Technological Museum

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We visited the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM) on Friday (16th October).  Some of their exhibits coincided with areas the girls are studying in science.  This museum is one of Kolkata better kept secrets as I only learned of it the day before, and quickly set up the visit.  I made a quick trip there to get an idea where it is, and to submit a letter requesting a price concession as we are an NGO.  I also arranged for our lunch the following day.  We were bringing out handicapped children to so I needed to get an idea of the space and facilities.  Everyone there was incredibly helpful and friendly, which was true the following day when we all visited.

The picture above is from the exhibit of earth layers and minerals.  The girls are studying iron, copper, gold, and other ores.  As a kid I had little boxes with samples — my small rock collection that I loved.  I've been trying to get someone from NY to send a small kit with stone samples.  At the museum there were exhibits of layers of earth, samples of ores, and a map of which metals are found in which areas of India.
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Here are some models of what the metals can be used to build.

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The next major exhibit, not unrelated, was to the mock coal mine.  The girls had been studying mining for metal ores.  We were led down a small set of stairs with low overhang, and into semi-darkness. 

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The girls "got it" about drilling, chopping, and bringing out the coal on carts. 

Ganga took it all in; Bornali enjoyed being carried; Sonali found a light screen to touch, and Rani became terrified by it all.  

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This trip made me re-think when I bring everyone, that is all the children with disabilities.  I've so far functioned in a way, "as if they were normal."  I needed to know that I could.  I needed to establish a policy of non-discrimination.  It's not just about Rani being afraid, but what does she get out of the experience, and what does it take to bring her along — a question applicable to all of them, not just Rani.  I think it involves coming to terms with their limitations, what works or doesn't for them.  And it also means facing the toll on my personal resources in bringing them — how much their care takes me away from being with the older girls, and being there to teach them.  Saying all this in a public place is difficult, but I assume that what I feel is in the realm of what others feel and struggle with all the time if they have children with disabilities.  I needed to prove I could do it with all of them.  Now I have to assess the results.  It's an ongoing process.

Lunch was next.  I'd visited the day before to arrange for lunch for us.  

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This is us WAITING for lunch while the reception desk kept calling to ask why we weren't done.  Some things are the same everywhere.

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 Ganga ate that whole plate of food.  I'm not sure why she was looking so angry, but I'm sure she had a reason.  Or, maybe she was just very hungry.  The reception people gave up on our being there for the next show planned and scheduled us for later.  That gave the girls a chance to unwind in the open area.  Rani remained upset so they walked her and played with her.  After lunch we sent Rani and Sonali back with massis.

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The older girls have never resisted or become reluctant or complained when asked to take care of the younger ones.  Usually it's not even a matter of asking as they want to take care of them, show them things, carry them. play with them.  At prayer time every evening there is competition as to who gets to hold which little on on their laps.  These were two groups of children so much in need of each other: the bigger girls who had lost their siblings, the little ones who will always need care. 

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My kids are thinkers too. They have a lot to think about, and always there are their families whom they lost.  Sometimes I'll ask one what she is thinking about… but instead of what I imagine I'll get back, "Mummy, remember that movie we were watching last night?  The boy in that movie….."  She is thinking about movies, thinking about boys — ever so normal.

The day was wonderful thus far and there was more to come.  We were scheduled for a "Science is Fun Magic Show."  


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For our girls a chance to be on the stage.

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Why won't these rings stay together as they did when he held them?

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Expecting the water to spill out!

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More water tricks, more fun on the stage…

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How did the gray ash get inside her hand if she was holding them tight all the time?  Magic!!!

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Seeing if the water will spill out onto Ganga's head.

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It didn't, but she would not have minded if it had.  The girls learned how some of the tricks had been done, but they were left to figure out several.  The next day we played with magnets and decided he must have used magnets, and we played with magnetic dust, shavings — differentiated what was magnetic and what was not.  Had they ever seen magnets?  I'm sure they had, but they hadn't thought about them, hadn't had the opportunity to learn about them, to understand them in the context of energy and matter.

A final activity was inside an air-filled tent with the night sky projected onto the dome.  It was a mini planetarium, with projections of the constellations — pictures that were easy to understand and a narrator who was happy to stop and answer questions.  What a fantastic place this is — one that should be seen by more people, and one that should be visited by returning adoptees wanting to see and feel what Kolkata is like.  I write about frustrations, and about what is not here, but there is also a value on learning and on education — values that remain but are often corrupted by greed. I love this city, as hard as it is here. 




















November 2009
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