Friday, July 08, 2011

Class Concerns

I have been wondering whether to write about this, especially because it seems like something that might draw the trolls in but then what's the fun in always being on the safe side of the line. Also, it's a genuine problem I am facing and I am hoping for some suggestions.

One of the big upsides of this move has been the place we live in. It's very centrally located, yet it has all the facilities of an apartment complex in the suburbs - spacious house, play area, swimming pool and most importantly, lots of young children. The last one was something that was on my must-have list as we were house-hunting. In Mumbai, we lived in a smallish building and there was not a single child in the building with whom Ayaan could play. The youngest boys were 4-5 years older and there were a couple of baby girls. Finding him age-appropriate company outside of school hours meant organising play dates and daily trips to the park.

Now, the thing to know about our complex is that most of the houses have a servant's quarter allotted to them. So the families living on the property include those of the domestic staff living in this accommodation. And Ayaan seems to largely prefer the company of these kids and this is starting to bother me. This is probably the point where some of you will think I am class-conscious, a snob and maybe even a racist. But just hold your horses for a few more paragraphs as I get to what exactly troubles me about the current situation.

It all started about a fortnight after we had moved in. This young girl (let's call her Raji) was playing just outside the downstairs house, where her mother works. School had not yet started and being at a loose end, Ayaan saw her and started interacting with her. Notice I say interacting as opposed to talking or chatting because Raji does not know a word of Hindi and Ayaan does not know a word of Telugu. Anyway, about twenty minutes later, he came and asked me if he could have her over to play. At that point, I found his supreme ignorance of class boundaries utterly charming and I immediately agreed. An hour later, it was lunch time and they were still at play, so I invited her to stay for lunch (rather I told my Telugu-speaking cook to do the needful).

The next day, she was back. Their budding friendship survived the traumatic (for Ayaan) incident where Raji broke his treasured snow globe and was nourished by the constant stream of snacks that Ayaan kept appropriating from the kitchen to share with his new friend. Up till this point, I was still quite positively inclined to the events unfolding in my house. But I guess word got around about the stash of toys and the unlimited snacks and soon my house was like a creche for domestic staff's kids. A couple of days later, I came down to find five boys and girls sprawled across my living room eating from a jar of biscuits. And as they got comfortable in my house, things started to get chaotic and with a very dodgy maid situation and another baby (if I can still get away with calling Tarana that) in the house, it all got a bit too much. So I cut off the snacks and lo and behold, most of them disappeared.

But Ayaan is very clear about his preferences. On a typical evening, there are two disparate groups of kids playing outside in the complex - the kids of the residents and the kids of the help and they usually tend not to mix and Ayaan is usually (read: always) to be found with the latter. And it's not the snob in me upset about this; it's the mother.

Now for the stuff that bothers me. Firstly, there is the question of hygiene. I am not talking from a general, 'poor people are dirty' point of view but on the basis of stuff I have observed. The other day, I saw Raji's mom sitting on the steps of her house with her daughter and searching through her hair, in a way that mothers only do when they are looking for lice. I don't think regular baths and change of clothes are much of a priority either for most of these kids, judging by their appearance. Also, Ayaan was recently diagnosed with a case of intestinal worms, and I can't help but wonder....

Then there are the behavioural implications. While Ayaan might be blissfully unaware of class boundaries and hierarchies, these kids clearly are not. So that automatically makes it an unequal relationship and when they are playing together, Ayaan has no trouble donning his Alpha male avatar and giving free rein to his bossiness. Kids from a similar background are more likely to put him in his place and that's why Ayaan has stopped hanging out with the kids from the other flats.

Now this bothers me more than the hygiene issue. Because if there is a kid who needs friends who will teach him to play fair and keep him grounded, it's Ayaan. And these kids do nothing of the sort. Even though a couple of them are slightly older than Ayaan, he has managed to, in a few short weeks, establish himself as the leader of the pack and pretty much gets his way when they are playing together.

I am a loss when it comes to what to do about this though. I can't just forbid him from playing with these kids and force him to play with others. That will probably be a recipe for disaster and I am not sure I have appropriate answers for all the 'whys' that will follow any such order. Ideas, anyone? Or am I just over-thinking this and should I just let him choose his friends, whoever they (and their parents) might be.


  1. When I was a kid I also played with the kids of the domestic help and part of the attraction was how different things were. (introduced me to Ganesh worship, the idea of living in a single room, the idea of treasure) It never occurred to me that they were poor/disadvantaged. At some pt though we stopped and I have no idea why. Maybe it was subtly helped along by parents who set up other playdates or maybe circumstances just overtook us. Not a very helpful comment I know :)

  2. Looks to me like your should just leave it and let him be. I think maybe Ayaan needs to feel cock of the walk for now, cos everything is so new and sometimes, kids from the same background can be unfriendly and kind of isolate a new child. So, being with kids who let him be leader, may help in some ways. There is also the fact that he would be learning Telugu. I guess you could, after he has settled at the new school, set up a playdate with a class mate in a neutral area & see what happens.

  3. I understand your predicament completely, Rohini! We have gone through the same too! I believe, you need to gradually decrease the interaction with the domestic help's kid and increase the same with the other kids. Or, start with one kid with whom Ayaan has some bonding, make them play together and soon all shall be ok.
    All the very best!! :)

  4. Ro dear - nice to read two long posts from you. I would often check (yeah I don't do google reader) in to see if you have posted but for a long time I did not see any new posts - figured you were busy. Looks like I paused for a little while and you have posted just then! :) Good to have you back even if you are whiny! :)
    Interesting situation you have here. I don't know what I would do if I were in your place. I would be very conflicted and feel guilty too if I tried to change the natural flow of things here. I would have similar concerns as well. Also it is a safety issue I think. My friend said in a similar situation she lost a bunch of stuff from her house when she had gone out. It is understandable when there is such a big difference in class/money. I used to also play with the maid's daughter - but it was our maid who stayed with us for a long time and it was just one kid. I have a feeling things will naturally fall in place once he makes friends in school. In a way it is nice that Ayaan is not aware of these class situations. Have you talked to him as to why he does not play with the other kids? Are they welcoming or are they a tight group already?

  5. Anonymous9:14 pm

    difficult situation rohini. but perhaps best to let things get sorted out as part of the natural process of settling in for Ayaan. I assume school is yet to start ? Once that happens he will probably get invited to playdates at class mates homes and have them over .your concerns about him being cock of the walk with these kids is a very valid one. But its a phase and he will widen his choice of playmates very soon. No harm done!

  6. Ypu're not a snob and your concerns are understandable.. but I dunno what a solution is. :-( Maybe in time Ayaan will make friends with the other kids too, along with the domestic helps' kids? I totally empathise with the hygiene bit- i had a maid who was a really nice one- clean, and efficient and quiet, and she had a toddler, who used to come along with her. She was a cute kid, but not very clean, and after a certain point, I started to feel not comfortable about letting Sonny boy in close quarters with her. Thankfully I got a permanenet one, and that solved the problem then. That the permanent one disapeared after some months is a diff. issue altogether.
    Dunno if my comment helped. It IS a difficult situation, isn't it?? Hugs! Hope things get settled soon, to your satisfaction.

  7. Ro, I think you should let Ayaan be. He's having to make a lot of adjustments to a new city, school, new friends etc and if he's happy playing with a certain set of children then let him be. Maybe the other kids are not very friendly to a new person, or already have groups. Why make him unhappy unless you have serious concerns. Are these kids violent/teaching him bad habits?

    I grew up largely playing with the maid and the cook's daughter as there weren't too many kids my age in the locality and I was very happy playing with them. I remember when i was about 9, another mom came and met my mom and asked whether her daughter could play with me as she was lonely, and we tried to play for some time but I guess we just didn't gel too well. If my mom had insisted that I play only with her because we are from the 'same background' well I wouldn't have had any friends at all, and no one to play with which would have been damn tough.
    I can't comment much on the personal hygiene point, I guess it can be a concern, but the help stays in the same building right and have access to running water etc right ? Am guessing that these kids also go to school and bath etc also would be important for them and they would be taking care of their hygiene. Also, headlice is hardly the sign of poor hygiene, it just spreads very easily among children who spend a lot of time close together. i got it many times when I was studying in London, and Sumedha got it from her 'posh' montessori school in Bandra.
    Regarding your bigger concern about them letting Ayaan get away with anything, are you sure? Have you seen them interact? I've seen many 'help's children' playing in our local park in Bangalore and they are hardly pushovers. In fact they are much tougher and more street smart than 'our kids'. Sumedha used to get regularly bullied by our help's daughter in the park
    My last point is on the class difference Ro. I personally feel it is good if people from all classes play, study and grow up together. We are paying for my help's children in Bangalore to go to a good private school in the locality so that they have access to the best education possible and also interact with other children whose parents are professionals/working and who aim for their children to also work hard and get ahead in life like them, so that they also get motivated by interacting with such children and being in such an environment. If other parents don't want their children to interact with the 'help's children' then these kids won't get very far, though they are studying in the same school.

  8. [Beks] Yeah, I am totally ok with him playing with these kids. It bothers me that he ONLY plays with these kids.

    [HGM/ Shilpa] The neutral area will probably be a trick. One of his classmates did come for a play-date yesterday but these friends joined in and the new kid got bored and felt left out and soon wanted to go home :(

    [Noon] Get on to Google Reader already! The theft thing has crossed my mind so I am super careful about locking my purse away and it is also the reason for the 'no playing in bedrooms' rule. The other kids (especially one boy) did try to make friends with Ayaan but Ayaan says he does not like him because 'he doesn't listen to me' - see where I am going with the bossy bit?

    [Anon/ JLT] Things have been better since school started thankfully since he is away through a big chunk of the day now. Starting a car pool with a classmate who lives nearby in the hope that the commute together will help him pal up with that boy.

    [Mum's Delight] Nope, they are not teaching him any violent behaviour per se but they play at home often and I have seen them at it and they definitely do let him call all the shots. Like I said, a couple of the other kids did try to befriend him but he just prefers the company of these kids so he hasn't really reciprocated their overtures of friendship. I totally agree with the mixing of classes, which is why I was quite okay to let Ayaan play with these kids. I just wish he would play with the other kids as well.

  9. Well in my case it would happen at a playground (where ground is the operative word, not much play stuff)where the street children would come to play too and in my "lets mix things a bit" would include them in the play as well. Well at the end of the half hour when we were ready to go, they said now pay us for playing with your kid. Reality check.

    When it comes to our building every kid comes with two maids who must be an year or two older than the child, so in their case we are the poor "ghareebs" who dont have a maid. I would say see it out and dont intervene, institute Dettol/Savalon baths after play time if you are nervous. And really unless there are problematic behavioral changes dont stress too much. Real life does intervene at some stage (and how) for now just let him live in his class-less idyll.

  10. Hey Rohini! Your problem is so real! I am trying to picture myself in your position, and I am being candid about my thoughts, and frankly without caring about being called a snob!

    I would sit Ayaan down and talk to him about where these children come from, in terms of hygiene and health care alone. I would tell him about how one needs to spend time with every class.
    So, split playdates between kids of the help, and school/building kids.

    Give him two days a week of playtime only with other friends, and four or five days a week with Raji and friends.

    Have the same set of rules for both playdates. In terms of clean up before and after play, wash up before and after snacks. Access to some specific toys during these playdates (withhold expensive ones).

    I know it means a lot of investment of time, but may be worth it. And you will still give him an option of choosing his friends, because he has a balance now!

    Check it out. But please keep your eyes and ears open for theft, contagious illnesses, and more than anything, child abuse too!!!

    Take care and all the best. Do give us an update in a few weeks on how everything is panned out. Would love to know, what works! After all, I am one of those, who take your blogs and your experiences quite seriously in my own journey as a parent.

    Good luck, Ayaan!

  11. Tricky one there. Do let us know what happens next because these things are bound to solve themselves (not that it does not cause grief when its on).

    Well look at it this way, 10 years from now, you'll be laughing at how you were stressing over something this 'trivial', since you'll have much more to worry about. At least thats what I tell myself all the time.

  12. Ro - how does he communicate with these kids? Telugu? Yeah - if you can somehow get a couple of other kids and mix the group up maybe it will work out - so he doesn't always get to be the surprised they let him be the boss though - I thought these kids (maids) were pretty tough...kind of sad if they are able to sense the class difference now itself and "obey" more easily. But yeah it is not good for Ayaan to avoid the others because they don't listen to him. But am pretty sure as the school year progresses he will make new friends and also have more things to talk about with kids in his school.

  13. I can totally understand your concern..and you are definitely not a snob...I will tell you something..when we shifted to our new house when I was in class 3 there was no one around (all houses were still under construction and I am talking about Baroda) except the worker children...Bro and I used to play with them and ma noticed that soon we were talking their lingo, had lice in our hair and we used to trade cards (u know the ones with car pics and stuff in them)Ma didnt really stop us..but she did start mentioning to us that they are your friends, but some things are not acceptable like the cards or lack of hygiene..and trust me Ro within a month bro and I reduced our interactions with them..of course we used to smile and wave and all that eventually, but no playing...I think just give A some time..he will realise it by himself and then stop....or may be restrict his playing hours for some days by asking him to take care of T or go out..eventually the children will stop hoarding your house. Good luck and hugs and no you are definitely NOT a snob

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  15. I can understand your concern Ro. I have a similar issue though it is with the maid.

    I have a maid who speaks decent Hindi but very broken English. Since she has arrived, my daughter has also started speaking in broken English. I told the maid many times to talk to her in Hindi so that she learns Hindi but she is bent on talking in tota-phota English. Now I have started speaking to my kid in Hindi so that the maid also speaks in Hindi. But the problem with this is that as of now she has a very good English vocab.

    Though my daughter goes to a childcare but the maid still gets to spend more time with her during the day cos she comes down with flu very often and is home with her and I work full time. Also, by nature I am not a very talkative person but she is a chatterbox.

    I know you had full-time domestic helps. Would appreciate your opinion. Do you think I am also just paranoid?

    Sorry can't comment much on the problem that you are facing.

  16. By the way. your ‘About Me’ still says Mumbai :)

  17. Just to add to my previous comment, I am worried that her English vocab will not improve if I do not speak to her in English. She has a pretty decent vocab as of now.

  18. [Aneela] Wow at the demand to be paid for playing!!! Yeah, mostly I just plan to let things be as they are. Forbidding him from playing with them would be counter-productive.

    [Sai] Thanks for the advice, Sai. Totally with you on being watchful - I make sure to keep my wallet under lock and key at all times and the child abuse scare is the reason why I don't allow them to play anywhere they are not within seeing/ hearing distance. There was a significantly older boy who had joined the gang and that made me distinctly uncomfortable but thankfully he moved on. Will keep you posted on how things pan out...

    [Chox] That puts things in perspective :) Thanks for the heads up. Will change Mumbai to Hyderabad :)

    [Noon] The mixing does not quite work. A recent playdate companion started getting bored when Raji and co joined in...

    [R's Mom] Yeah, I think your mom's approach is best. I have been saying such small stuff to Ayaan. Like I told him that their house and food was not as clean as ours so he should play outside with them but not go to their house and eat there. (Raji's mom had called him over one day)

    [KD] I would not worry about the English vocab per se. That will get fixed in school. I think what is more important is the opportunity for her to be fluent in Hindi. I had the same issue - I preferred my maids speaking good Marathi to bad, grammatically incorrect Hindi or English. So I made it a matter of pride and told them that I really wanted Ayaan to learn good Marathi and hoped they could help him with that by speaking to him only in Marathi. It worked so well that when we were leaving one of my maid's woes was that the kids would forget the Marathi she taught them. (Some of Tarana's first words were in Marathi - I didn't even know she was saying something coherent till they pointed it out). Anyway, I hope you sort this out to your satisfaction.

  19. Ro: Thank you for your opinion. I also prefer that she learns good Hindi.

    When the maid came to us, I told her that I have hired as against maids of other nationalities cos her Hindi was good so she can teach my kid to speak in Hindi. But cos she joined us when my kid was around 2.5 yrs and was quite fluent in English so the maid has been replying back in bad English rather then trying to speak to her in Hindi. Maybe things might have been different if we had her when she was younger. Anyway, I need to start it somewhere. It has been two weeks since I have also started some Hindi and she seems to be already understanding most of the stuff though she has not yet started talking.

    Before we had a full-time maid, my in-laws were taking care of her. My MIL used to speak in our mother tongue and my daughter could understand everything but will somehow only reply in English.

  20. Ro, I don't think you're being paranoid. To be very frank, it is the abuse factor which would worry me more than anything else. Talking to Ayaan about the hygiene factor and food will definitely help. Also when they are over be careful with your stuff. A lot of stuff gets sorted out along the way. And Ayaan has seen so much of change in a short time.. so just start getting him to interact with the others. Organise play dates within the building, so he starts interacting with others also. And let him take it forward from there. Good Luck!

  21. Neither are you a snob nor getting paranoid. I can totally understand your situation. On one hand you may feel guilty that you are creating class differences but then if I were you I would be worried for many things like hygiene, language going for a toss, general behaviour, picking up street smart attitude, etc. I am not saying we have to keep our kids cocooned or so but then we have to guard them till they are able to differentiate between good and bad. Tomorrow if something goes amiss from your house, your first suspicion will fall on those kids (even if they are innocent) and it would be unfair on them. So it is important that we maintain some distance. Also, I feel that if Ayaan continues long enough with Raji & Co. it would be difficult for him to adjust with the other group.

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. no trolls yet? damnit, should i play the role?

    i grew up playing with the help which is why i have the vocabulary of a truckdriver and am apprehensive about the kids playing with them for that reason.

    here in the complex the help's kids are nowhere to be seen. i have seen a couple once in a while and the one time i had a problem was when i saw them throw stones at the brat and abuse him. i talked to the mother just as i would any other parent whose kid bullied mine. That was our only brush with such a prob.

    hope you figure out a solution. will be watching this space.

  24. Very nice !!

    Making Life Better

  25. Hmm, tricky. I wonder if sitting Ayaan down and telling him what's what will help. He might rebel and go the other way even if he doesn't want to cos you said so.

    Have you made friends with any of the other mums? Invite her / them over with the kids so Ayaan can interact with one or two children on his home ground. That might help break the ice? From the next time, the other child will prolly call on Ayaan during play time. You can just tell the other mum(s) that you are new to the city, Ayaan is still missing his friends etc and look at the child and say "please look after Ayaan for aunty, ok?"

    Cheesy as hell but will that work?

  26. Ro: Hope things have balanced out by now. I have been watching this space since the time you wrote the post. Your post really expressed your anxieties clearly and honestly. I kept deleting my comment before posting because I was unsure of giving any suggestions.

    I have a strange parallel - its not the kids of another class, but kids that belong to another set of values. There are kids living on the same floor as ours, older than Sanah by 3-6 years whom she loves playing with. They adore her as well. What could be a problem with that, except that I do have a problem.

    One kid has complete access to the TV and computer games, the other is a ten year old girl who is not allowed to go and play in the building compound alone, and no one seems to have the inclination to take her. So she is stuck in the house and tries to convince Sanah to play with her at the house or corridor, even in the evening- and I am pretty hung up on play time in the park.

    To make things a little complicated, since they are older they have things to say to her about life in general. Your mother can not have a different name from your father. You must have only one religion. Your father's name and religion is the family name and religion. etc etc etc

    Tv- computer games- lessons in socially acceptable behaviour - you can imagine what a red rag was held up in front my snorting face! And these were kids who slept at midnight , woke up at 11 am, ate i dont know when, played in the afternoon, and often were taking their afternoon nap at playtime in the evening.

    Well, i just had to make park time more interesting than any silly TV. The clay, the crayons, the puzzles saw the kids collect in our house rather than in front of the idiot box, and social norms and the imperative that they remain elastic were spoken about constantly ( by me to my kid and anyone else who cared to listen)

    Class difference, difference in values more often in the same class - all of this is tough to handle. But at the end of the day they are all kids, we are the adults. What could go wrong? At best we will have a strong impact on the kids, at the worst they will get bored of us and ignore us. Its nerve racking but i guess we will always be the stronger influence.

    Frankly, I think Ayaan sees no difference in the kids, something he must have picked up from you. And that is fantastic. He will gravitate to other kids when he feels the need for more friends. And those are friends he probably feels he needs to make an effort with, these were friends he made at his doorstep.

    My longest ( probably insufferable) comments seem to be at your blog - sorry about that.

  27. [KD] They all do that. Ayaan knows Hindi and some Marathi but unless he is speaking to someone he knows can't understand English, his responses are always in English.

    [Gypsy] Thanks for the advice. I am trying to encourage him to play more with the building kids without getting too pushy about it.

    [Sscribbles] Yup, those are some of my worries too.

    [MM] You got my hopes up and then dashed them WRT the trolling. Pshaw!

    [Deej] I really need to get out there and socialise more. Both for mine and the kids' sake!

    [Sur] Shush! That was a long comment but much welcomed. You are right when you say the difference may not just be class-led. There is this other older kid, whose idea of playtime seems to be to roam all over the place with his iTouch playing games, clicking pics and listening to music. Ayaan has been pestering me for a 'video game' as a result. Life would be so much easier if we could just choose our kids' friends. ;)

  28. You know, I am real surprised that Hindi isnt spoken widely in Hyd. Or is it just a taught-in-school thing?

  29. Life would be easier if we could choose our kids' friends, true. :)

    But although tiring, its so much more sensible to let them discover the world through the friends they choose. We would be around to be vigilant and connected enough to know that these worlds that they discover should not be distorted, but could be different.

    With the kids my child is friends with on our floor - i like that they have discovered her toys, rather than consume TV.

    Though I have lost the battle with the child who does not go down to play - but have managed to convince my child that she wont lose the neighbour child's friendship if she 'abandons' her every evening and goes down to the park for her two hours of mad running and tumbling with other kids. ( the older one tried the emotional blackmail number) How i wish i had the balls to walk into their house and speak with the parents.

  30. @Sur: We can at least choose our neighbours no? Please can I be yours?
    Really wish that could happen. Sigh.

  31. [Deej] I think the people who go to Telugu medium school don't necessarily pick it up.

    [Sur] Of course. Was just kidding. The pressure of having to choose the 'right' friends for my kids would probably send me to an early grave :)