A Trip to the Science Fair at BITM

Shishur Sevay enjoys a wonderful relationship with the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM).  We happened to go there one day, loved it, and have been back several times since.  I don't know how to reference past posts but I posted about it on 7th November 2009. (If someone knows how to link, please let me know)

Our girls wanted to be able to share their experience with their school friends and so we also facilitated a school trip to the museum in November 2010.  


I'm on BITM's mailing list and I often get a phone call if there is an event going on.  It is a low key place, and unfortunately doesn't seem to make the "what to do with kids (or without kids) in Kolkata."  We have also been to a "sit and draw" competition there.

Last week I received an email about the Science and Engineering Fair.  Then I got a postcard; then I got a personal call.  Much of the science is at a higher level than that of our girls but the Science Fair seemed like it could be good.  The girls were enthusiastic. 


We arrived early which was fortunate as later there were long lines of people waiting to get onto the grounds.  This Fair represented the Eastern States of India.  My goals in taking the girls were to have them just SEE what a science fair is, what a PROJECT looks like, what is the job of the PRESENTER, and what were the IDEAS communicated.  I was less interested in the actual science, and whether it would be at their level.  I wanted them to know what this world of science projects and fairs looked like, so they could think about doing such things themselves… It's all about opportunities and dreams, but first you need some concrete information and experience in order to know what is possible.

Ganga is increasingly part of the social and educational life of the older girls.  But the wheelchair, her small one, keeps her too low to see many things, so this time we took her in the backpack.  One of the girls carried her for part, and then I did for the rest.  This way she was always at eye level.


The first exhibit we saw was in the Engineering Fair section and was about climate. 


The exhibit demonstrated the forces that caused Cyclone Alia.  The girls remember Alia because they donated most of their clothes to the victims, carried them out in big bags to a collection truck.  So now they saw Science linked to their experience.  When connections are made, the world becomes smaller and more accessible.


The next exhibit was about rain-water harvesting.  The girls were immediately interested.  We are putting a new room up on the roof, with a tin roof and gutters.  The girls immediately thought of doing water harvesting (a possibility that had been raised by the first architect).  We took pictures of how the pipes were placed. 



This young student told us about what happens when trees are cut down, the effects on wildlife.  Like all the presenters, girls and boys, he was very sincere and serious about his work.  This is also what I wanted to girls to see… smart kids talking about what they have studied and what they have done.


I didn't catch the whole thing, as I was busy trying to take pictures.  I was also fascinated by his very interesting owls.  But he had models of bats who lost their homes, and birls whose nests were destroyed.




The next exhibit was also quite understandable, a hand-made sprayer that cost Rs. 25 ($0.50).  He made it with bamboo, a plastic jug, and parts of pens. 




Here was a very innovative mouse trap!  Here was a confident sounding girl talking about the mouse trap she created.

We saw many other exhibits and then were tired, hot, and ready to go home, but not before a stop at the Canteen.


We left for home, in time for lunch.  The day before I had given the girls the option of a free afternoon when we got home, but they had asked that the regular teachers for Saturday come to work with them on a play rehearsal.  They are working on a play for Republic Day, just for us here, and they are including the four children with disabilities.  

Today Sunday, has been a more relaxed day.  Drawing Sir came in the morning.  Then for the rest of the day they played outside in the garden, watched TV, played Ludo and Carrom.   In the evening we had visitors.  There is an Indian tradition of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, by giving to those less fortunate.    A family that was celebrating the birthday of one of their children asked to come.  The girls prepared a card for the birthday boy.  We love having visitors.  The girls introduce themselves and then I ask visitors to also talk about themselves, the kids talking about school. 

Then after prayers, Dance Sir came.  He has been with us since the beginning. Recently I came across a picture from one of his early classes here.  Initially I had started dance just as a way of teaching the girls about self discipline, and following directions.  They are now in their third year of Bharat Natyam Dance and Rabindra Dance.  They all placed in First Division in Dance and got distinction in Theory and Practical.

This was how they were almost four years ago:


Mother's Lament:  Where did the time go?  They grew too quickly!

Next thing I know, they will be entering projects in a Science Fair!







“If you don’t like your mother, you can always go to the Mall for another one.”

It has to have been more than ten years ago.  The words are still with me, "If you don't like your mother you can always go to the Mall for another one."  My daughter and I still "joke" about it.  I had taken her to a new doctor… don't remember why… and I'd chosen an Indian woman doctor, a "role model" as I tried to maintain diversity in all areas of our lives.  The visit seemed to have gone fine, and then, as we were leaving, almost at the door, she called out to Cici, "If you don't like your mother you can always go to the Mall for another one."

I tried to raise my kids with as few doctors as possible in their lives, breaking all the rules of taking care of your own kids when you are a doctor.  So some of this is just doctor insensitivity.  I have a story also with Heather, that I took her to a doctor friend for a check up, as she was entering puberty.  My friend the doctor said to her, in front of me, "you'd better lose weight or you won't have any friends in school."  As this was my friend I knew her lifelong struggle over weight.  (I wrote to Heather for permission to post this and she reminded me that we had gone out to Dunkin Donuts afterwards.)

Another time I took Cici, about age 7, as she woke up with a neck spasm that wouldn't go away and was causing severe pain.  After a while I carried her out to the pediatrician.  He scolded me for bringing her in for such a mild problem.  Gutsy girl, she asked him why he wasn't trying to help her.  By night she had a fever… and then recovered, no thanks to the doctor.  Of course doctors are always telling other doctors NOT to take care of their own family members.  I really hate scoldings.  I did then and I do now.

This isn't how I'd planned to write this post, seems off topic, but it isn't really, because it's about the influence of medical professionals, and others on our lives, and the lives of our kids.

Raising an adopted child is different because whatever our commitment, love, attachment, others will rarely see it as "equal" to our birth children.  I remember when traveling, and I'm a worry person as I've written before, I wondered, if anything happened abroad, would my adopted daughter be treated as an American abroad?  If she were kidnapped, would the American embassy kick in?  Would her Indian-ness lead to a response of, "not our problem?"  I remember an airplane hostage situation years ago — and I happened to know that an Indian adoptee was one of the hostages, and I wrote to Senator Hatch about her, reminding him she was American.

I am raising children in India for whom adoption was not possible (the un-chosen).  I am raising them in a model of adoption, in terms of my commitment to them.  This is a personal commitment separate from their legal status, and independent of where they are.  This is challenging, to say the least.  I am also clear at all times that I am not their mother, though they call me Mummy, as they all have/had mothers.  I am mother to them now.  Although the girls all come by government order, we do not get funds from the government.  Therefore we are free of many of the government regulations, like having to send them away after age 18.  I assume some will get jobs, some will marry… who knows?  For now, they are being educated so as to improve their options.   I had a social worker who I thought would be helpful with the girls, but when they complained about the studying she told them they could all leave at 18.  Well, legally that's true, but Gibi, Seema, and I quickly met with them and dispensed with that, as they were also terrified suddenly, where would they go.  We told them they weren't leaving until we gave them permission.  Yes, they are free, but so are any of our children. 

At the same time I am aware of adoption "disruptions" in the US, situations where children are adopted and then re-adopted, or put into state care.  "How would my children here have fared in adoption in the US?"  This is a question I ask myself often.  As they enter adolescence the question is even more important.  I used to see this in terms of adoptive parents "giving up," while at the same time understanding the toll that a disturbed child can take on others.

A new question comes to me now.  If other people see adoption as temporary, (You can find a new mother at the Mall) how does this affect the child?  What messages are they getting from others that counter what we try to tell our children?  Wishing for another mother, a kinder more gentler one, is not restricted to adoptees.  But the ability to get others engaged in this process, to "rescue" the child from what others see as a temporary relationship may add damage and confusion to a vulnerable child.

Does an adopted child ever feel totally secure?  I think it is possible to feel loved, totally loved, but still not feel secure, still experience one's self having a life separate from the "family."  Is this talked about?  There is so much pain. 

I wonder how many "disruptions" are because the children want a new family?  Has fantasy taken over? Or, are they also influenced by the possibility presented by others, or assumed by past experiences?  We (adoptive parents) say it's permanent, but our children have no reason to believe us.  If their own mothers didn't keep them, why should they ever trust anyone else to keep them?  It's one of the reasons I see group living as a good alternative for older orphans.  It's less intense.  The girls have each other, they can be more or less attached at different times. 

What is it like for me, mother hen to them all?  In my lifetime I've been a foster mother, a "giving birth and keeping my child mother", an adoptive mother, and now just "Mummy" to the girls here.  My love and commitment to the girls drive me to create the best lives and futures for them that I can.  But it also leaves me vulnerable, sometimes frightened, always aware that I parent under close, and often critical scrutiny.  There was a time in 2007-2008 when the government ordered four non-orphan girls to Shishur Sevay, without notifying us.  One day a mother just turned up with her child, for admission.  I said there was a mistake and she showed me the order.  The next day I went to the government offices.  I was told that if I did not take these four non-orphan girls, that the government would not renew our license and would remove all the children.  The official threatened charges against me for "discrimination against children with mothers."  It was a terrible time because I totally lacked the emotional and financial resources, or staff, to bring on four more children, with totally different needs, with mothers advocating for what they needed.  You see, in West Bengal, if you have political power you can get your child declared in need of government care.  These were to have been "political" admissions, common in many of the "orphanages" here.  These children had working mothers who wanted to place them in a better educational setting.  That's not what I came to India to do.  I couldn't stand seeing my uneducated orphan girls suddenly go to the bottom of the social order, the "orphans" among more educated children, with mothers advocating for them.

I managed to keep a brave front in the government offices that day, but I came home and sobbed.  I really do know my limits.  I simply couldn't do it. So for the next six months I slept near the door afraid the government would come for the children.  I sent a message to the government official that was basically, "over my dead body."  I tried never to be away for more than an hour or so.  It was the winter that Bubbi's calf was doing poorly.  I had people taking care of him, and vets, but I didn't go myself, as the trip was too far, it would have meant being gone all day.  I remember thinking that I had to put the children first.   He died that winter.  I did go then, for a very brief visit, at the urging of the children.  They wanted me to visit Bubbi because they knew she would be so sad.  We share everything in this family of sorts.

How is all of this related?  It is in the complexity of these relationships, of our relationships with children in our care, whether adopted or not.  I'm finding it hard to write what I really want to say, which is that one of my girls needed some help, and the doctor told her to go to the Mall to get another mother instead, one presumably would be able to provide more sports and games and would not force her to study. 

I'm a psychiatrist… one of the hats I've worn in my career, but I try to avoid most mental health services as much as I can.  I was in training in psychiatry when I became foster mother to a teen aged girl whose mother was in jail for a robbery committed by this girl.  So I dealt with all kinds of behavior, good and bad.  But mostly I felt humbled by the experience and the discrepancy between what I was being taught about parenting in my training, and the realities of mothering an adolescent. 

Orphans particularly are subject to being used by others for their emotional needs.  We had that a lot in the initial years here.  Various caretakers would embrace a child, offer to take her to her home, want her to call her "mummy" instead of me.  Then for one reason or another, they would leave, and the child would be devastated!  It happened with teachers, with the social worker… once they left they never came to visit the children they'd professed to love.  Eventually the girls understood enough of what I was saying to protect themselves.  And since I was imposing discipline, it had been easy to take a position of protecting the children from me.  Since these children were orphans, few people thought they would really learn, so they also saw my efforts as a waste of time.  It's easier to "protect" a child from being forced to study than to teach her to read.

One of my girls went looking for another mother who would not make her study so hard.  But I followed her.  I am her mother… just how it is.  My children carry so much pain in their hearts.


January 2011
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