There will always be inequality. Some will be rich and some poor. Some blessed more than the others. I know all this not just because I read the news and am aware of economic and social conditions, but also because professionally I have a degree in Social Work which enabled me to work in situations which were far from perfect and with people who obviously are less lucky than most.
But the perspective on what life is gets a different hue when I go to my children's school everyday.
I have children going to a school which is part of the public school system in England. To put it in the Indian context I have children studying in the English version of "Municipality School". The education is standardized so they are in no danger of losing out in terms of quality. They could possibly be getting more if they went to a Private School but I do not think I can or want to spend that kind of money for 2-3 yrs. of my stay here. The Grammar Schools are comparable to the Private Schools, and substantially cheaper are for 11+ yrs old children. Children going to Public Schools is perfectly acceptable and the norm for even my 'class'.
I moved to England 8 months back and it is clearly a country much less richer than my previous country of residence the US of A. Thanks to over-subscription of London schools my children got admission in a school which is not in our catchment area (catchment area schools being the closest to the residence). By the English and the American standards my kids actually travel quite a distance to go to school...at least 35-40 mins. by public bus and 15 mins. by car. The school also happens to be in a Council Estate. Council Estate is public or social housing.
In all honesty I was a little anxious to begin with regarding the fact that the school would have a lot of children from the Council Flats....children of single mothers, political asylum seekers, dysfunctional families etc. As they say it here children from the 'working class'.
And as someone who has worked with 'different' social groups...far removed from what is defined as "normal" by our society, I surprised myself thinking like this.
Oh! I have never judged the people I have worked with...women in prostitution, their children, juvenile delinquents etc. We as a family also have never treated the driver and the maid (back in India) and their children differentially. We have been kind and non-discriminatory.
Though now I ask myself have I been proud of a behavior which merits no special mention because that is how it should be. Economic disparity will always exist but someone from a different class merits the same treatment as anyone else and it should be a natural behavior.
I got a lesson or two and continue to learn as I now get a chance to deal with different 'classes' on a truly equal level. And I am wiser for the experience. It is changing me. Judge for yourself as I give you 2 scenarios:
Case 1: Children going to a school where most families are like us (finance/IT) : I would be having the same conversations with the same group of moms I meet socially. Planning and working out birthday parties, play dates, extra-curricular classes, trips to the Museums/theatre, pot lucks, parties etc. Trying to outdo each other with respect to the child's academic skills. After all we are Indian Moms and it is in our blood to want to excel and slave at everything. We would be cribbing about the same domestic help issues and life in general...husband, children, in-laws, career-home balance,weather. Dicussing parenting skills and trying to seek approval or appreciation for our 'methods'.
Having said this I must add that I see these as perfectly harmless conversations and I am a party to such discussions myself.
Lessons learnt: None
Change: Not much. I would still be 'aware' of all the social issues. Still hope to do something about something one fine day...sometime in the future. Life would go on as it is....self-contained and self-absorbed.
My children would be just what they are... privileged children unaware of the life outside their artistically done up rooms.
Case 2: Children going to their present school where the profile of the students is varied and so different from ours :
I see my children coming back to a loving mother, hot food, a safe home and I see my son's friend going back to a home with violence, less food and much less love. I see my child high-five a kid who has been to the woman's shelter thrice already in his young life because his father almost beat his mother to death. I see my son play with a boy who goes back home with a mother who smokes like a chimney and has seemed stoned on many afternoons she has come to pick her child up. While my children play happily in their rooms I know now of children who are restricted to some corner in a cramped 1 room tenement with a family of six.
I know of a child who has run up to my friend and said he wished she were his Mommy because she always gets snacks for her son to eat on the bus ride back home.
I have seen mothers forced to leave children home alone because they must work to put food on the plate vis a vis mothers who have the luxury of leaving their child in fancy day cares and with hired help because they cannot stay at home or want to spend whenever and on whatever they want or genuinely believe that their self-identity is linked with their jobs.
Lesson Learnt: Plenty and with a huge dose of heartache.
Wants me to stop complaining about everything I have ever complained about.. for they seem so trivial.
I have felt like kicking my own *** for the spoilt brat I have been at times complaining about the 35mins. bus ride to school and back and about my supposed "stressful" life!!
I am more aware each day of how blessed I am for being able to be with my children..nurture and nourish them. I am also conscious of how lucky my children are for all that they have.
Everyday the fact that I am so lucky is like a slap across my face...I say a slap because it makes me ashamed of all my petty issues and a slap because it demands that I think and act differently!
Change: I am filled with an increasing restlessness to give back what I have received. I count my blessings everyday. I want to protect each and every child. I know that may not be possible but can I not act upon all the existing possiblities, as an actor in this drama called life. The deep sense of Gratitude I feel overwhelms me at times.
My children could not have been luckier to get this experience.
They are gradually and will become more aware of the existing differences and become more sensitive and responsible.
They are less demanding and I tell them that giving is much more fun.
They will hopefully soon see that they it owe it to themselves and not to anyone else to do the best that they can...after all they already have a head start in life.
As a parent I wish to see my children healthy and happy. The last thing I want, is for them to grow up with a sense of entitlement.
I would be so proud to see them as individuals who give back.
I would hold my head higher if they passed on all the good things they have received.
I will know I have achieved some measure of success as a mother, if they don't simply talk of change but "do" and "become" that change.
Most of all I want them and me to be grateful and then do something about it.