Friday, March 04, 2011

The Child is Father of the Man

I once read that timelessness and a wide range of perspectives & interpretations are key traits of profoundness. And that is the very profoundness I am experiencing of William Wordsworth's words "The Child is father of the Man". In his poem, "The Rainbow", William Wordsworth teaches us that one's formative years are in fact sooner than later in life, and thus highlights the importance of good upbringing and inculcating positive traits early in a child's life.

The last 26+ months - and especially the last 6 months - of parenting have given me a whole new perspective. To life and to how a Child is indeed the Father of man.

Here are some invaluable lessons I've learnt from my 2-year old, that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life and which I have hopefully learnt well:

Negotiation: Handling my-way-or-the-highway situations are part of every parent's life and before you know it, becomes all in a day's work. Distracting him from the pastry he got a glimpse of just before dinner. Convincing him that returning my "boring" cell phone in exchange for his "exciting" matchbox car is a fair trade. Getting him to finish his glass of milk. The list goes on. It takes little to get frazzled under these circumstances though in fact - and that's the lesson I've learnt - it takes even less to steer these situations to a happy ending.

Losing gracefully: True, I've learnt the ropes of negotiating, but that's about all I've learnt. I am not an expert by any standards. For every deal I win, I lose two. If not more. And I've learnt to concede gracefully. Yes, he managed to blow bubbles into the milk so it spilt out anyway. Yes, he proved that the cell phone can travel to the ground at a much higher speed than I had imagined. Yes, he kicked off his shoes sitting in the shopping cart. Again. No, he cares little for the vile threats I just made and the fact that it irritates me actually prods him on further. So there! Send your ego packing. Concede defeat. Dust yourself, get up and move on. Life goes on. (Of course, as far as [not] drinking his milk goes, life is teaching me a sweet lesson by coming full circle - and that's another lesson I've learnt)

Tact: Knife in hand. Tantrum at 3AM. Standing on a wet, glass-top dining table. More than 6 feet away from me and walking around with my iPad. No amount of enticement or intimidation will work in these situations. Neither the carrot nor the stick has any value. Any sign of excitement or agitation will only be counter-productive - or even harmful. The only recipe for happy endings in these scenarios is tact. Don't ask me to describe it here. I cannot. But I've learnt. At least I've learnt what tact is and its importance. Can't say I've learnt to be tactful, though. That'll probably take a few more years of training.

Perseverance: By far, the two most trying feats have been teaching him to eat by himself and his potty training. While the credit for both accomplishments goes 100% to my wife, the journey was filled with carpet-cleaning sessions (for which I will rightfully reclaim some credit), mutual frustrations (triangulated frustration to be precise - no pun intended; I am not a telecom engineer) and regularly laced with hope and despair. But nothing succeeds like success. Even if you have to try and try till you succeed.

Detachment: This one is a paradox. "Detachment" is the last thing I feel when I think of my 2-year old. Yet, he has taught me detachment like few other people and experiences have taught me. Detachment is a far more effective and far less corrosive solution to overcoming your anger. When I found him serenely gargling all over my laptop or when he jumped off the back of the sofa onto my neck as I was sitting there inobtrusively having dinner, I thought I was going to pop a nerve in my head (okay, yes, the second time he jumped on me causing me to drop my cold dessert on my legs, I did lose it, but let's not dwell on the inconsequential). What stopped me from in fact losing it on both these occasions was the look on his face. I was beside myself with rage, but in that split second before I really lost it, I saw the innocent flush on his face. He was excited at what he had done, because he had done something that he had never done before. There was no malice. No awareness of the consequences of what he had done. Just joy. Because he did what he had to. Because he felt like doing it. No, I did not spare the rod and risk spoiling the child, but that moment of detachment helped me cope with the mess at hand. And taught me an important lesson that comes in handy in my work life too.

Focus and Prioritization: I never knew kids could be so manipulative. I have time and again been hoodwinked. He will come grab my laptop when I am working and I will shoo him away. The third time I shoo him away, I succeed. Only to spot him 10 seconds later climbing into the 12-inch shelf that holds the DVD player and pulling at some wires. Obviously, I rush there to fix things. Only to turn and find him seated at my laptop grinning triumphantly at me. While this taught me to lose gracefully, it also taught me to deal differently with a bull in a china shop: don't try to protect the china - it is futile. Focus instead, on luring the bull out of the shop.

Patience: I hardly need to explain this one. Now I know why they say patience is the mother of all virtues. Alas, my quest to be a virtuous man remains incomplete.

And from this list, I have excluded the tangible skills of parenting itself, that I have learnt. Not to mention, growing awe and bewilderment at how our parents raised us. Without high-chairs, sippy cups, Barney and Caillou.

Indeed, the Child is the Father of man.

For those of you who are interested, here is the original poem:

The Rainbow

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

- William Wordsworth, 1802


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