My first daughter was a year old when my husband got posted to Agra. It was challenging for us both. For the first time he had an independent charge of an office and me a home. The romance of Taj Mahal that we looked forward to vapourized soon. We found that the drinking water was saline and there were long power cuts. The city practically functioned on generators and inverters.
Our one year old, had her battle to fight. She had moved out from a joint family full of adults and children to play with. There were days when we both sat in the sultry July heat, my arms tired of waving the handheld fan. The strange surroundings, silence and heat got the best of her. Her sleep routine got disturbed and that made her irritable, she lost appetite too.
One day my mother rang and I told her about our new challenges. Let me introduce my mom- she is a perfectionist, hopelessly good at home making and a dowager. I am usually at the receiving side of her ever flowing Abigail of wisdom. Most of the time her advice turns out right and I am wrong. Our arguments end on her saying, “I told you so”, I am left gnashing my teeth.
Only those days, there was a slight problem- I was a first time Mom. Elder Mrs. Jain had made me study for a postgraduate degree in Home science and I preferred to go by the book. I consulted everything from my copy of ‘Child Development and Personality’ by Mussen, Conger and Kagan. It was my Bible and anything outside its purview was blasphemy.
My mother heard about my daughter’s changed behavior and told me to buy a ‘Jhoola’- a tot swing. It sounded absurd, what could a jhoola do to cure an infant’s psychologically induced anorexia? I didn’t ask or agree, just changed the topic. In the coming weeks whenever my mother asked if I had bought it, I made different excuses.
Two months after the phone call, my parents came to visit me. My mother had brought a jute and wood Jhoola for her grand daughter. I was determined to impress them that I could independently run a home. I found a hook in the verandah ceiling; the jhoola was hung there. My daughter was a living toy for the first time grand parents. They made funny faces for her, watched and enjoyed her activities. My mother put her in the jhoola and swung her to and fro, it made my daughter giggle loudly. Mom had probably sensed my lack of conviction in the efficacy of the swing, every now and then she told me, “Look she is so happy.”
The Child development training told me otherwise, it was her grandparents’ presence that did the trick and once they left the new toy would lose all its attraction. The infant began to spend most of her time on the jhoola, she insisted to be fed on it. Mom was more than happy to keep my daughter busy and I gladly fell in line. It was a welcome change. Sometimes when the power was off, my mother rocked the jhoola for a long time, till my crying daughter calmed down and fell asleep. I just had to pick her and put her on the bed. The handheld fan waving reduced to half and nap time doubled. Soon my parents left but my daughter had taken to the swing permanently. Even after six months her feeding and playtime centred on the jhoola.
What happened next, probably even my mother had not imagined. One day a lady from the neighbourhood, came over for tea with her two school going children. They played with my daughter (almost two years by then). She hopped ahead to show them her best toy. The two kids followed her to the verandah. Their eyes lit up at the discovery, the thrill of the jhoola was palpable. They asked my permission to play on the swing. The mother had to drag them home later. They asked me if they could return next evening. I agreed.
Next day I found a battalion of kids at my gate. It seems the news of the jhoola had travelled like fire. Our verandah turned to a children’s park. They chirped like a bunch of noisy sparrows and for hours my daughter was busy. Everyday new games added. The kids drew hopscotch on the ground, got skipping ropes and marbles. They flew away the moment my husband’s car pulled up in the driveway. This hour long playing made my daughter happy. She got hungry sooner and ate well. Listening to the kids, her vocabulary grew in a geometric progression. Best of all she slept like a log at night, power or no power. My husband was surprised how he found us both contended in the evenings. All thanks to that little addition my mother had made.
Much later in the course of my Ph.D, I came across a study on swings. It taught me:
Swinging is calming! The child’s heartbeats match its rhythm and they gradually relax. The gust of air on rocking gives sensory stimulation and pacifies them. Even adults get a feeling of tranquility on swings.
For older kids swinging helps develop gross motor skills (pumping legs, running, jumping, etc. when they use their legs to rock the swing.) Swinging helps develop fine motor skills like grip strength, hand, arm, and finger coordination. Swinging strengthens our child’s core and helps with the development of balance. The movement of swinging helps develop perceptual skills. Swinging offers help with sensory integration, which is how our brain organises and interprets information, a foundation for more complex learning and behaviour later.
The rocking motion of swinging stimulates the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that helps the child focus. Swinging encourages social interaction and cooperation with other children therefore swinging helps in Language development. The epiphany finally dawned on me. My mother had spoken out of experience. She was right, even though she did not have fancy jargon or research evidence to back her statement. My new strategies from then on were based on my mother’s wisdom.
Mom is still the same and I haven’t improved either. I now listen to her and quietly check the keywords on Google. Almost always I find some research that supports her solution. As they say, ‘there was a time when I had no kids and many theories about raising them. Now I have three kids and no theories.’
P.S. Please do not tell my mother about this blog (she doesn’t read it). I couldn’t handle one more ‘I told you so!’