For The Sake Of The Child

January 24, 2010

julianaAs the mother of a child who is highly gifted and, consequently, different from other kids, Juliana Pillai has had more than her share of problems. She decided from the start to meet these difficulties head on and left her job as a litigation lawyer to focus all her attention on bringing up Balakrishna, the way he needed to be brought up.

What are some of the trials and tribulations you faced as the mother of a child who did not fit into the school system?

The greatest challenge was trying to convince people that we, as parents, indeed knew the child better than others. Everyone appeared to have a firm conviction that the norm must be followed and to do otherwise will only bring doom. The general consensus was that with consistency, eventually the square peg would fit the round hole.

My son was clearly different and after failed attempts to try to make him conform we realised that we had to change the way we approached the situation.

We decided to take our cue from our son and supported him as best as we possibly could. After that, things settled in quite naturally and our son got to develop happily at his own pace.

Homeschooling was very new back then. But, in hindsight, it was the only right choice and we have absolutely no regrets. Needless to say, it was not a stroll in the park. Sure there were difficulties and there will always be difficulties. We just worked to find solutions. Some were right and some were wrong but it was all part of the journey of learning.

I think, most importantly, we were not afraid of trying out alternatives. It takes a lot of strength to constantly have to justify the route you have taken but if the child is visibly contented and happy then, to a large extent, the skeptics are silenced.

When did you realise that Balakrishna was gifted and different from other children? And how did you feel about it at the time? What were some of your concerns?

juliana+BKBalakrishna was a very curious baby and always did things in a very unusual and unconventional manner. He would wake up at two a.m. in the morning and would only settle down at five a.m. So I would be with him reading and playing.

At that time, I thought all children were like that. I am much wiser now. I wish I could say that I taught him his alphabets and numbers but he learnt to read by himself. How he did it remains a mystery even to me.

By two, he could read and by four he was reading National Geographic and Popular Science. He loves to read. I was happy when he started to read because it gave him intellectual independence and he did not have to look to me for answers.

It was very evident that he learnt very rapidly because there was this incredible thirst for knowledge within him. His intellectual ability was never a problem. As parents we were more concerned with his intense emotions, oversensitivity and over-excitabilities.

He had very strong concerns about moral and ethical issues—fairness on the playground, lack of respect for children, concerns about “adult” issues. He would always try to put what he thought was wrong to right; totally oblivious to the fact that he was just a kid.

Even as a young child he was quite independent in thought, critical and impatient. He would become so excited about an idea that he would interrupt at inappropriate times. As parents, we were constantly put in very difficult and embarrassing situations as we did not know that it was common for gifted kids to display this type of intense behavior.

As parents we have been pushed to the brink many a time because by nature we have always been conformist and brought up not to challenge the way things are done. I must say I have become more aware and have become more critical of how things could possibly be.

Surprisingly, everyone moots the idea of thinking out of the box and when someone does do things differently we are quick to castigate them and make them toe the line. Having to face this paradox daily has been difficult. It requires a lot of patience and sheer mental strength.

Do you find it difficult/taxing keeping up with Balakrishna’s many interests and passions?

Murali, Balakrishna and Juliana hiking in New Zealand

Murali, Balakrishna and Juliana hiking in New Zealand

Balakrishna’s interests have actually taught me to appreciate life more. I have done things, which I would never have dreamt of doing. As a family, we share a common interest in travel and we have done some really fascinating things like going to Fairbanks to see the auroras and going on a recent hike in New Zealand’s south island, where we nearly got killed.

Balakrishna loves photography and scuba diving—things which I am not interested in. He indulges in what he likes and I provide assistance, if required. I also do not share his passion in science. I have to confess most of the time I don’t even understand what he is talking about and I don’t pretend to understand. My son accepts me for who I am and I, in turn, accept him for who he is and we are very happy with that.

What are your hopes for Balakrishna?

Without a doubt, it would be for Balakrishna to be comfortable being who he is and to do whatever it is that he wants to do to the best of his ability. My fervent prayer is that all his problems be little ones only. He has gone through some very challenging situations and survived unscathed, so I’d like to think. I hope he eventually finds his purpose in life.

Our Interview series focuses on parents, teachers, role models and children with interesting tales to tell, lives to share and inspiration to give. If you have a suggestion for someone you’d like to see interviewed (including yourself, ahem!), drop us a note at parentingworks AT gmail DOT com to tell us why the person should be featured.

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