For 25 out of the (almost) 30 years of my life I held some very fixed notions about creativity. To me, creative people looked a certain way: crinkly cotton skirts, scarves or stoles, lots of silver jewellery, kajal and a jhola bag. The older ‘creatives’ wore beautiful saris and blouses and sometimes, these big, pretty bindis. I marveled at these Creatives and I knew without a doubt that I wasn’t one of them. I would look at my plain-Jane, T-shirt clad self in the mirror and wish with all my heart that I could be one of ‘them’ too.
My creative journey
To me, creativity was a genetic disposition, something that some people just inherently had, just like I had straight hair. Then, about 6 years back, two things happened that swept me off my feet, turned me upside down, shook all these thoughts out of my head and made me feel light-headed and clear and dizzy, like a new me.
The first was that I met my husband. I would not say that he is the most creative person I know, but he is definitely one of the ‘free-est’ beings I’ve met. Free of rigid notions of how things should be and free of being ‘correct’ and ‘appropriate’. I would watch him dance and sing and act and mimic and paint and do exactly whatever the hell he wanted, without being conscious of anything else but his own pleasure and joy. He would encourage me to do theatre and to send out my stories and when I would self-consciously say “ME??” he would always reply with an earnest “Yes” that made me feel like he saw much more of me than I even knew there was. Very slowly, I started becoming that person he saw.
The second thing was a book called “The Artist’s Way”. I first read about that book in Robin Sharma’s “Who will cry when you die” as one of his “things to do to make your life better” recommendations. Well, I am a self-improvement junkie, if there was ever one, and the book landed up in my hands. The entire premise of the book is based on the simple ‘fact’ that each and every one of us is creative. A very simple statement, but one that made my eyes almost pop out of my sockets and pulse quicken. “She actually means that I am creative too! Is that possible? What if that’s true?”
I worked diligently with the book and to say that it changed my life would be the understatement of the decade. This blog is a direct outcome of that. So is Fabric Fables. Although old habits die hard and I still refuse to believe it when anybody says I’m creative, I am learning to be more comfortable with the thought every day that all of us are creative and that creativity can be uncovered and practiced. It is not a privilege gifted to a few but a basic tenet of living; you are creative and meant to create, simply as a virtue of being born and living on this earth.
Raising a creative child
Because my own process of unearthing my creativity was long and arduous, I take great care to make sure that Rumi (my daughter) knows how creative she is and that she grows up feeling free to create and make and be whatever she wants without a voice in her head constantly reminded her to ‘get real’ and ‘get a proper job’ and so on. As a child, her creativity flows naturally and freely but all this can and normally does quickly change, if we are not careful to safeguard it and nourish it.
Out of all that I’ve read, experienced and gleaned over the years, these are some things to make a special note of while nurturing your child’s creative spirit:
Avoiding Tags and Labels as far as possible
Nothing damages or bruises the creative spirit more than the voices we hear in our childhood, that say well-meaning things like “Looks like your brother is the artist in the family” after the child hands you a drawing or “She’s a good dancer but her voice is another matter altogether”. Labels.
We are so quick to label and categorise. She’s good at arguing ‘lawyer honar ahe”, she does not like frocks, she’s a ‘tomboy’ and so on. They seem harmless, and to some extent, unavoidable. But repeatedly told to your child or even to other people, about your child, creates a conviction that is hard to argue with or change later. If you try something with your child that he does not enjoy, just try again a few days later. Let likes and dislikes be flexible and ever-changing. Let your child know that he is allowed to change, grow into or out of something. Perseverance is very important, but not at the cost of removing the enchantment and pleasure of the sound of the violin or a foreign language altogether.
Leave lots of time for free play and boredom
With school taking up most of the day, and an after-school activity or two, children hardly find free time pockets to just play or do whatever they want. Sometimes, even play time is carefully planned by parents who want their kids to put their time to good use instead of just sitting about in front of the TV or with a tablet. But it is in this time that a new, fun, language or game gets invented. Also, toddlers don’t need to be provided with state-of-the-art toys.
A spoon and vati (small bowl) from the kitchen can become a musical instrument, old shoe boxes can become a toy train – the lesser you provide, the more leg room there is, for their imagination to stretch out.
Allowing the ‘Why’
Sometimes, it can be very exasperating to hear everything you say countered with a ‘why’. Sometimes, you find the time to answer the why, and at other times you just respond curtly with a “Because I say so.” Which is also perfectly OK because there are only 24 hours in a day, and dinner to be served, and laundry to be done, and a million other things to organize. But as far as possible, allow the why and allow the self-discovery of the answer too, as long as safety and hygiene allow it. “Why should I wear my shoes?” “Because your feet will get dirty otherwise and you’ll get hurt.” If your child does not fathom this, maybe you could allow a few shoe-less steps and let them see? And this grubbiness that makes most of us cringe, brings me to my last point,
This is not to say that all the standards of hygiene and cleanliness in the house must be dropped but it is important for kids to indulge in some messy play and also for them to know that you are OK with it. Let them experience different textures with their own little fingers. For instance, you may want to allow them to mix their own dal and rice with their fingers, let them ‘help’ in the garden by digging up all the mud or ask them to squish the tomatoes for soup. Most dirty stains can be removed and most surfaces wiped down clean, so roll up your sleeves and get dirty too!
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