of thoughts in ebb and flow

Posts tagged ‘kids’

Of telling stories with `morals’

I have nothing against `moral’ stories. I grew up listening to them, reading them. Every story invariably ended with the moral of the story is… and here is where I would dis-connect from the story. The moral seemed as much fiction as the story itself. An ideal world that did not resonate with what I experienced around me. The Lion and the Mouse, the Ant and the Grasshopper, Cinderella, Snow white….

Now, I am on the other side of the story-time. The story-teller. And am faced with a dilemna. Some days it is easy. When David kills Goliath it was easy to go with the `We should never say I can’t; we should always try’ that one child proffered.


Original Image Credit padhokhelo.com

But, when the tortoise wins the race against the hare, `hard work always succeeds’ raised a sense of unease in me. Just as it had done all those years ago. When I was a kid their age, listening to the story. I had suspected then that hard work did not always succeed.  Today I know it does not. Not always. Tough luck. Deal with it.

It is all very fine in an ideal world where rules are fair, they are transparent, they are followed and are impartially enforced. Would the tortoise win in the real world? Should it not have played smart rather than plodding along to defeat (except in the story, of course)? Shouldn’t THAT be the moral of the story?

Will telling these stories with unrealistic morals set these kids up for dis-illusionment?   Are we preparing them to handle it then? When they `adapt’ their behaviour to the requirements of this world will they be left with a vague sense of unease, of being `bad’? Is that okay? On the other hand, is it good that they have the moral compass these stories shape even if they can’t live up to it all the time?

I have not settled on any answers yet. But my story telling sessions are becoming a little more `grey’ on the learning bit.

In an episode of Friends, Phoebe tells stories to little children at a school. The parents are horrified by her stories but the kids – they lap it up and come looking for more from the `lady who tells the truth’. I would like to bring a little, just a little bit, of that truthfulness into my sessions.

When Vaman crushes Mahabali one voice piped up – the moral of the story is that bad people will always be punished by God. I groaned inwardly. One voice asked ` So was Mahabali bad?’ I clutched at it like the proverbial straw by the drowning man. `What do you think?’ I countered. `He gave so many gifts to people’, `But he was so proud’,`He wanted to rule all the kingdoms’, ` He fought God’,  `The people liked him that is why they want him to come back every year’. Confused faces. No clear single answer. We settled on  ` He was not bad. He did some bad things. We all do bad things sometimes. But God punished him so that everyone knows it is bad to be greedy. And proud’

I am not entirely pleased. Not even entirely sure what message this story can convey to eight year olds. But I am happy because I think moving away from labeling someone bad to recognising the good as well as the bad in their actions is progress.

What do you think? Do you know stories that serve as good springboards for nuanced understanding of the world? Do tell…..

It’s not all in vain after all

As I sit in my room trying to meet the impending deadline, I have banished the kids (my son and nephew) to the other room and am hoping for a few minutes of silence.

I try to ignore their bantering but a few words float into the room and suddenly it’s like a bolt of lightning struck me ….

You know how you tell your kid `do this, do that, do it THIS way, not that….’ and for all the response you get you may well be talking to a wall? And as you get totally frustrated a well-meaning elder says `Don’t worry, he is listening and absorbing, it will all come together when he needs it’ ..and you have to bite your tongue to not retort?

Listening to my son.. as he `taught’ his younger cousin the basics of Hindi language I heard him … using the same phrases I did, the same approach and logic I did ..with him … and making the same arguments I did … `don’t hold it so tightly, if you get used to that your fingers will pain when you need to write so much more when you grow up…. how can you give up so soon .. you have to stick with the difficult stuff ….say it once more, for me, say .. how you say it is important..hear it in your head..’


I hadn’t been talking to a wall after all!

Now, I am more hopeful about him remembering  the `big’ stuff when life needs him to 🙂

The hazards of reading

Time was when I had all the answers … to my son’s questions.. why is the sky blue, why is blood not blue, why can’t I fly, why should I eat this stuff …

That was in the old days. They are getting more and more difficult as the years go by, why should I go to school, how can humans have kids before they are married, is the tooth fairy for real? Is God for real?

Now I seem to be using `I don’t know’ more and more in my conversations with my nine year old.

Him: ” Mamma, What should I do now?” (hanging in the air unsaid ..considering that you will say `NO’ to my watching TV or playing on the computer)
Me: “Ummm… read something”
Him: ” There’s nothing to read….”
Me: ” Try the newspaper”
Son throws me a withering glance that I, buried behind the Sunday Edition, am impervious to. I have bought a few seconds of silence
Him: (few seconds later) “Mamma is Captain Flint for real?”
I don’t know
You are not listening
Okay… who?
Flint you know
I don’t know
Flint.. from the book I read .. he’s a pirate
Oh, from a book? No, then, he is not for real. Imaginary.
Then is Hook real?
I don’t know
Exasperated .. “OKAY…..WHO Hook?”
Captain Hook ..from Peter Pan
No..no..same logic….imaginary
But the name appears in so many pirate books….
Oh.. it does? Then maybe it is based on some real character from long ago

I have decided

Good.. as the seconds go by a niggling disquiet asserts itself in me… What have you decided?
I will be a pirate when I grow up
No..no ..not WHAT, that’s WHO I will be
The newspaper article I was trying to read on the variety of career options for today’s youth suddenly takes on a new and rather too personalised context…
Okkk.. Why?
Well…it will be fun. I’ll sail about, I’ll look for treasure…
They do other stuff too you know…
Okay.. I’ll hijack some ships on the way
But you know that they are basically robbers right?
Then why are they not called robbers?
Because they rob on the seas not on land
Son gives me a look of `that’s stupid’ but mercifully lets it go …
Go read about the Somalian pirates in the newspapers..
Dismissively Yeah, yeah, I know the Indian Navy is catching all of them ..
..And you know what happens to pirates that get caught?
Conveniently ignoring my overt hints about the possible dangerous consequences of his chosen profession
Me trying again, “You can be whatever you want..just remember to use the Hedgehog Principle” I know I know …. I should enjoy it
make enuf money from it …
.. jubilantly filling in the puzzled pause…..
U SHOULD BE BETTER THAN MOST AT IT! ..(Thank you Jim Collins…)
Me warming to the theme, happy & secure in my knowledge that being a pirate would fail benchmark 3! ..y’know..genetically coded for it…
How does one get genetically coded?
Well ….. (working out complicated answer about genes and Darwin and ……)
It might be true you know
What might be?
That we are genetically coded by Magratheans
Seeing stupid vacant look on my face..
In an exasperated tone
“Haven’t you read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?”
Oh.. from that BOOK ..then that’s not for real ..
How do you know that for sure?
Giving up..I don’t know
Stalking off disgusted …..What DO you know?

Well …. pretty much less and less about more and more.
What does that make me …. a Super UN-specialist?

P.S.: All you parent’s who complain that their kids don’t read books… you should be counting your blessings instead.

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