Laddu and I are at the library. She sports her gingerbread man shaped name tag with pride. Her eyes are bright, curious and taking everything in. The diminutive lady running the pre-k program at the library recognizes her even though it is only her second time there. The little table in front of us has a bunch of name tags. I scan the names searching for the familiar. I am disappointed when I find only one other name I recognize as from my part of the world.
I take a seat across from the room and watch Laddu interact with other kids and form a line to get inside the room. I whisper to her to sit right in the middle of the class. She nods and makes her way up the dais style seating to find what can be the middle.
The class starts with everyone introducing themselves. The doors close and all sound is extinguished as if a switch is turned off. My eyes now take in the rest of the adults around me. Some are peering through the glass, their faces eager to encourage their little ones sitting inside. Some seem bored as they scroll through the tiny screens of the phones in their hand. A few others browse the library shelves for books to take home.
I stay seated, still, my eyes riveted on Laddu. It isn’t often I get to see this child of mine in social settings. She speaks when spoken to, raises her hand at intervals and giggles shyly when the instructor says something to her. She makes eye contact, is pleasant to the other children.
Happy with what I see, I let my mind wander. As I scrubbed a pan in the morning, Pattu stood next to me chatting about school.
“What are you planning to do today?” she asked
“Oh! I am going to be talking about public speaking to a bunch of seventh graders” I said.
The conversation meandered to the topics I had planned to cover. Intrigued by her interest, I shared the prompts I had come up with for the kids.
“Are boys and girls the same? What is equality?”
She replied in earnest and something she said had my interest. “Boys are risk takers, girls not as much,” her voice rang with conviction. Our banter continued as I probed her for the source of her information. Turns out if you google “Are boys better than girls?” as some of the boys in her class had done, one of the things that pop up is that boys are risk takers.
She left for school and I chewed on our conversation for a long time. The media, the messages encoded in books, the examples we set at home all have an effect. Peer group seems to be the strongest at this age. It is something I have little control over.
I look up at the parenting section in front of me and wonder if the books there will have sage advice for me. I look through the titles and head back to my seat. It occurs to me that all this while, I have stayed away from sermonizing preferring instead to talk about things when they come up. I make a note to look for teachable moments as they happen. To point out when media or books get something wrong. To make them think about alternative viewpoints where possible. To open up their minds to question most things they see and hear. I also tell myself I should be modeling behavior I want to see them emulate. That might mean being more of a risk taker, being assertive, and maybe even bossy.