First off, I had the pleasure of reviewing Tarshi’s Yellow Book on their blog. If you are a parent or a teacher, it has all the resources you need to help deal with children and the S word.
In case you haven’t heard of Tarshi before, I quote from their blog -
TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) believes that all people have the right to sexual well being and to a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality.
TARSHI addresses all people, especially women and young people through various programmes and is one of the few NGOs in India that works on sexuality, without restricting it to a disease-prevention, violence against women or sexual minorities’ framework, but rather from an affirmative and rights – based approach.
Call the TARSHI phone info-line for free, accurate & concise Information on Sexuality and Reproductive Health Issues @ +91-11-26472229
9:30 am - 5:30 pm (IST), Monday - Friday
For more, see: http://www.tarshi.net/about/about_tarshi.asp
And now on to the supernatural part of the title. Some months ago I was talking to another parent about how I came to be a work from home mother. I just didn’t find help I was satisfied with. I mean they were good enough to dust, wash, sweep, swab and make hospital corners on the beds, but they just didn’t seem right enough to leave the kids with for extended periods of time. Mostly, because of the way their beliefs influenced the kids.
There were dozens of maids who would react to the kids’ nudity with a Shame, shame, jao kapde pehno (shame, shame, put on your clothes). This, if the kids shot out of the loo, naked after a bath, because the game of Ludo they’d left on the floor just couldn’t wait. There was the maid who in a bid to ensure they didn’t go to the balcony and fall to their death, kept threatening them that Pigeon kaatega (the pigeons will bite you) and so on.
If you want your child to have some sense of what is a good touch, what constitutes privacy and which adults are trusted, it’s really hard to do it with a new maid every 11 months. It’s also hard to rewire the way a maid thinks and teach her not to say shame shame to a naked child. It’s almost impossible to teach the maids that there is no such thing as a ghost, and to prevent them from telling the kids not to go into dark rooms for fear of them, when the maids themselves are terrified of ghosts.
These pigeons and ghosts are small issues in the larger scheme of things and you can’t go around sacking people unless they’ve stolen the family silver, but I gave the scaring maids their notice and kept up the hunt until I found maids who did their housework and didn’t influence the kids in anyway. We all have our own lines to draw and mine is a dislike of fear. I don’t like my children being scared into bed, into eating, into being good. They are not taught that there is a heaven or a hell. They are taught to eat because their body needs it and to be good because there is no other option.
A few nights ago the siblings were whispering in a corner and the tension was palpable. I don’t interfere unless necessary and love that they have their little secrets and special shared things. So I plumped pillows, shook open quilts and began to herd them to their beds, tucking them in. As I reached to switch off the lights they screamed Noooooo. Don’t switch off the lights.
Because we want the lights on.
It’s always one thing or the other to squeeze the most out of any day and I knew they were weary, their eyelids drooping. They’d be dead to the world within minutes even with the lights on. So, unwilling to get into a prolonged argument I left the lights on and shut the door. Sure enough, when I checked a few minutes later, they were fast asleep and I switched off the light.
This happened the next night too. The third evening, anticipating it, I asked them why they wanted the lights on when they were not even used to a night light. The Bean answered – You won’t like the answer.
Well, S told us, that if you light a candle in the night and say err.. a bad word.
Me: What bad word?
Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.
Oh. Go on.
Brat: If you light a candle in the night and say Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, she will come.
Me, tired of this circular argument: Arre, who on earth is Bloody Mary now?
Chorus: Don’t you know? She’s a ghost.
I called the OA and told him we were going to try an experiment that night. We were going to light candles and invoke Bloody Mary. I had not kept the kids away from ignorant, superstitious maids and blood thirsty pigeons, only to have them terrified by a frickin’ name off a cocktail menu.
The fear of the supernatural, of a vengeful God, these are issues even adults grapple with. Every city has its bhoot bangla and most of us have jumped the school wall to spend time in a cemetery and test a variety of supernatural theories. Clearly this wasn’t something we could erase in a single night, but we had an opportunity to make a start and I didn’t want to bugger it up by teaching them to depend on yet another vague supernatural figure like God or by keeping a knife or a rosary under their beds and so on, shifting their fear from one, to the other. They needed to learn to test theories, to be fearless. To know that courage lies within. Not in the heavens and not in rosaries and knives.
Bedtime came and we settled on their floor with a candle. The Brat shrieked and got under his blanket and stayed huddled there.
The Bean squealed and leapt into the OA’s laps and stayed there.
And we evil, bloody thirsty parents chanted, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary while the kids moaned and groaned and cried and cowered and waited for Bloody Mary to present herself.
Of course she didn’t and in a while we were thirsty and sick of chanting and tired of harassing the kids. :p
The experiment to prove she didn’t exist backfired and far from being at peace, the kids were terrified into wakefulness. #ParentingFail
The Bean was a soggy mess and the Brat was all wide eyed terror.
So yet again we left the light on and went out, sorry that our plan to face fears head on had failed. Of course there’s a lot to be said for the fun we had sitting there in the dark, around a candle, chanting the name of a cocktail we’d rather be drinking than sitting there!
In a few minutes a combination of the excitement and the exhaustion knocked them out. I slipped in quietly and switched off the light.
Come morning I waited for a reference to the night but they didn’t. Of course the true test lay ahead. Would they let us switch the lights off that night or not? (Cue music and spooky sounds)
Night fell and the twosome went to bed without any Bloody Mary talk and no objection to the light being switched off. The OA and I heaved a sigh of relief. They may not have brought it up with us, but they’d probably had their own little conference and come to the conclusion that Bloody Mary did not exist. At least not within their parents’ powers of summoning.
A couple of days later I found them playing with a couple of Lego toys, one named Bloody Mary and the other something else. Clearly Bloody Mary was no longer a name to be feared, but one to be tossed around in play.
We spoke about the inappropriateness of a child using the word Bloody and came to a compromise. It would be referred to as BM, not Bloody Mary. At which point it struck me that BM could also be bowel movement. A thought I shared with them and had them in splits. Thereafter they forgot about Bloody Mary. BM was bowel movement and potty jokes appeal to them far more than anything else at this age.
For the moment at least, we have this ghost under control.