Meher Marfatia: There's a kind of hush

I love my evening walk. But guess who spoils it?

A baby. Rather, the baby’s mother. She won’t let me — or many others around for that matter — enjoy the gorgeous sunset from this garden on the sea. Instead, we’re in for forced “lesson time”. It’s incessant chatter, each question self-answered the second after it’s asked:

“Whose baby are you? Mama’s.”

“What letter does baby’s name begin with? S.”

“See the doggy there? Here it is!”

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

“How many birds are sitting on this tree? 1-2-3.”

“Is baby jaan hungry? Have water.” (To maid in tow)... “Pani kabhi nahin kaho, water bolo. Ab playschool admission ayega, English mein baat kiya karo.”

English, Hindi or jabberwocky, there’s no respite for the poor mite. And cold comfort in the fact that she’s hardly alone. A growing number of kids today are at the receiving end of a relentless barrage of information overload. Overstimulation happens when children are swamped by more experiences, sensations and activity than they can possibly cope with.

Born with an immature nervous system, a child naturally finds it difficult to process large amounts of stimuli at once. Until their budding brains are ready to refine and define appropriate sensory cues, the young process learning differently. Colours, for instance, first erupt as patches of blotchy confusion — which is absolutely fine!

Cramming and jamming trips neural growth. That the effects of excessive stimulation in a child can continue throughout childhood is proven. The over-heaped kid struggles with motor, language and social skills, which may trigger learning issues down the road. When parents and teachers prescribe, push and pile, a child’s chances of exploring the world unhurriedly, at an individual pace, are lost.

To be fair, I’ve had moments of severe doubt, wondering if the laidback approach of the schools my kids attended would work out well for them. We fretted that they enjoyed far too much downtime. We now see the total beauty of that. The child with an early ability to occupy himself has an easier journey towards becoming an adjusted, independent adult.

It starts straightaway in the crib, where every baby has a self-devised rewind mantra. My husband and I discovered our firstborn’s unique one in a funny way. As a year-old toddler, he decided that midnight was quite the right time to wake up bright-eyed. We went crazy rocking him back to sleep, cooing soothing sounds, whispering... none of which meant a jot to him. Till we figured that he was such a “people person”, leafing through old photo albums calmed him like nothing else. It took us a few weeks to hit on this quirky winning formula: he settled back into bed with a stack of these kept within easy reach. Chuckling softly as he spotted and identified family and friends in the pictures, he’d gaze at those pages with delight before dozing off with a big beam on his face.

A book that became my bible then was Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce. This classic profoundly critiques current thought on educating children. He believes the child has this planet for a playground and nothing should interfere with being raised on this premise. The Magical Child is happy free associative. Tracing the growth of the mind-brain from infancy to adulthood, Pearce connects the rise in autism, hyperkinetic behaviour, childhood schizophrenia and adolescent suicide to common errors made “informing” our children. We can, with some sensitivity, restore the astonishing wealth of creative intelligence that is the birthright of every human being.

To return to that baby I meet in the park. How beautiful if she could only be, not do.

Even with her simply lying on her back in that pram, fascinated by the leaves on trees rustling above, her head is hard at work. Those tiny synapses within are buzzing, absorbing, transmitting all she needs to take in for the moment. Months lie ahead for her to learn those alphabets and numbers and colours, identify animals, birds and flowers galore. Who doesn’t end up knowing these? Less is more, so we wish her quiet time.

>> Time to look, time to listen.
>> Time to think, time to play.
>> Time to chill, time to still.
>> Time to stand, time to stare.
>> Time to dream, time to imagine.
>> Time to be, time to just be.
>> Time to just be a Magical Child.

Write in to Meher at mehermarfatia@gmail.com

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