September 23, 2005

what makes a carer?

“what is your name?” i asked him. he was taller than me, and looked like a younger cousin i had in india. he badly needed a haircut, and i was wondering what he was doing in a place like this.

“james bond” he replied, without batting an eyelid. and then, looking straight into my eyes, he grinned noisily. he was happy. i felt a lump rise in my throat.

rahul was one of the 10 epileptic children at an after-school club in london. there was grumpy james, who spoke his heart out and was not liked by anyone. there was ross, who was always bullied by james, and who in turn bullied the others. ross couldn’t speak, and often used sounds to express his opinion. like when you call him to a game of hide-and-seek, he’ll give out a looooooonng-sounding shout of joy. when, in a playful mood, he trips james and gets kicked by him, he goes silent. his mouth spilling saliva all over his already-saliva-stained black one-size-smaller t-shirt; his eyes go red with hot tears that don’t somehow fall. mary is 12 and very sweet. she likes to paint, and she likes marilyn monroe. she has a scrapbook full of her artwork and comments by her teacher and mother. when the fat strong straps on her wheelchair that hold her body in place are undone, she is on the floor trying to hold on to a plastic ball that always escapes her thin fingers. anita is 18 and can’t stop crying. terri is 18 too, and has to be fed by a tube that goes directly to her tummy. she has a small face, tiny legs that stick out of her wheelchair uncomfortably. i think she is uncomfortable herself, and very sleepy, but even when i try asking terri what she feels, she can’t answer. “can she think? can she feel?” i wonder. i haven’t met some of the other children yet. then james demands that i play with him. but i have to leave. he sulks even when i tell him this politely.

my 60 minutes are up.

“give it a good thought,” says the kind lady of the after-school club. i am thankful that she is so understanding. she tells me there are feelings inside us that even we don’t know about. and these come to the surface when you are dealing with severely disabled children. so it will take a while to be patient, to not choke up while you are with them. “and you haven’t spent time with normal children either…”

i think of her words on my way back home. i think of the travel expenses to london and back once university lessons start next week. i think of the other student jobs that i can only volunteer for and not get paid. i think of the vast and competitive syllabus that i have to study, the presentations i will have to give, the 4000-word assignments i have to submit. can i spare 8 hours a week for these children? i think of them again and again. the sight and smell of saliva still sticking to my skin and senses, and mashed potatoes.

“no, i don’t think i can cope with it,” says my heart. my mind says “they’re only children, where’s my sense of duty towards them?” heart says “this will see you through your transport costs at least.” mind says “what about the children? the time it will take for me to know and understand them, for them to understand me…what if i fail them?”

i think of how the heart and mind have got mixed up so easily. my back hurts after all the travel during the week and the sitting for long lectures. i think of the label my own doctors have given me – ‘fibromyalgia‘. how small it suddenly seems to be. my mother’s question, “is there no other job?” echoes in my head. for once, i wish there was.

on the train i pick out a book to push the thoughts out of my head. “later,” i tell my mind, trying to read. my eyes don’t even touch the words. i study ‘myself’: this is a strange conflict of will vs ability. of i-wish-to-help vs it’s-not-as-easy-as-you-think-it-is. i admire the lady of the club house, the girls who are carers there. how do they do it? i know i do care, but what i have to know is, will i make a good carer?

i am glad i volunteered for 60-minutes with the children. suddenly a minor four-year-old memory flashes in my head like a tiny photograph, a deja vu maybe…?

i still have a week or two before i say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the kind lady. before that, i have to accept the answer i already know.


  • premalatha said:


    You are very brave. It is a strange coincidence that just today I talked to a social worker about becoming a foster carer and have come to a similar conclusion after I had a similar Q&A session with myself. These are really tough jobs.

    How did the university lessons go? Hope you liked them.

  • Thomas Sarasam said:

    you post reminds me how thankful I need to be to God..

  • Leslie JS said:

    inspirational, thoughtful writing. We have so much to be thankful for. Your writing reminded me of a couple of dear friends who have a passion for social work.

  • Anonymous said:

    i admire your way of expressing the things.really how can you express in such a beautiful way.striving to adopt such quality in me.
    and continue such beautiful posts.

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