Memoirs of an Only Child

I am an only child - Reboot Social

Recently I caught up with a few mates of mine and the conversation was around siblings. Interestingly, the group had a mix of sibling hierarchy. Some were first borns, a few in the middle and others the youngest.

True to law of sibling hierarchy, the first borns were more assertive – the ‘enforcer’ type, the middle ones related to ‘acquiescence’ and ‘strategists,’ and the youngest didn’t care and were the ‘free birds’. Each one enjoyed their position and felt grateful to have siblings. Life according to them would have been boring without siblings.

I am an only child.

I am often met with a “oh! – don’t you wish you had siblings?”

Only children are often perceived to be pampered, spoilt brats, selfish, insensitive and narcissists. As young as my memory goes, my parents always insisted on me following the norms and etiquette society demanded. I can always remember myself sharing my pencils, books, food and toys with others, a tad short of being overgenerous, lest I am perceived selfish. Growing up, I was always concerned about those around me, albeit I would be the last person everybody would turn to when they ran out of friends. And I never perceived myself to be an extraordinarily gifted kid to be self-obsessed.

So here are some of the real challenges I have faced as an only child:

Bullying

Siblings make you street smart, naturally cultivate your defence mechanisms. Only children live in their comfort zone, nestled in the safety of their parents. I did not know how to defend myself or protect myself from the taunts and snipes made by my friends. I was meek, submissive, passive and an easy target for anyone.

One of my earliest memories of being bullied is in year 3.

I am acutely myopic and wear glasses since I was 8 years old. Without my glasses, my vision is a challenge. I can only see blurry images and virtually cannot distinguish faces or objects. Technology in those days (1981) was not as advanced as today. The high index / number of my prescription meant my glasses looked like “Coke Bottles”. And this is where it all started.

Besides being called a lot of “funny names”, my biggest worry was being pushed deliberately while on the playground making me fall, and dislodging my glasses. It would then be a frantic attempt for me to be on my knees and pat the ground to see if I could touch my glasses and find them. Can you imagine what this instils into the mind of an eight year old? FEAR.

Here is another one which sticks to my mind.

Usually my Dad takes me to the optometrist for getting my pair of glasses. Once it had to be my Mum and we ended up getting a frame which apparently was a total mismatch to my face and made me look like a weirdo. These images are still very clear in my mind – a group of kids standing in a circle around me and teasing me for my appearance. I broke down and in the middle of sobbing said “Please don’t tease me anymore. I will ask my Mother to get me a new frame today”. The little eight year old boy soon lost his CONFIDENCE too.

I started shying away from sports and any sort of physical activity. Books became my best friends. I read ferociously and created my own happy place. A world of characters, imagination, expression and emotions excited me. By the time I was in High School, I was a very engaged kid actively involved in drama and school plays. ‘Fancy Dress’ was my favourite. That FEAR element was crushed with numerous on stage appearances at school. My Mother was a big source of encouragement for all my on stage acts. We would bounce ideas of what costumes would go with each fancy dress theme.

Growing Up — Teen Years

This is a stage of life where a multitude of things happen. The most intriguing time was when the physical changes happened to my body. I was confused and had a lot of questions. I learned most of the Nature’s aspects from conversations overheard between senior students in the school bus. In my days, there was a fine line of things I could share with or ask my parents. I found it very difficult to accept the fact that I was the result of a sexual intercourse act. The word ‘Sex’ was taboo, because I never really knew what it was in its beautiful form.

My circle of friends changed when I started Uni. My reading made me have intelligent conversations with people who I looked up to as role models. I used every opportunity to get on stage and public speaking came to me naturally. I found my confidence levels soaring.

Every only child dreams of having that ‘one person’ who will stand as a rock for them. I found it in my wife. We often joke about being polar opposites in everything except for our values and upbringing, which makes us totally compatible. What I lack, she COMPLETES. To date she has worked with me to “Let Go” of many sour memories. I am very thankful to her for that.

We have an only child.

Like every parent, I want our child to be successful. I have shared my experiences with her as and when appropriate. I have also shared these few things as a lesson for life:

  1. You cannot let anyone bully you unless you allow them to.
  2. Never pick on anyone for a physical disability because you don’t realise how badly you are crushing their world.
  3. Stay calm – for you’re intelligent.

Be warm – for you’re kind hearted.

Stay strong – in the face of a storm.

  1. One family, one money, open to any conversation.

Some of us only children may talk a lot to ourselves, enjoy being left alone. But deep down, we have a warm and genuine heart, willing to share and care. We are trustworthy and loyal and will do everything to see others happy. (And I have to admit we often end up getting hurt).

So the next time you bump into an only child, chances are you are looking at a ‘silent achiever’ who has a very different story to mine. We may not brag a lot about ourselves, for we are used to keeping things close to our heart. Trust and comfort are our gatekeepers and once we build that with you, we open the doors to our world and let you be a part of it.

If you liked this post please use the social media buttons below to shareClick here to comment.

Charlie Gard, an epilogue

I waited a couple of weeks to gather my thoughts before I wrote this post. 

Charlie Gard Epilogue

When Charlie Gard passed away, I felt numb relief. 

Living with uncertainty, constantly balancing on the precipice of life and death, is exhausting. Charlie’s parents fought so hard for him — living off the fumes of hope.

It sickens me how everyone in this story has been demonized. The plight of a little boy has been politicized to the point where your own opinion may have been clouded by the smog of political hate.

You can disagree with the parent’s point of view, but to accuse them of being child abusers, or being single-handedly responsible for Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) losing donations, or for threats being made against hospital staff, is wrong.

Similarly, accusing the hospital staff of trying to kill Charlie is ludicrous. GOSH genuinely believed in their opinion and assessment of what would be in Charlie’s best interests.

But as too many of us have experienced, medical professionals are not infallible. Doctors can be wrong.

Doctors have hundreds of patients, parents only have one.

There is no stronger advocate for a sick child than his/her parents. A parent’s heart never wants their child to suffer.

At the heart of this battle was a little boy and his family, diligently following the rules of the system laid out for them. They did nothing wrong, and everything right. For the first time in human history, the layperson has access to knowledge, the mysteries of medicine no longer confined only to the select few. The understanding of it is of course beyond most of us, but the ideas, the research, the differing opinions, are open and accessible.

As a lawyer, I have been trained to understand that there is rarely a right or wrong – you can always find a learned, legitimate expert to validate your point of view, to argue your case.

Good doctors encourage parents to research, reach out to experts, and tell them what you learn.  Other doctors get their backs up, and tell you that it is inappropriate and to not do it again (yes, this actually happened to me and Anakha).

When the world is full of options and opportunities, and in the absence of abuse, why is the arbiter the state and the courts?  It is an extremely expensive, dehumanizing, demoralizing, unethical David and Goliath situation. This is not the right process to put an already suffering family through.

It is a question of ethics — a value judgment — and whose values should have primacy?

As the parent of a severely disabled, terminally ill child, I get to experience the value and worth of my daughter’s life.  Another person may believe the life of a child who is quadriplegic or on a ventilator is valueless.  They are entitled to their opinion, and can make life and death decisions based on their point of view.

Ultimately the final say did belong to Charlie’s parents. They got their second opinion, and accepted that it was too late for Charlie, and they made the choice to let him go.

Their choice.

It should have always been their choice.

Thank you Connie and Chris, for bringing the scourge that is mitochondrial disease to the attention of the world.

We will always remember Charlie.

If you liked this post please use the social media buttons below to shareClick here to comment.

Won’t you be my neighbour?

My neighbour - Reboot Social

The first evening it happened I dismissed it as a one-off. 

My neighbours with whom I shared an adjacent wall in our townhome complex obviously had some company over and were enjoying what sounded like a Wii-type interactive physical game that made a lot of noise.

Live and let live, I initially thought.

I knew that the owner, a woman slightly older than myself with whom I was on a first name basis and chatted with once in a while, had recently moved out and that her son and his friend were occupying the unit. They were students, only in their early twenties and destined to party now and again I reasoned. Plus, it was summer and the weekend and the time for letting off steam.

When it happened again several more times, I was irritated.

The noise level and thuds against the wall from this game or whatever it was (I never actually found out) were incredibly loud and hard. It sounded like they were playing tennis and hitting the balls as hard as Nadal or Serena except that hits came every second or so.

I still chose to not say anything, rationalizing that they were young and the son’s mother had always been nice. Also, I didn’t have any light sleepers in the house at the time. No young kids—just my elderly father who slept on the floor above, largely away from the noise.

But my main reason for remaining silent, if I’m honest, is that I normally dread confrontation and the prospect that a polite request from me “to please keep it down” might trigger a conflict. During the nights it happened, the noise would eventually stop, but only after a good long spell.

One night it started when a friend was over.  I told her it had happened before and that I hadn’t done anything about it. She seemed to be in disbelief that I hadn’t said anything given the vigour of the banging/thumping/swatting effect reverberating against the wall.

I vowed then that the next time I might see the mother, I would gently mention the noise level at her son’s parties. An indirect approach, I know. Perhaps passive-aggressive, too. But that was as far as my temperament allowed me to go. But I continued to worry that I was being too much of a pushover in the situation.

Fast-forward a few months.

I was about to start to teach a class at the local university where I worked. Because of my father’s increasing frailty at the time, and the external care and day programs for him that I coordinated, I always kept my cell phone with me even when I taught, in case of an emergency call.

One came that day. It was the local wheel transit operator.

He informed me that the driver who had picked up my father from his day program had dropped him off at the front door of our townhome as usual. Only this time there was no one there to receive him. Normally, a home care attendant was there to receive my father and take him into the house and help him up to his room on the third floor.

I learned later that day that there had been a mix-up at the care agency.

After getting the call at work, I had to use breathing techniques to calm the panic I felt rising in me as I quickly cancelled my class, grabbed my things, and rushed home. I tried to block images of my frail father, by then legally blind and with hearing loss, calling out for help in his gentle voice, seated on his walker, to no avail. I saw him getting increasingly anxious wondering why nobody was there to take care of him.

Although I lived a short bus ride from campus, it was the first time in my life I felt guilty about not having a car. I desperately willed the bus to go faster. Childhood memories of watching Bewitched flooded back to me. I lamented my inability to use magical powers and instantly transport myself to my front doorstep.

I have rarely been so distraught. At least, at least, it’s not raining I thought. A small mercy.

After what seemed like the longest 12-minute bus ride of my life, I raced the 100 or so metres from the bus stop to our townhome complex, arriving breathless from the effort and now fully in the throes of anxiety, guilt, and fear.

I finally saw my father. It was a sight I will never forget!

My next door neighbor, my friend’s son, was standing next to my dad, one arm around his shoulder and the other holding his cell phone; trying I presume, to get a hold of me. I could have kissed him, I was so relieved.

He told me he had heard someone calling out and had come over to investigate. He had found my dad and stayed with him. My dad looked comforted and secure. I thanked my neighbour profusely as he took his leave. Then I attended to my father.

I complained later that day to the government office responsible for the care agency that hired the care attendant. I also felt and processed a lot of other emotions afterward, eventually feeling the stress leaving my body.

One emotion, the memory of which has stayed with me now so many years later, is my deep gratitude that my neighbour had been there for my father when he needed help.

I thought back to all those summer parties, the astounding noise levels, and the endless back and forth worry in my head about whether I should confront my neighbour. Now, I was infinitely glad I hadn’t.

Whether or not bringing up the noise issue would have created poor neighbourly relations that would then have discouraged my neighbour from helping my father, I will never know.

I like to think it wouldn’t have.

But my parting impression from that experience was that my neighbour could now make all the noise he wanted and I would never complain because I was so grateful for what he had done.

Does this mean I would never raise a potentially divisive issue with a neighbour? No, I wouldn’t say never. I understand that sometimes noise and other neighbourly effects are a real nuisance and must be addressed.

But I would think long and hard before doing so.

My beautiful father has since left us.

But my own son, a newly-minted toddler, now lives with me (along with my spouse). Soon he will start exploring the neighbourhood and his independence; and should he ever need help, and mommy and daddy aren’t there, I hope a caring neighbour will be.

If you liked this post please use the social media buttons below to shareClick here to comment.

Maneesha Deckha

Author: Maneesha Deckha 


Maneesha is a Professor of Law who lives with her husband and son in beautiful Victoria, BC. She is a vegan and an animal lover. Her articles and papers have appeared in many national and international publications including the Vancouver Sun.

 

Old habits die hard

Old habits die hard

“Do you eat it raw?” The question came from the portly gentleman who was sitting across from me at the table. It was directed at Olson, the attendee from Minnesota.

There were eight of us gathered in a hotel bar in Atlanta, GA.

Each of us represented a different company and had flown in from various parts of North America (read USA and Canada) to attend a day-long executive session with a strategic partner. We were in the process of winding down with a couple of pre-dinner drinks after a hectic day at the office.

I was the only Canadian at the table.

Somehow the conversation had moved from telecom, to cloud technology, to guns, and to hunting.

“Sometimes we eat it raw,” Olson replied.

He was not talking about sushi or sashimi.

He went on to explain that occasionally he and his friends would eat the raw meat of an animal they had shot, though for health reasons they would freeze it first. As he went on about the superiority of moose meat over beef, I tried to keep a straight face.

While I kind of sort of understand the concept of “eat what you kill,” I had always assumed that there was some heat and fire involved before the meat was consumed.

Clearly, I need to get out more.

To me, eating raw meat meant “medium rare” at the Keg Steakhouse.

Hard core hunters will point out that people like me are hypocrites.

On the one hand we have no qualms about wearing leather shoes, and eating meat – chicken, beef, pork etc. – bought from a store; on the other, we act holier than thou to the hunting and killing of animals. Someone has to kill those animals before the supermarket can stock their shelves, the argument goes.

As the conversation drifted further into unfamiliar areas like eating roadkill, I wondered how they would react if I told them that my favourite food was rice. It is strange that I would think of rice – a filler – as my favourite food. It is sort of like saying that my favourite food is “bread.”

But, it’s true. Old habits die hard.

Rice is what everyone ate when we were growing up. To be more precise, “rice with fish” or “rice with vegetables was the norm – all cooked the south Indian way.

Eating raw meat or fish were not a thing then.

Perhaps Olson and his friends grew up in hunting families and developed a taste for raw meats.

Now, I eat steaks on the rare side, I have no issues with carpaccio, beef tartare, or sashimi.

But, when someone recently asked me what Canadians typically eat at home, I was stumped.

Sandwiches?

Canadians eat a lot of sandwiches.

We just use different fillers between slices of bread and call it different names – breakfast sandwich, sub, hamburger, hot dog, panini, melt, club, Reuben, the list goes on.

The reality is that most “food” that people recognize as uniquely Canadian, fall into the “snacks” category – poutine, peameal bacon, beaver tails

I find that Canadian food is as diverse as its people.

Meat and potato, pasta and pizza, curries and chow mein are all “typical” depending on our cultural and ethnic background. As much as we like the simplicity of salads and sandwiches, most of the time, the food we gravitate to is influenced by what we grew up eating when we were younger.

Why else would my wife and I end up in an Indian restaurant during a trip to Rome?

Old habits do die hard!

If you liked this post please use the social media buttons below to shareClick here to comment.

A story of me and my expensive watch…

A few months ago, my wife decided to get me an expensive watch. Until then, I had not owned a watch of any significant value. My expensive watch

I had been considering buying a new watch since the two I had were looking tired.

Minimalism was far from my mind at that time.

As for watches, I have never been picky.

If it tells time, and does not look like a clock on my wrist, I can live with it. When I asked my wife about the price, I didn’t get a straight answer. She said something about significant birthdays and once-in-a-lifetime purchases.

I didn’t push it.

Clearly, if she felt that I could use some bling to boost my image, I wasn’t going to dispute that. Moreover, I didn’t want to appear insensitive to her thoughtfulness.

After all, it was a thing of beauty; very elegant, and — as per some Google searches that I did — pricey.

But, was it going to bring me joy forever?

I have always had a philosophy in life — only buy things that you can actually use without worrying about its cost. If you had to store it away in a draw or a locker, it defeated the purpose. I applied the same rule to social events and interactions. If it’s too formal and uppity, I try and avoid it.

No point trying to be someone you really are not.

“Pushing the boundaries” and “getting out of comfort zone” etc. were strictly for work. No need to bring it home.

Suffice to say, I was a little out of my league with my new watch.

For the first few days I wore it wherever I went. I proudly displayed it to friends and casually brought watches up in conversations. I gestured with my watch-wearing hand during presentations at work similar to Roger Federer playing tennis wearing his Rolex watch.

Mostly, people didn’t notice.

So, I gave up trying too hard to make people notice that I was wearing a fancy watch. I decided to use it like an everyday watch.

I quickly realized that it was not that simple.

Lock it or lose it - Reboot SocialThe first time I wore it to the squash club, I worried about leaving it in my racquet bag among squash balls and loose change. The “Lock it or lose it” sign in the locker room was not confidence inspiring. The fact that my six-racquet bag did not fit into the change room lockers made matters worse.

On my late evening walks, I suddenly had a new worry; I could get mugged, for my watch!

In a way, I felt stupid.

For the life of me I cannot remember the last time I looked at someone’s watch to see if it looked expensive. All the same, I now had to content with the fact that there may be people, unlike me, who can tell an expensive watch when they see one.

People have been known to commit crimes for far less money.

Notorious B.I.G. said it: Mo Money Mo Problems.

Indeed!

The fact that I wear my watch on my right hand didn’t help either.

I seemed incapable of doing anything without bumping my watch against something or the other. I had never noticed or worried about that before.

In a weird sort of way, my new watch had added stress to my life. I did not need that.

I loved the watch, but disliked the hassle that came along with it. It would be a shame if I scratched it up or worse, lose it.

I had a dilemma — I needed an everyday watch.

So, I got one.

I must say it is a climb down from a luxury watch to an everyday watch.

But, I am good.

I feel right at home throwing it into my gym bag or fiddling around under the hood of the car wearing it.

In reality, I barely look at it.

I rely more on my phone to tell time.

Duh!

If you liked this post please use the social media buttons below to shareClick here to comment.

Of breathalyzers and false positives…

Of breathalyzers and false positives

At first, I thought that there had been an accident.

As I inched my way up the line to the police officer with the flashlight, I realized that I was caught in a RIDE spot check – an Ontario sobriety testing program designed to catch drivers driving under the influence of alcohol. There were flashing lights and pylons everywhere and the cars ahead of me were being channeled into a single lane.

I thanked my stars!

I had just passed up on an offer for a quick beer from a colleague.I know that one beer is below the legal limit set by the province, but, who knows what breathalyzers can do? The last thing you want is to end up on the wrong side of a breathalyzer test.

Some recent reports in the media had called into question the integrity of the breath testing equipment – Intoxilyzer 8000C – used by the police in in Ontario. Aging equipment and lack of maintenance procedures had culminated in a few disputed charges.

Imagine a scenario where you are charged with a “refused to provide sample” because the breathalyzer did not register your effort to blow into it.

Apparently, it happens!

As much as I support the idea of keeping drunk drivers off the road, the thought of innocent people being wrongly judged by machines is not a comforting one.

But then, this post is not really about RIDE programs and its merits or demerits.

It’s about false positives and false negatives, in life.

Which is worse, a false positive or a false negative?

It depends.

In the context of our legal system, a false positive is worse than a false negative.  The presumption of innocence is a cherished characteristic of modern justice and best summarized by Sir William Blackstone’s saying:

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”

However, in the context of medicine and diagnosing illness, a false negative can have dire health consequences for an individual. At the same time, false positives can create panic and divert scarce resources towards wild goose chases.

In one form or the other, we have all experienced false positives.

Whether it is your car alarm going off for no obvious reason, or being uneasy about the big burly guy walking behind you in a dimly lit street, we hold statistically unsound presumptions that lead us to judge situations and people around us.

Think of how your internal cognitive detector kicks in when you deal with someone who you believe is not telling the truth. The goal of the tools, whether cognitive or electronic, is to enhance our predictive powers that help us get closer to the truth.

But, like the breathalyzer, our cognitive detector is also prone to errors of judgement.

In most cases, finding truth is an iterative process. You get closer to the truth every time you discard a known piece of “false.” Under a more philosophical lens, truth should be viewed as a destination, and the things that we identify as false, the vehicles to get there.

Back to the police breathalyzers.

One of the issues with accepting the results from this device is that it has no published “uncertainty of measurement”- or as we ordinary folks would call it, an “error rate.” So, if we assume that the device is 95% accurate, that would mean that 50 out of a 1000 people stopped could get charged incorrectly.

Additionally, if you assume that 1 in 1000 drivers are actually drunk while driving, the probability of an actual drunk driver being stopped and being charged is a mere 2% (1 out of 50). That would mean that the rest of the 49 could be incorrectly charged.

Tough luck?

Which brings me back to the top of the page, and the original scope of this piece.

The era of personal diagnostic tools is upon us and will soon dominate the consumer market in the same way smart phones currently dominate communications and transactions.

One technical obstacle remains: how do we accurately measure low frequency occurrences of a “something” within a population?

In the breathalyzer example above, a 99.99 accuracy rate would be needed to avoid falling into a false positive trap and mislabeling a driver “drunk” when they are not. We will need to have a breathalyzer tool with 99.99% accuracy.

Perhaps we do, but without a published error rate, we are in the dark.

At the end of the day, it is not about the breathalyzer either. It is about perceptions. What if someone was charged in error?

Are we too quick to judge?