After the session that was rescheduled due to Bombay rains, we were all looking forward to the second induction. It was time to meet the parents! I had a pre-booked commitment that was scheduled to run into the afternoon so I called up Maithili to let her know that I would be late. I didn’t want her to feel abandoned without notice.
I had been up and about for 6 hours when I walked into the classroom at 1 pm, a little short of breath, and my heart pounding with excitement. Devika, our Program Coordinator immediately directed me to Maithili – She’s been waiting for you. Dressed in a pretty white dress with butterflies all over it, she bounded across the room to greet me. Finally, said the look in her eyes. As we joined a group activity she chattered on about her exam prep, the activities they’d done, and what we were scheduled to do. I smiled weakly at the rest our teammates. “Oh, you are her mentor!” one exclaimed. “She’s been waiting for such a long time.” Maithili in turn thrust a piece of paper in my hand. They had been making visiting cards before my arrival. Hers said that she was a practising physician in Paris! I don’t like asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. I absolutely detest that question. There is such inherent lack of knowledge with respect to career opportunities that it is unfair when medicine and engineering are made out to be the only respectable goals. “Do you want to be a doctor?” I asked. “YES!” came the enthusiastic response. As we prepared for our group activity (Problems we, as a political party, would solve) Maithili said she would like to speak about women empowerment and offer solutions to the problem of gender inequality. When we took the stage for our presentation, I indicated to her, “Be clear and loud, ok?” And she was! The girl who is barely audible to us during 1:1 conversations was confident and loud. One major win for the day!
While the other groups were still presenting, a few parents had joined us in the audience. Maithili kept jumping up and down to see if her mother had arrived. “Sit,” I said. “She’ll be here soon and I’m not going anywhere.” I was curious to meet her parents. The staff and trainers had stressed on the point that we are not, in any situation, expected to overshadow the parental authority. We are didis and bhaiyyas. We are their friends, albeit slightly older in age and experience. No more. And this is also something I maintain when I babysit. I am comfortable buying icecream for my nieces only if they are allowed to eat it. In fact, there are times when I am more strict than the parents. I make the kids eat spinach, follow strict bedtimes, and even restrict TV hours. I wanted to meet Maithili’s parents to understand their expectations, fears, and inhibitions. I wanted them to feel comfortable with me before they trusted me to spend hours with their daughter. Knowing that Maithili was a bright and engaging child, I wasn’t particularly afraid. And I wasn’t disappointed!
Maithili’s mother soon joined us in the classroom and we sat down to chat. Not long after she’d asked me about my education and career, she invited me to walk home with them. That invitation soon turned into a short home visit. Her mother tried to apologise for their modest accommodation but I reassured her that I was glad to be there. I in turn apologised to her dad for showing up unannounced. I repeated my introduction and was soon overwhelmed with requests for career guidance! I took a deep breath and ploughed on – for starters, M was too young to be told not to pursue her dreams. I told them we could revisit this conversation later. What I found reassuring and encouraging was:
- Maithili’s parents are completely on board with respect to her education, ambitions, and overall personality development.
- They are also trying to supplement her classroom teaching with fun activities. Because she was studying the history of Maharashtra in school, her dad organised a hike to Raigad! She loves to dance and so her (super)mom is looking to enrol her in a dance class.
- They are seeking and identifying success stories within their community to serve as a inspiration to their child.
I was definitely overwhelmed by the entire family. Based on my interactions with Maithili so far, I have decided on an activity plan for the year. I will present it to her in our first unsupervised session tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes. Keep checking this space for further updates ♥
I am in constant touch with Maithili through text messages. I sent her a picture of my first completed oil painting and received this in return :