For many days now, Rumi has been struggling with her friends. It is all minor issues from what to play and where to play but I see some inherent conflicts and they worry me. One part of it is language. Her friends often call her ‘bavlat’ and ‘murkha’ (stupid, moron) and are generally quite rude in the way they speak with each other. For instance, Rumi once pointed out a woodpecker and said “Hyala sutar pakshi mhantat” because she had just learnt it in school that day and her so-called best friend retorted with “Tu kay samajhte swatala, amhala nako shikvu” (What do you think of yourself, you don’t need to teach us!) Which I thought was shockingly uncalled for. I had written about this briefly on Instagram as well but now the problem is extending beyond words and going on to all the unkind things that kids seem to master so inherently, such as leaving Rumi out of particular activities, refusing to let her have her turn and making her feel like she doesn’t matter when she talks about something.
All this has been breaking my heart for Rumi. On bad days, I worry about our parenting. I worry that we are not equipping her properly for the world. Are we doing her a disservice by constantly emphasizing on kindness and collaboration? What happens when she tries her best to be sweet and kind but gets picked on even more? Is the other person ready to receive her words with openness and not brush her off with yet another snide remark? Is it the right thing to do to ask her to forgive and forget when her whole tiny world seems to be operating otherwise? For she is the sweetest child in the world, and she deserves friends who can see her sweetness and her fairy-like imagination.
I can see it even when she plays on her own; she likes to play games that involve make-belief. She has such a rich inner world that she brings to life when she talks to her toys. Unfortunately, her friends like games that are much more boisterous and they seem to wear out my poor girl mentally. Fighting distresses her as do highly competitive games.
I was exactly like this as a child and so I know all this all too well. I fortunately learned about Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Child some years back and though both those books have offered tremendous insight into my own construct and now Rumi’s, I sometimes still have a hard time perceiving our highly sensitive natures as gifts. On hard days, I wish it were otherwise, that she did not feel things as strongly as I did, that she could be more ‘normal’, more like everybody else, because I know that sense of isolation, of feeling that you don’t quite belong but you don’t quite understand why.
My sadness comes out as anger. I lash out when she needs my love the most. “Enough crying!” I shout because her crying makes me hurt so bad. And when she goes to school and the house is silent and still, my tears flow and I am not just crying for her but also for me as a little girl. Because I remember the hurt so vividly.
When I was ten, two of my ‘best friends’ stopped talking to me overnight. I went down happily after school and I was coolly informed of this decision. No explanation or reason. And this carried on for the next four years. As teenagers when we did talk again, it turned out that they felt jealous because ‘I had it all’ and that’s the reason they excluded me. I remember the disbelief and the shame when this happened. At home, mum and dad were kind of convinced I must have done something wrong. Even though I promised I didn’t know why, I could see that they didn’t quite believe me. And this trickled down into my consciousness till I felt shame that I wasn’t able to get along with ‘others’, ‘others’ defined by me as two toxic girls who decided to be cruel one fine evening.
And in spite of knowing better, I end up doing the same to my magical little girl. When she tells me that the others don’t want to play her game, I impatiently shrug it off and say ‘Why can’t you play what they are playing?” I can find excuses for my callousness. Too much housework, exhaustion, fatigue etc. etc. But the real reason that I find it difficult to accept this part of her is because I am actually rejecting some part of myself. I have not completely made peace with my own sensitivity.
This is the most important thing that I have learned in my journey as a parent. All the parts I find difficult and annoying about Rumi are actually parts of me that need some love and acceptance. This may sound like kumbaya but I believe it with every molecule of my being. If you find yourself struggling with your child, nudging them towards an activity or class, insisting on something specific that they don’t seem to have picked out it is well-worth it to ask yourself the question “Where is this coming from? What is this telling me about myself?”
In retrospect I can clearly see where my need to have Rumi ‘fit in’ or ‘have friends’ comes from. It comes from my own isolation as a child, it comes from fear that she will have to experience the pain that I did. But I have to understand and accept that she has to go through her own experiences in life and that try as I may, I cannot take up her pain for her. In fact, drowning myself in her pain makes it impossible for me to provide her with the support she needs.
We have tried to provide some solutions such as talking to her friends and taking her to other evening activities where she meets different people. But the one thing I could have done differently when she had a hard time yesterday was to really hold her and love her and accept every tiny bit of her. If I could rewind to last night, I would tell her that she will definitely find her place and her people. It may take time, but there are people that will love and cherish her totally just as we do now.
I’m waiting for her to get back home now so I can spend the day loving and cherishing every bit of her; every tiny sensitive, kind atom in her body. Parenting is hard and messy but I know now that the best thing to do is to try complete self-acceptance and love. For both Rumi and myself.