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."




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November 2009
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