01.03.2008 Relationships

Accept the Real Deal

Nabila Cowasjee urges us to take our finger off the control button of life, our own and our children's, and just let it happen.

Childhood is life. It is not a dress rehearsal for the upcoming gala performance of adulthood. From the moment we are conceived, we are living, absorbing and influencing our sacred journey with every movement, breath and thought we have. Just as the shore is sculpted by incessant waves of varying intensity hitting against it, so, too, are we continually shaped, moulded and fashioned according to what we experience and the people and factors that influence us. There are no momentary lapses in life while we are alive, and even when we think we are not living, in times of personal drought, where it all seems static, we are undeniably still alive.

The myth that life is something that happens to us,rather than something we create and interface with on a moment by moment basis, is a forgotten truth. Childhood is currently presented to as if it is a holding zone where we must learn all the rules and "how tos"so that we may finally, when we have enough hairs on our chin, or a recognizable bra size, be able to participate in the real deal.

At its simplest level, procreation is a pretty straightforward business for the most part. The product of our "creativity" seems to bud and blossom without too much help and before you know it you are the proud caretakers of another life. This Life goes through all the motions of growing in body, mind and spirit with or without our help. A good dollop of love and generous lashings of personal sacrifice do marvels for a growing child, but the physical life affirming milestones of sitting up, teething, walking, speaking and losing milk teeth, by and large, happen when the child is good and ready. With any luck, your new person will eventually figure out that the night is for sleeping and the day for being awake, that it's easier for mum and dad if you eat enough to keep your tummy full for longer just a few times a day, rather than whenever you feel peckish, and that there are times to be quiet and others when noise is welcomed.

There is a lot of talk about a natural childhood. Possibly this has less to do with feeding your babe organic rice mush and more to do with minimal tampering.

Observe a child who is left to its own devices with parents who have learnt how to tape up their mouths, only watch with one eye and trust that life will not scoop up their sweetheart and toss it to the lions that prowl the playgrounds looking for tasty treats. You will most likely see a smiley, small person, gleeful and wide eyed as he happens upon a mini beast basking on the concrete paver. You will see awe and wonder. A natural reverence for life will illuminate him as he picks the only flower on the rose bush you have been carefully tending for the past three months with the help of the Gardening Gurus, smelly organic manure and a well green thumbed copy of Gardening for Dummies!

What your child is engaged in is LIFE - taking each experience and immersing himself into it with abandon. He knows nothing of your angst and worry regarding your roses. In his irreverence, he is allowing life to flow in, and through, him as it should.

We live in a culture obsessed with order and knowledge.

This is a time when it's paramount to figure everything out before it happens. Pre-empting every move from obsessing about what the weather will be like on Tuesday, to what job one will have in 2012, is the way our thought forms have been programmed. Millions of well meaning people are engaged in a quest to seek answers and create templates that focus on explaining life in a nutshell; formulas and theories that claim to breed success and satisfaction, line bookshelves, occupy millions of megabytes in cyberspace, keep politicians and educators working after hours, engage students in universities and keep us lowly parents awake at night. The time we spend on preparing our children for maturity (when we assume real life begins) is laughable. The fact is, as the advertisement for a well known brand of kitchen paper proclaims, "Life is V. Messy!" The more order we try to impose, the more amorphous it seems to get, especially when you include children in the mix.

We think we can control our sense of security by being financially clever, we believe that a "good"education will confirm success and happiness, we are led to believe, for example, that the more homework a school gives means the better equipped our kids will be to deal with the hard yakka society we live in. My head actually hurts when I think of how many areas of life we are led to believe we can manipulate, when in fact very little of any value is probably in our true control and childhood is no exception. It's really quite exhausting to think of how many people are metaphorically speed walking through life, all zipped up tight in Lycra, head down in constant radio contact with "Mission Control", frantically engaged in the process of attempting to create certain outcomes. Embryos are being force fed Mozart and Cantonese in the hope that they will come out multi linguists and concert pianists. Pregnant mothers are eating copious amounts of broccoli and abstaining from the delights of soft cheese to make sure no harm comes to their unborn child.

Embryos are being force fed Mozart and Cantonese in the hope that they will come out multi linguists and concert pianists.

Of course, I know that this is all good advice, but when you take this control to its extreme, which is happening all around us, when you have signed up your foetus for a private education and bought the strawboater for her first day at school before you have changed a nappy, the neurosis we are embedded in becomes strictly hilarious. The whole joy of life, of a new born, of a muddy toddler, a wilful teenager, is the ability to embrace the truth that life tends to unfold as it should, as do the seasons, and not always in a neat, storm-free or orderly fashion. There are always times where it is important to take the helm and steer a course that's safe and supportive, but, by employing such tight strategies, are we truly guiding ourselves and our children to a place of happiness? If we could just stop for a brief moment, take off those "hold me in" knickers and relinquish ourselves to the more innocent world of an unfettered child, we might just learn something. Ironically, what we might gain is freedom, the one thing we are trying to achieve through all this chasing.

As Kahlil Gibran says in "The Prophet":

"...for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfillment.

You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief."

Society as we know it depends on a "waiting for the other shoe to drop" philosophy. We are consumed by saving for a rainy day, planning for retirement, educating ourselves and children for the future, eating healthily so we may live longer, insuring everything we own in case we lose it all. We even pay for our funerals and death before we engage in life. Do we ever really live life, that which is the conscious existence of the soul? Have we forgotten that the most important thing for children, and indeed, ourselves, is being present and giving them and ourselves the gift of our time?

Unfortunately, childhood is a time in life that we cannot retrieve at a later date in the same way that we can draw on our savings from a bank.

Once you have missed the opportunities rearing children present, (messy and challenging though they may be), you really have no recourse, only regret.

Children are people too, not empty vessels whom we must fill with instruction and common sense so that they may learn to "live". Centuries of indoctrination, much of it rooted in religious philosophy, deems the child in need of education and instruction on how to live. All of us are born good and know how to grow. Much of this happens unconsciously and naturally, in the same way a seed knows how to sprout given supportive conditions. It's the same with children - they do know how to live fulfilling lives given the appropriate scaffolding of a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual kind.

Children have an innate understanding of life that often becomes a faint memory to us adults who have suffered the hand that has spread layers of confusion and interference. Children do know how to embrace life. They cry when they are hungry, they chatter to you at inconvenient times, they embarrass you in public and respond to their own needs with immediacy - until they have been influenced enough by the world of adults which slowly and stealthily teaches them to stop responding to themselves and start living lives they think will bring approval.

We are entwined in a psychological history and tradition that does indeed support the theory that what we experience in our childhoods will have a huge impact on how we conduct our adult lives. Sadly, we can't always protect our offspring from all the lessons that life offers up, but we can be present in mind, body and spirit and accompany them consciously on their sacred journey.

It's necessary to be aware of being overprotective when it comes to the ebbs and flows that even children need to encounter. Each experience adds a piece to their own jigsaw puzzle of life and although it is indisputable that we must shield our precious children from unnecessary danger and injustice, to disallow them to safely enter into the world as it is today, warts and all, is an injustice itself. Romantic nostalgia of bygone eras can be as dangerous and unhelpful to the next generation as is too rapid change. Evolution is part and parcel of universal growth and to shelter our kids from a variety of experiences, some good and some bad, cheats them of their right to make sense of the world for themselves. It cheats them of life.

Monitored uncomfortable experiences can breed resilience and courage and create a deeper understanding and appreciation of life. Withdrawal from life and strict adherence to any single philosophy that claims to have a rule or theory for everything always includes a certain amount of bigotry and danger - it's called fundamentalism.

How many positive and life affirming stories do we hear about individuals whose experiences should have rendered them limp and lifeless?

We need to be mindful of the obsession that permeates society via education, healthcare and politics, that attributes whether we succeed or fail on our experiences in these areas. How many positive and life affirming stories do we hear about individuals whose experiences should have rendered them limp and lifeless?

If we could just step away from our frenetic quest for answers, theories and formulas for success, wellbeing and childhood, (and I include all us New Agey , enlightened types who are essentially engaged in the same madness) we would eventually realise that life unfolds as it should. If we can find a way of embracing this looseness without needing a straight jacket, comfort blanket, Buddhist text or an appropriate school to make us feel safe, and instead respond with lightness rather than try and control it, we are possibly giving our children the most precious gift of all: an acceptance of life.

Instruction showing us how to speak our minds and hearts at will, and how to take a deep breath and allow life and its unseen forces to show us the way, is enlightenment. Essentially, adults are but children in bigger bodies with a rich tapestry of experience over time that has helped or hindered them in their acquisition of a sense of personal and social responsibility. Therefore, there is a need to remember what life is really about. It is a sacred journey all of us alive are gifted. Life is that which sustains the physical, emotional and spiritual. It is an individual's manner of existence made up of events, business, pleasures and pain of the world. It is, indeed, a precious thing, but not easily quantifiable until we perhaps face its opposer, death.

Nabila Cowasjee

Nabila Cowasjee is a Perth-based writer with a focus on children's health. http://umbilika.com