11 August 2017

Granduncle Sheva


Me pretending to be a superhero -- cape and all trimmings... 

I’m a member of a little local writing group. We meet, give each other a prompt, write and then read what we wrote to each other. 
Last time, the prompt was an influential person. I decided to share with you what I wrote that day. I decided to show how influential the small act of an adult can be for a child future.

Big callused hands resting on the bony knees, a huge smile under bushy gray hair, a warm voice booming: “And how is my little astronaut?”
That was usually greeting I got from Granduncle Sheva each time we would visit him. I would respond with the grin, chest rising up with joy and quick rattle of my latest discoveries about space. Around that time my mother got me a children's encyclopedia --that turned to be a source of menace for her, but that is another story. 
And he listened. He listened to a tiny girl talking about fantastic stuff. Stuff so far away from his daily farm life that adult me wondered why did he bother. But he did bother. He listened to a girl who just started elementary school. He listened as he really believed that this little girl will somehow become an astronaut one day. Despite living in a small mountains country that did not even had an 's' from a space program. 
And that smiling face, those moments of undivided attention, the full respect of the individuality of the child and its interests, all of that did wonders for me. It helped me dream despite the laughs of other adults. It helped me keep my curiosity despite the constant pressures of the traditional patriarchy society. I dared to be me, instead fell into a mold forced upon me by the society. 
I was a girl in a small country, steeped with strong traditional patriarchy, millennia of conditioning permitting every pore of everyday life. And although I lived in Christian parts of the country, it was bad. For instance, in remote rural areas was quite normal to have the following conversations.
“How many kids you have?”
“Just one son.”
“One child, that makes it easy for you financially.”
“Oh, I have two daughters, they are sucking my blood.”
Yes, the daughter was not even considered to be a child. 
And that did not improve much. My own uncle was scoffing at me when I decided to go to graduate school. His usual comment was, why she needs so much school when she’ll get married anyway. 
So this old man grew up in such an environment that considered females a kind of property. He was a farmer, barely able to write, but he decided to listen and remember what a little girl was dreaming about. 

That attention and smiles gave me the strength to persist through the rest of my life. I did not even realize how important that was until I read one treatise of the importance of early models and support in child development. He was the one who gave that important support to me, propped up dreams of the little girl. 
I mean, I’ve seen with my own little cousins how a lack of such support can turn out. Sadly, I did not know that support is important, so as a teenager, I did not return the favor. 
Anyway, once I was babysitting my cousin, and her little friend, both of them just started school, so they wished to play ‘school.' And we did. And I got completely awestruck with the abilities of my little cousin. During the play, she was able to comprehend and master mathematical concepts that she will learn in the school a few years later. Her friend could not get what we’re talked about. But, my little cousin never got the support I got. And her talents basically went to waste. 
In the end, I never became a real astronaut. Obstacles were too great. I was born in a country without a space program, and later war broke out in my country making even more obstacles. But I did come close. I became a scientist instead, astrophysicists, channeling my love of space and curiosity into research instead. That was unique for that little part of my country where I grew up. But I know that my abilities are not unique. Many girls there have same, or even larger talents than I do, yet they do not receive support.

That distant relative helped me develop a belief in my own value as a person, helped me see myself outside society imposed constraints on my gender. He gave me the courage to see the possibilities. 
I never thanked him.
It took the war in my country for me to get curious about the human psyche. I wished to understand why people go along with such destructive ideologies and rationales for war. I started reading psychology half-hazardly, and that led me to the importance of accepting a child's dreams. 
Granduncle had died before I reached that realization. That’s why I decided to write this. 

A belated thank you.

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