The Little Sponge of a Toddler!

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Mama, that car is dirty! Why?
Because there is dust
Where does dust come from?
The wind brings the dust
From where?
From far away…
Far away WHERE?

Such are the rhythmic questions coming my way on a daily basis from my two year old! So gone are those days that I simply (not simple at all) offer to nurse, rest, eat or play or when I could quite easily distract him. Now these myriad of questions, wonderings and musings! These are surely entertaining and put glorious perspectives to mundane activities or happenings in a day. But of course there are times when your mind tires and impatiently waits for the questions to end or indeed when you quite simply run out of answers, be it because you run out of child-friendly replies or that you quite simply do not know the answer!!

I certainly am not a genius but the mother in me very naturally wants my child to have the best that the world can give! So I question, how important is it for me to indulge my little toddler’s questions? Do I have to sit beside with him and go through all these thought processes with him? If I don’t know should I find out? Should I make up imaginary stories?

If I listen to science, the answer is a categorical YES to all! I learn that 75% of the brain growth and development happens in the first three years of a child’s life. A toddler’s brain has twice as many neural connections as an adult’s! To this you have to add the seeds of emotional maturity, confidence and self-worth that will mould the human your child is about to become. Basically what you do, say and act out with him now is that which will shape his mind, body and spirit for his lifetime. His conscious, his views on life, on people and on himself is on you right now. The root of the tree, the canvas for his lifelong painting, of which all else will depend. What a frightening age, I mean for parents!! What responsibilities much larger than just holding these tiny hands as you walk beside him? Especially when you live in a world where time just does not seem to come easily, no matter how amazing our inventions.

I take some time out from writing. I can hear something brewing…

Mama that light is not working, why?
Power is down darling
Why is the power down?
It’s an old light
Where does power come from?
Electricity
Where does elec-tri-ci-ty come from? I cannot see it
A box downstairs.
Where does the box get elec-tri-ci-ty from?
A factory far away… (And I am hoping this is it)
Can you show it to me one day?!

And I have done it! Taken him till his curiosity ends for now! And I do not have to be a fountain of knowledge for this but a fountain of patience!! Knowledge is at the tip of a button these days…it’s the time and patience you need. Just to help him connect the dots and see those light bulbs click! And this is what I have to do with all his ponderings…. Mama, what colour is London? Who is on the money notes? What number is that building? Which tree is this stick from? Which way is America? What does the Red Cross mean? Where are butterflies going? And I realise just fobbing him off with a lie or two will not do him good. His brain cells need that kick, to line up, synthesise, picture cause and effect and form a base for ideas to bounce off! His little mind is trying to make sense of this world and its workings. His big imagination needs to fly with those butterflies, over the fences and to distant horizons.

I’m certainly not talking about an attempt to make geniuses out of our kids, that we suffocate them with facts and stuff books down their throats and take them to the most expensive Montessories. It’s more in the sense of giving them all that will stimulate their senses. It’s letting them explore the world by their tiny limbs, feel the sand beneath their feet, feel the wind in their hair, hands muddy and messy, hear all kinds of music and stories in their ears and have their tongues roll to all kinds of languages whilst always having their questions freely answered.

It’s also questioning back to them, clapping their little accomplishments, being patient with their little fears, and certainly reigning in their straps when needed. It’s resisting that temptation of giving into those all-too-convenient gadgets of today to keep them sitting, quiet and gazed. It’s giving them a fun environment where their eager young minds get nourished to encourage a lifelong hunger for knowledge. It’s making sure that his sponge of the brain today gets watered constantly. It’s walking with him at his pace and not rushing at yours.

And if science of humans is right, then THIS right here is the start, perhaps to an Einstein, a Helen Keller or an Alexandra Graham Bell, perhaps even a cure for cancer or quite simply a beautiful, good hearted, intelligent human being that spreads joy to everyone. And you and I both know that we can certainly do more of them, especially the latter!!

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A Butterfly Over a Rainbow

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Geneva will soon be covered in all the golden hues of autumn and today is a lovely crispy must-make-the-most-of-summer day! In fact a picture perfect day on taking my soon-to-be two-year old toddler to the park. Instead I steer around the many parks en route to the big white building with a rainbow painted on the front saying ’L’ Arc en Ciel’ (rainbow in the sky). As I am getting closer, I can literally feel my heart beating and I am hoping that it does not somehow vibrate its way from my hands, to the pram handle to him! I am talking all sorts of nonsense trying to distract us both from the one big fact. It’s the beginning of our baba’s first playschool. It’s the beginning of the end of our constant cocooning since his birth.

As we enter the building, I see an endless amount of butterflies hung sporadically on the ceiling, thankfully grasping our baba’s attention – that is for a few seconds until he starts to cry. He wants to be out, running on the grassy slopes and doing his ‘up and down’s on steps and resting on a swing or slide. I do not blame him, it being such a nice day out, and we being inside with many a soothing parent with many a babies and toddlers around! But this is for his own good. I gather some courage and take him wailing inside our classroom that happens to be right at the end of the long corridor. It seems to take forever to get to. I notice that I am late and most little ones seem to have been settled, if not for a small wimp or cry. I cannot help but feel all parents’ and carers’ eyes on me as my precious is wailing and wailing big, showing the door, saying ‘out’ and ‘park‘! It’s as if he knows that this is the place I will leave him. I struggle to keep him within the four walls of our room. It’s divided into small compartments of play areas, a drawing-room, a toy car park with lots of cars and motorways, handicraft corner and a toy kitchen with all sorts of delights that I know baba would love, if only he could see through all his tears!

Alas we survived two hours together! A standard in this ‘adaptation’ period. My back is aching trying hold him down. He has mostly cried the whole time except for some brief moments where a toy iron and a pushchair got his attention. I am exhausted as I am sure he! I crave to get out and breathe some air and to let him do whatever his cried-out heart wants. His usual smiles have returned as I mention park and saying bye to all. His mood does an immediate somersault! He is all high, saying good-bye to all, loving the new word that he just heard and repeating it again and again to all – ‘à demain’ (see you tomorrow)! Really? Has he really got the meaning? I am emotionally and physically drained. Tomorrow can wait!

But yes, tomorrow does come. And I am full of dread. Thankfully my ever-so-ready to compete but thoughtful hubby is ready to give us a helping hand! I am just glad for the helping hand literally to carry some weight and not so much thinking on who has more effect on our son. As we enter the premises, I wait for the howling to start but apart from a little struggle to get baba out of the pram, we are inside the room without a cry! Miracle! And miracle of miracles, he runs to the iron and starts his ironing as hubby gives me ‘it’s all me’ kind of triumphant smile! Well, my thoughts are getting formed. Day one, Baba thought I was going to leave him. Day two, he has got the message that I will not leave. That it’s a place for both of us to play together and leave together. Wrong message but right at this stage, as the carer explains, first you have to eliminate the abandoning fear for him to start enjoying and getting to know the place and people. Then in a few days, as he gains his confidence to do snippets of ‘separation’ starting from 10 minutes to orchestrate my constant return to him.

The following days are good. We enjoy play schooling together. Baba in fact walks himself to the classroom and starts his activities, all within a radius of me that I am supposed to be enlarging! Such complicated science! At the end of 2 hours, comes his all-time high byes running around with his ‘â demain’s and ‘au revoir’s! He fondly calls his carers by Aunty so and so and knows some of the kids by name. He is confidant. Poor soul, he thinks this is it!

Then comes the day where one of these Aunts comes to me and says that it’s time to do a ‘separation’. I am so not prepared. I have not lost a night of sleep in anticipation! I nod and with a trembling heart says I am popping to the toilet. I can hear his cry, with ‘Mama coming‘, ‘Mama coming‘. I walk with no look back. The look I am yearning to but not allowed to give! It’s been a whole 20 minutes just on the other side of the closed-door and I hear his words as I am told to re-enter the room, with ‘Mama coming‘. I am told he played in-between these utterances. We keep 20 minutes for a couple of days. Then the following days see gradual progress with 20 minutes stretching to half hour, then hour, then one and a half with ever-changing stories to explain my absence to keep him warm whilst I am away. He remembers these stories and tells them to hubby. So I am conscious I need to keep them real and believable. I am told it’s a thumbs up behaviour with no crying.

Of course there are some ripple effects of his start to playschool. He says more of ‘hold mama’s hand’ and ‘mama carry’ at home. At day he has ‘very tired, very tired…lots of games’ claims. At night, at times, he is restless and anxious. And he waits to poop at home! One day I assume he really wanted to go but was holding on for so long that by the time I came, he was in tears shaking and saying ‘Mama kakka’ (conveniently means poo in both French and Sinhala). Poor soul. Of course! How was he supposed to know unless I tell him? I bring him home where he gets squatting to do his business! That day I kept explaining to him that aunties at school have lots of new nappies and that they will wash him if he ever wants to do a poop! So to relax… There onwards every morning he gives aunties a job to do! I am relieved that he is relaxed, yet another sign the carers say that he’s used to the school.

After three weeks, his adaptation period was officially declared over. And today, in the fourth week, with his pram in the store-room, baba was quite literally running to school with a bag hanging on him. Of course he was ‘smelling the roses on the way‘, pressing the lift button, looking out for birds under the big willow tree, pressing the ‘red man green man light’, counting the cars, climbing the stairs, opening the doors and giving ‘bonjour’s and ‘ça va’s to one and all and looking at me with smiles and giving me a high-five to go!

I know there is no definite happy ending to this memoir, that there will be the good days and the bad but looking at these four weeks, I cannot help but be proud. I know with the bigger picture in today’s world these might be considered trivial small steps but indeed in my baba’s world they are gigantic and the most important. This is his first taste of the world without his Mama and Papa, in a whirlpool of unfamiliar emotions with new skills to nail, learning to defend his ground and be a person on his own! As I look at all those sparkled butterflies hanging and seeing the little ones in their rooms I get it. They are all caterpillars going through chrysalis, the transformation stage where the tissues are broken down and the adult insect’s structures are formed before they cocoon out to be the butterflies of tomorrow. And I truly hope tomorrow’s skies will be bright for them or in rain, they will be joyous creatures whose eyes can always picture a rainbow!

Some top tips that really worked for me:
1. Warm up: explain to the child about school, prior to start date and during the first few weeks.
2. Take slow: have an adaptation period as much as possible, taking things slow.
3. Gain trust: give him varying stories of your absence and give proof where possible to gain his trust! (E.g. going to shop for eggs, then give eggs for lunch!)
4. ‘Family’ arise: talk fondly of the caregivers at school, letting him know he can count on them.
5. Blow off steam: At the end of the day, ask his account of the school day
6. Praise the good, Embrace the bad: Praise him also telling his other loved ones about it at the end of the day in front of him. If not so good, do not be tempted to create any drama. There will be bad days!

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