Thursday, August 27, 2020

Let's Talk about Sex, Babies

One of the things that I am pretty clear about is that my children will not grow up as confused and mystified about sex as I was when I was a kid. 

Back in the day, as many of us will perhaps recall, the way to handle difficult but necessary conversations about puberty, growing up, sex, etc was to deliberately and studiously ignore them. Cannot blame anyone for it, it was just how the times were. But things are different these days.

'Wow.' Peanut's voice was dripping with sarcasm, one evening a couple of years ago. 'Thanks a lot.'

'What happened?' I asked.

'We had a ''workshop'' today in school.' She scowled at me. She actually used air quotes for the word workshop. 


'It was about - ' She lowered her voice and hissed at me 'Sex.'

'Oh?' I was surprised. 'Was I supposed to know?'

'Yes.' She said. 'They said they sent an email to you. ''Mother''' 

The air quotes were beginning to hurt. 

'Okay, so I don't keep up with ALL the emails from your school. There are like hundreds of them.' I protested. 'But's good that you're getting sex education. Do you have any questions for me?'

'Oh. Nah,' She said airily. 'It was just embarrassing to not have a heads up. But I knew everything anyway.'

'How?' I said suspiciously.

'Reading. Friends.' She said blithely and then added crushingly. 'I probably know more than you.' 

And that my friends, was my loving pre-teen a couple of years ago. You can only imagine how she is these days. 


Fast forward to the present year. I am convinced that I need to do this better with the twins. Especially because the evil Peanut has been at them already, it would seem. 

'They're a little worried.' She giggled to me in a confessional mood. 'Because I told them about the workshop coming up for them this year.' 

'Why are they worried?' I had mixed feelings - relief that my kids were talking about this so openly, and horror about what she had told them. 

'Ah.' She giggled some more and then said. 'I just told them that in the workshop, they'll probably be called to the front of the class to show everybody.'

'Show them WHAT?' As if I needed to ask.

'You know.' said the incorrigible child. 'Their family jewels. Bwahahahahahaha.'

I had to fight very very hard to not laugh. These are the struggles of parenthood. I chastised her appropriately and then decided I would soon set the record straight with my innocent twins. This was not a conversation I would shy away from. 


Unfortunately, the moment arrived sooner than I had expected - a few months ago - so I didn't have any time to prepare. 

'Mom.' Papad sighed as he looked up at me, cuddling up close. 'Where did I come from?'

'You came from her tummy, dummy.' his twin informed him from the other sofa. 'Just like me.'

This was clearly my cue. I swallowed and sat up straighter. 

'Okay.' I cleared my throat again. 'You know about sex, right?' It was a dumbass question to ask a ten year old. 

'Yes.' said Pickle quickly. 'It means Gender. Peanut didi told us.' 

Nice deflect, Peanut, I thought admiringly. I then steeled myself. This was totally normal. I went ahead and explained to them the basic nuances of how babies are actually borne, to the best of my limited knowledge and experience of having birthed several of them purely by accident. 

It was very well received, I must say. Some of the feedback that I got from my audience included -

'What? The PENIS? Ewwwwww......'

'Where? WHERE exactly, can you tell? WHAT? Ewwwwww.....'

' Head, my Head...I was NOT ready for this.'

'Why? Why did you have to tell me this? I didn't even ask! I was just SITTING there.'

'The man does it because he LIKES it? Or because he HAS to?'

'Are you saying Dad would do something like this? I thought he was a PROPER man.'

'Why would you? Why would anyone?'

'Next time, just DON'T tell me this even if I ask.'

'I thought Sex was GENDER.'

'Now I know this...I want to go back to being a child again.'

'But that's where you urinate from. I just don't get it.'

'What if I get nightmares about this now?'

'At least we know now.' (One saying consolingly to the other.') to be told 'It's YOUR fault for asking, I didn't WANT TO KNOW.'

And my personal favourite curious questions 'So do you guys still do it?' And even a bold 'Did you do it yesterday?' after which I knew it was time to stop. 


Things settled down again, but I did encourage them to read a book and ask (their father) if they had any more questions. It's called 'Just for Boys.' and it seemed age appropriate. It had stuff about body odour, body hair, liking girls, bullying and also some innocuously put information about bodily changes and functions which I hoped they wouldn't miss. 

'Have you read that book?' I pressed them. 

'Yes.' said Pickle, adding unnecessarily. 'And I have all the information that I need, mom, and I don't need to talk about it, thank you very much.'

'Huh.' I was a little hurt even though I was relieved. 'I hope you've read it properly. Don't read just the silly parts, read the important parts.'

'Mom.' said my son a little spitefully. ' I have read it. And the silly parts ARE the important parts.'

Okay. That proved it. He'd read it. 

I decided to back off. 

For now. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Going Out With a Bang

'It's storming!' my ten-year old son Pickle shouted from the balcony.

'Mom!' his twin Papad piped up hopefully, 'Can we go outside?'

I peered out. There was a strong whistling wind, and the rain had started to come down hard. I bit my lip, feeling my own child-like impulse to run out and play with my children. And then, a combination of intuition and sense came together and I said firmly 'Maybe after a while, it looks like it's going to be a bad storm.'

The twins groaned and Papad muttered bad-naturedly 'But it will be no FUN if it stops raining.' Still, they knew better than to push their point, and instead we sat down for lunch together. It was a good call because the thundering noises from outside indicated it was a very rough storm.

We jumped in our chairs at the sudden crash and some tinkling sounds from outside.

'What was that?' Pickle jumped from his chair. 'I'll go see...'

'Sit back down.' I instructed. 'Must be one of the lights.'

After lunch, I glanced out and saw it was relatively calmer. I announced. 'We can go for a bit now.'

'It's BARELY drizzling,' grumbled Papad, but his bubbly brother was already running to put on his shoes and so he followed suit.

'Peanut,' I called to their almost-teenage sister. 'Let's go out in the rain.'

Her usual reaction would have been to protest about doing anything along with the twins, but surprisingly, she just nodded nonchalantly and agreed to come along.

We had barely walked five steps when we stopped in our tracks. There was a crowd of people, security guards and drivers in front of us, but what caught our eye first was actually the object they surrounded. A huge tree just near our house had fallen right over in the storm and lay sprawled by the side of the road. We drew closer and gasped. It had fallen right on top of someone's parked car. The crash we had heard had been from its windshield shattering and the front and side of the vehicle was damaged and bent in various places. It didn't have a hope.

'Ohhhhh.' I breathed. 'Poor...whoever...' I was relieved no one seemed to have gotten hurt, although I also felt simultaneously relieved that it hadn't been our new car that had been totaled.

Pickle and Papad were staring unabashedly at the damage and I hurried them along from that spot into the main park area. There we spent a blissful hour with the two of them running around, and Peanut and I practising cartwheels, my enthusiasm notably higher than the gangly child already taller than me. It was a beautiful afternoon and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We were the only ones in the park, which is common during the rare occasions that I do take my kids into the rain, and I turned the other cheek as the boys found muddy puddles to splash around and roll in.

When I'd had enough - or rather when Peanut decided this was boring and she had cooler almost-teenage things to do elsewhere, we headed back. The twins of course didn't want to leave and dragged their feet.

I passed the fallen tree again. The crowd had disappeared and I was suddenly overcome by a sense of sadness. Hang on - this was the same tree that I never could never actually remember the name of - Gulmohar? - the one with red flowers. I had recently looked down at it from the terrace and it had looked beautiful with its bright red blossom in full glory. And hey - I now noticed; this was the one tree that actually shaded almost the entire small park where Vijay and I had started to do our morning yoga. I looked up and saw that we would now be exposed not just to the rays of the sun each morning, but would have no privacy at all because rows and rows of flats now looked directly onto this park. Oh no.

My steps slowed as I crossed the tree. How old was this tree anyway? How many years it must have taken for it to grow to its full height - it was huge. And it took just a few seconds for it to fall over and die. They would clear it up soon and all but the stump would remain. How had the storm got the better of it anyway? The other trees were spared; and this one had looked so sturdy and strong...

I looked around to make sure the twins were coming. They were nowhere to be seen. I retraced a few steps and then I saw them - the boys were near the tree, examining with awe the spectacle of it resting on its broken, hapless victim, 'some uncle's car.' With no one to tell them to get away, my twins were taking in the sight fully and with their usual unrepressed glee.

When we got home, Pickle wrapped his arms around my waist. 'Thank you, mom!'

'Get off me, you muddy pig.' I scolded and extricated myself. I smiled at his cheeky grin. 'And what are you thanking me for anyway?'

'Thank you for taking me out to the park! It was so fun!'

'It was, I suppose.' I had to agree.

'The best part,' He went on though I hadn't asked. 'Was the fallen tree! On the car! In the rain!' I gaped at him, but he just closed his eyes and his smile widened even further as he relived the moment, breathing reverentially - 'It was all so bee-yoo-tiful.'


Death is something our family is familiar with. My father passed away when I was 19; we have had various relatives die over the years and my grandparents all passed away recently so my children also know what it means to lose someone in the family. I almost died ten years ago myself and the experience profoundly changed my outlook on life.

My daughter has been particularly uncomfortable with the thought of death; as a younger kid, she used to cry often about it especially at nights and it was more than we could do to fully comfort her. 
More recently, she came in completely panicked and weeping to our room and she went on saying 'I don't want to die. I won't die. I'll never die. How can I just end? I won't, I won't, I won't.' 

My husband launched into a sudden panicked lecture himself on the scientific studies around elongating life and how Peanut herself might be one of the great scientists who ensured everyone lived to be a 150 easily, and more along those lines. 

I was listening to what she was saying about 'Never ending'. After my husband's words had no effect whatsoever, I interrupted him and told her, 'Peanut, you said you never want to end, right?'

'Right.' Came the muffled voice from the face buried in our drenched pillow. 

'Okay,' I said as calmly as I could, 'But we don't know what happens after death, right? How can anyone know for sure if we do end?' 

This did the trick. I'm not usually the more calm or responsive or responsible or effective parent, but my listening skills as a coach do prove handy from time to time. Peanut calmed down drastically. In a few moments, she was ready to go back to her room, but she hugged me and asked, 'Mom, can you write an article for me about death, so I can keep reading it if I feel scared?'

I promised to her that I would.

And then I didn't. I kept waiting for the moment to be right. 

The death of the beautiful tree spurred me to write this, though.

We are all going to die. And we are unlikely going to get to choose how or when we do. If we are allowed to grow old and then die, it is a great privilege. It is. But personally, right now, I must admit it is scary for me to think of losing my body's strength and vitality and my mental acuity, and to be unable to pursue so many of the things that I love because of some health issues that may crop up. So am I scared of death? No. Am I scared of poor health and elongated process of dying? Yes.

So my personal preference - not that it matters much, it's not like we get to place an order for this sort of thing out of a menu - would be to go out like that tree (minus the part of landing on the car maybe, I'd like to avoid hurting anyone). But definitely with a bang and not after a period of slow decline and rot. In the midst of an awesome storm, with a thunderous crash that rocks the ground, perhaps only some sort of momentary dance of resistance.

To have someone think later. 'Oh...but she was so strong. Just yesterday, she was blooming, full of life and vitality!'

To have someone think later. 'I'll miss her. She gave me loving protection that I didn't even realize while she was around. It mattered...I want her to know that.' 

And maybe, just as I noticed the park was going to get more light and sun, to also think without guilt. 'There's more light and maybe it will be okay once I figure it out. I wonder what's possible.' 

And also, as it happens when someone we know or know of passes on - 'Wow. If she could go out like that, it could happen to me too. Well, at least she looked like she did what she really wanted. What if I have less time than I think? What might I do differently?'

Because death does seem awful; and it will inevitably be rough on those who will miss us after we're gone. But we who pass on are unlikely to feel a thing - or maybe we do feel something amazing and liberating - who knows?

The point is, no one of us knows what happens.  We'll just each have to find out for ourselves. Not much choice there. And despite my fantasy about how I would like to go out with a bang, I'm unlikely to have a choice in that matter, as well. So? I suppose we only get to choose our attitude towards the whole thing. We can choose dread, or discomfort, or grudging acceptance...but we can also choose from peace, wonder, curiosity and whatever else we want. 

And then, maybe, we can relax a bit about it. And let the idea of the inevitable just be a reminder over what we do have some modicum of influence on: the question of how we're going to live in the time that we do have. Starting right now. Because it is all so bee-yoo-tiful. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

A New Spin on the Permission Wheel

(This article was originally published by SAJTA, the South Asian Journal of Transactional Analysts, in July 2020. This is my first article to the journal and I'm thrilled to have had it published. Hopefully there will be more in my journey into the fascinating world of psychotherapy).


The Permission Wheel, developed in the 1980s by Gysa Jaoui, is a visual representation of the various limits and permissions in a persons life. This article seeks to explore the tool, its potency, and the possibilities for its customization and usage.

Laurie Hawkes 2007 article contains a simple, lucid description of the Permission Wheel, brought alive by the case study of Marie. In our training group, we recently had the opportunity to examine and practice creating the Permission Wheel. This article uses insights generated in the process, and those from a few experiments that I conducted with my clients.[1]

The Basic Framework

Permissions, a key part of the therapeutic process in TA, are described by Berne (1972) as Parental license for autonomous behaviour. Berne also states true permissions are merely permits, like a fishing license.Hence - there is no compulsion to use permissions; but there is freedom to do so.

A key aspect of Jaouis Wheel is that a permission is not seen as binary i.e. you either have it or you dont- but exists in degrees, e.g. a high or low permission to be joyful. A quick way of understanding this tool is to look at the Permission Wheel Hawkes used for her client Marie, Figure 1.

Figure 1: Maries Permission Wheel
( Laurie Hawkes, 2007, Transactional Analysis Journal 37:3, Pg 213).

There are four quadrants in the wheel representing permissions to Self in the areas of Feelings, the World, Myself and Others. Ten concentric circles represent degrees of freedom (each 10%), filled in based on the therapists understanding of the client. We, thus, are able to get a mapthat represents the clients overall permission spaces i.e. their Script Enclosure (Hawkes, 2007)

The darker areas in Figure 1 were Maries original pre-therapy permissions and the lighter areas show an expanded space over a period of therapy. Hawkes highlighted that a major benefit of the tool is being able to monitor progress over time.

In our training group, we each drafted our individual Permission Wheels and also worked in pairs to help deepen insights around each others wheels; we used empathetic listening and open ended questioning to discover correlations and patterns in our emerging wheels – for example, high permission to be a child correlating with high permission for joy in one case; and in another, low permission to grow up corresponding with low permission to make decisions.

We concluded that the intuitiveness and visual nature of this tool makes it a very interesting framework for discussion and co-creation; and that in a therapeutic setting, the awareness created can enthuse the Child in the client - so that the Adult may contract for changes that emerge, with the support and co-operation from the Child.

The Play Pen

Hawkes likened the script-enclosure to a play pen, close to the playpen described by Gouldings in their 1976 article on injunctions (Gouldings, 1976). This seems apt, because the degrees of freedom across different areas form a metaphorical ground within which we are safe and comfortable.

A question that arises: even if clients work with their therapist to increase permission in an area, does that mean that they will actually step into the new ground? Or is it possible they may avoid it, preferring to hover in familiar parts? What would allow a client to really take in a permission?

For this to happen, the client needs to believe that the increased permission is good for them and must feel safe in trying out behaviours prohibited earlier. This is where the therapists potency and protection are important (Crossman, 1966); and both must be powerful enough for the client to go ahead and disobey their Parental injunction. Exploring new territory will require practice by the clientuntil this unfamiliar new ground becomes familiar, and the client is able to experience something along the lines of Hey! It really is OK to venture out here.

Whos in Charge of This Permission Business, Anyway?

Since I was enthusiastic about the idea of the permission wheel, my trainer, asked if I would write an article on the topic for SAJTA despite the fact I had been in training only for two months. The permission to think, and to succeed were implied in that ask; but, despite being a seasoned writer, I still felt a sense of uncertainty as to how to approach my first article on TA.

I called my trainer to ask somewhat breathlessly whether I could use personal examples and a non-academic voice, both natural components of my writing style in other words, I was looking for the permission to be myself.

My trainer, recognizing an anxious Child looking for validation, spoke from her Nurturing Parent, assuring me that it would be okay to write the article as naturally as possible and we would have the editorial teams inputs to review. I appreciated her assurances; however, I found myself still unable to get started until I decided it would be okayand more than that, my Child got excited and decided that it might even be fun.

As with injunctions, the Child ego state is key in permissions; permissions may be given by Parent figures, but they have no power unless they are taken in by the Child.

I realized my trainer was excited about my writing this article her Child ego state was involved in this process as well. Thus, her asking me to write a SAJTA article can be seen as a permission transaction (Berne, 1972), depicted below in Figure 2.


Figure 2: The Permission Transaction

Adult-Adult –
S1 (Trainer-Me): Would you like to write this article?
R1 (Me-Trainer): Yes, I think it would be a good exercise, actually.

Intra-psychic (For me)
S2 (My Parent - my Child): You really think you can do this?
R2 (My Child - my Parent): Youre right, I probably cant.


S3 (Me-Trainer): Would it really be alright for me to write this as me?
R3 (Trainer-Me): Of course, dont worry about it.

S4 (Trainer-Me): Itll be fun!
R4(Me-Trainer): You know, I think it will!

The last two transactions with my trainer involving my Child receiving her parental permission, and being infected by her Child enthusiasm led to the following intra-psychic conversation, where I accepted the permission completely

(My Child my Parent): My trainer thinks its going to be fine, and in fact, were going to have some fun with this.
(My Parent my Child): Alright, you sound like you know what youre doing. Go ahead and give it a shot.

And so, I got down to writing.

Thus, we see that in a permission transaction, all ego states tend to be involved; but ultimately they need to be granted to; accepted by, and then explored and acted upon by the Child.

We have Permission to Modify the Permission Wheel!

The four quadrants in Gysa Jaouis original Permission Wheel are highly relevant; however, our training group saw the opportunity to also add different areas into the wheele.g. romantic relationships, creative pursuits. Any modifications are completely in line with the creators original intent for the tool she shared it generously and encouraged creativity in its use.

1. Enhancing the list of permissions

Our group brainstormed other possible permissions, listed below. In my experience, the Wheel became unwieldy and complex if too many items were added; practitioners will need to experiment and find their own balance between granularity and overcomplication. A non-exhaustive list of options to consider are in the following table:

Me & My Feelings
Me & Myself
Me & Others
Me & The World
To feel all feelings
-  To make meaning of the world
-  To feel wonder
-  To dream
-  To feel excitement
-       To be beautiful
-       To make mistakes / be human
-       To relax
-       To be sexual
-       To be okay
-       To approve of myself
-       To deal with my problems
-       To be silly
-       To just be
-       To be naughty
-       To be creative
-       To be intuitive
-       To trust in myself
-       To be loved
-       To forgive
-       To love
-       To express self
-       To refuse
-       To be independent
-       To ask for help

-To be important
-  To be different
-  To be rich
-  To learn
-  To grow
-  To make an impact
-  To lead
-  To stand out
-  To be ordinary
-  To win
-  To decide
-  To change one’s mind
-  To be innovative

Figure 3: Possible Permissions To Include In the Wheel

Coming up with this list was a liberating exercise; and in fact, as I used it with my clients, their involvement and excitement grew as they added to the list for themselves. 
What other permissions might be there? The possibilities are endless; it depends on our clients and their context, and our own creativity - and awareness about what permissions might help them most.

2. Mix & Matching Two Wheels

As an experiment, I decided to work with one of my clients, Raman (name changed) to overlay a Permission Wheel on another tool, the  Coaching Wheel (adaptation of the original Life Wheel created by Paul J Meyer in the 1960s) wherein different life areas are plotted and marked for the clients satisfaction levels, as a means to decide priorities and actions (see figure 4)[2]