Category Archives: Shwetangna Chakrabarty

We Can Heal

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A lot of harm, a lot of hurt,

A lot of anger, and a lot of sadness,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Healing after harm, healing after hurt,

Healing from anger, healing from sadness,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

We cannot heal if we let the harm take over,

We get more hurt if we keep picking on our wounds,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Our wound is scabbing and trying to heal,

Our anger keeps removing the scab and exposing it raw,

Our sadness stops the wound from healing, we keep probing the wound,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

Healing from injustice, healing from bias, healing from discrimination,

A lot said and a lot done,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

We heal when we find peace, we heal when we take the leap of faith,

We heal when we do not do to others what they did to us,

Alas! not a lot of healing.

You against me and me against you and against each other,

Not stopping till we bring everyone down, us and them,

Injustice will rejoice in its victory, for it turned us into them,

Alas! is healing ever possible?

If we keep hurting, we will keep hurting, revenge cannot heal,

Till the hurt engulfs us and we become what we wanted to fight,

Alas! is healing ever possible?

We heal by finding our space to grow, they take it away, our place to grow,

We keep finding it as we want to heal, we want to grow,

 We can heal.

Our hate, our hurt, and our harm cannot stop us from healing,

Our courage of pure surrender to justice will dismantle systemic injustice,

 We can heal.

Not naming and shaming, not crying and not shying,

But doing and moving and growing,

Being the better and the bigger person,

 We can heal.

This is a long fight, the fight of color,

Fear is the color of hurt and harm,

As it flows red if not contained,

Not in our veins, not on our hands do we want the red,

 We can heal.

Let in the soul force, not the sole force of blame,

Heal with love, heal from harm, heal for peace

For only truly healed us will heal the world.

 We can heal.

VEIL OR NO VEIL?

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Veil or no Veil? A question that women have pondered for centuries. Do we have an answer? Yes, we do-veil if others demand of us and no veil if others permit us. This demanding and permitting has not changed even though the types of veils have. Women need to wear a veil in traditional Christian weddings as a sign of purity; married women need to wear a veil or ghoonghat in traditional Indian households to symbolize their loyalty to their spouses; women need to wear a veil or hijab/purdah in Islam to keep men moral and uphold modesty. There are millions of such parallels that require women to veil and what has it led to?

The recent death of a young woman in Iran should be the last straw for tolerating gender discrimination, just like George Floyd’s death was the last straw for tolerating racism. I have seen women in my family with ghoonghat in the sweltering heat of Indian summer as their male partners continued to ignore their discomfort, celebrating the oppression and discomfort instead. I have felt the agony of young female students hiding away in school corridors and classrooms as they suddenly had to wear a hijab. I have heard women spending ridiculous amounts of money to buy a wedding veil. I always asked myself:

Have we women glorified the veil?

Why have we never questioned the veil?

What if we completely do away with any kind of veil?

I shudder, even while writing about it, as just this might attract a lot of hate. Honestly, my intention is not to hurt people’s sentiment but to poke it hard! If the literal ‘taking away a veil’ hurts us, then let it hurt till we get rid of it. We don’t need to sacrifice our lives just to put up with meaningless subjugation. If we like the veil in any form, think of the form of violence we are nurturing in our context. Tolerate and we will be forced to tolerate, no positive change will ever take place as we continue to be veiled.

Any form of subjugation is a form of human rights violation. While the world is still reeling from the mass murder by Covid, we continue with age old mass murder of women’s rights. We need to look past traditions, customs, and religious practices, to overcome challenges like gender discrimination. A society that limits its women limits half of its workforce, stunting its social, financial, and cognitive growth. And a society that kills women who are demanding their rights as humans, kills humanity.

So why do we need to talk about this? We need to. This is more important than Apple launching the new iPhone, the Kardashians, or Elon Musk’s fantasies. We have managed to veil our real issues and let the veil prevail. If we do not open up conversations with our young learners, they will never be able to rise above the veil of fake news, lies, bias, discrimination and prejudice.

One woman sacrificed her life at the age of 22. She had so much to live for; to help in solving global issues; to save the environment, to explore outer space, to give life to a human, to lay her parents to rest, to solve the Collatz conjecture; could be so many things! There were infinite dreams and possibilities, but the veil took it all. Many women have sacrificed their dreams for centuries but each decade there is a story of change propelled by a woman who had the courage to get out of the clasps of a veiled society, to make the world a livable space. Be it Jane Austin, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou or Indira Gandhi and many more like them, they were change-makers and they did not need a veil. So do we really need any kind of veil? We don’t? This is what a global education should teach its young women learners- you don’t give in to the demands and needs of a veiled society, by rising above a veil, girls and women will help themselves and the world around them. It is a choice to veil or not veil, unveil the choice to prevail.

The Legacy of a Queen

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The death of Queen Elizabeth II did not come as a surprise to many students in my school! When I got to school on the 9th of September it was business as usual for students while teachers discussed the tragic loss and mourned her death.

When discussing with students I got a few blank expressions and no reaction from them. The fact that got the most reaction was her passing at the age of 96 years. The Queen lived a long life. It was difficult to explain the significance of her life and consequently her death; students in today’s classroom did not recognize this British monarch as a youth icon or a significant contributor to their context.

A world leader passed away, so what and why should students in international schools learn or mourn? There is a lot to learn for sure. Learn that a woman could symbolize an entire nation’s service to people. Learn that a queen is remembered for her life of service, not for her beauty or jewels. Learn that even privileged people have to embody a great character. Learn that 96 years means adapting to almost 9 decades of change. Learn that royalty is a legacy and not an inheritance.

And why should students mourn, especially when they can not relate to monarchy in the modern age? This is a good opportunity to teach them empathy and care. It is understandable not to feel sad for people you do not know, but international education should teach respect and care towards other people’s cultures and beliefs. A specific student might not be impacted by the queen’s death but must show empathy towards those who are mourning. This is where the ethos and values of international education are tested, knowing that other people with different value systems are right in their way of looking at the world. With that said other people can also feel that the monarchy represents decades of colonialism and oppression. They might not be mourning and they are also entitled to the way they want to express themselves.

Hence, while the world mourned the death of a woman who lived a long life with dignity, there are others who also raised questions that are not being discussed. The elephant in the room-discuss the reign of the queen or the British empire as a positive impact on the world or not? The truth is it needs to be discussed and students need to express how they feel and what they know about the queen’s reign. Expecting everyone to mourn is also a stretch, at least this is something I experienced in my classroom in an international school in Asia. Truth be told it is a difficult conversation but needs to be had. While some need to understand why others are mourning, others need to understand why some are not mourning-finally everyone needs to agree to disagree. The greatest learning from this event. The values we teach in international schools-other people with their differences can also be right. I can settle for this feeling as the legacy worthy of a queen!

School Uniform: Time to Change

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I started the year as assistant head of secondary; my role requires me to oversee pedagogy as well as the student life of the secondary students. Of all the concerns and challenges and issues the one thing that bothers me every day is the school uniform. I have complete control and knowledge of pedagogy, in fact, I can even think of innovative strategies, and approaches to uphold excellence in teaching and learning. But the school uniform issue is something that never sees the end of the day. I am bothered by it as I do not agree with the concept of school uniforms but I need to ensure that school policies are followed by students.

Recently, I had three girls in my office for non-compliance with the uniform policy. The Head of Year had got them to my office as they did not follow the uniform policy. A tank top, one visible bra strap and a short skirt landed them in my office. I started my conversation by asking the girls if they knew why they were in my office. Did they realize what was wrong? They had no clue! I told them they were not in proper uniform and asked them why they should be in proper uniform. To which one of the girls said’ “because it distracts the boys”. This came as a shock to me. I did react appropriately, completely rejecting their explanation. Without stretching the conversation, I told them that they were non-compliant with the uniform policy and they must follow school policies. I did tell them if someone is distracted by what the other person wears, it’s their problem. I did address the issue and it turned out to be a conversation on misogyny and gender equality. The girls also asked me why girls get picked for what they wear, that they always have self-doubts: too short, too long; too low, too high; too tight, too loose. While their male friends get away even with dirty clothes, loose, tight, low, high, short, long everything?

This incident made me think of the whole purpose of a dress code or a uniform. It is believed that uniforms reduce disparity as everyone is wearing the same dress. This way students can focus on academics and not worry about what to wear to school or have self-doubts. But the flip side of the coin, the uniform does not improve student grades, and attendance and does not resolve conflicts or issues like bullying, and socio-emotional challenges; so what is the point?

In fact, having a strict uniform policy can also be discriminatory:

  1. Skirts for girls vs trousers for boys-why not the same for all?
  2. Length of skirt mandated not length of shorts?
  3. Only available up to a certain size, excluding plus-size students or teens going through a growth spurt.
  4. No age-specific considerations?
  5. Discouraging self-expression is considered a violation of human rights, and uniforms inhibit self-expression…

So what if we get rid of uniforms?

  1. Students will not be forced to buy expensive clothing that they find restrictive and uncomfortable.
  2. If we aim for diversity, creative thinking and multiple perspectives, having a uniform code only limits all of these.
  3. Positive impact on school culture as there will be one less reason to have consequences for students.
  4. The focus will shift from ‘what students are wearing’ to ‘what students are learning.’
  5. Finally, it is about student choice and voice, stifling it is not the aim. Freedom from school uniform is freedom of expression, freedom of choice and voice.

Change is the catalyst for innovation. Changing the way we think creates a vision. Changing archaic policies transforms organisations. The focus of schools is learning not on who is wearing what. Let them come in short, let them come in covered, let them come as who they are and not who we want them to be. International mindedness, inclusion and diversity start with identity; uniforms stifle the self-expression and identity of our students. Time to change: the school uniform!

Orienting to the North

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It is the beginning of the year for many schools around the world. Even though we have different start dates, we all have one thing in common-Orientation! Orientation for staff and for students, we all need to find our north in the first few weeks of the academic year. So here is to orienting to the North!

As a math teacher, I have always found it easy to teach students how to find the North, a necessary skill for mastering trigonometry. But when it comes to the orientation week at the beginning of the year, the North is the most challenging alignment to achieve. It is probably the most important building block for establishing a strong foundation of the academic year. A lot of thought needs to go into the planning for staff and student orientation.

As a pedagogical leader, here are a few strategies that have helped me ensure both the students and staff feel settled and empowered to start the year.

For staff orientation

  1. Make sure the time is planned effectively allowing ‘me time’ for new staff as well as for returning staff. Loading up a schedule with ‘to-dos’ or multiple meetings does not help, it leaves everyone confused and stressed as they are still getting their bearing right-to the North!
  2. North it is, the direction has to be clear. The objective should be made very clear-to empower staff. Make sure everyone has access to resources; create cheat sheets as no one has the time or the inclination to read through massive amounts of text. A teacher-ready toolkit is a great idea to give direction to the staff.
  3. The compass should always point to the North! Orienting is also aligning with the philosophy, culture and values of an organisation. Keep time to get to know the staff and allow them to get to know everyone. Team building activities help new and returning staff to reinforce the common values and share the culture of an organisation without feeling the pressure of having to learn or adapt to something new.

For student orientation

  1. The first week of school should be focused on student wellbeing. The North star is student wellbeing! Make sure all your plans have the star shining bright-wellbeing. New students should be assigned a buddy, returning students must get enough opportunities to feel excited for starting the new year. Afterall learning is an emotional experience.
  2. Equip students with necessary resources, logins, passwords, library, text, lockers, planners…and the list goes on. Hence prioritise and scaffold the delivery of these logistical items. Once done, students will feel settled to focus on academics. A strong pastoral care programme should be in place to take care of all of this.
  3. Rights and responsibilites should be clearly explained to students in the first week. Next step is to lay out the behaviour expectations-academic as well as social emotional. Activities to reinforce and teach life-skills should be integrated into lessons for the first week. Do not start teaching content in the first week, you are forcing your compass south, it is a lost cause.

If you notice I have kept the strategies limited to three pointers only. The reason being, I am trying to practice what I preach-keeping it oriented to North, keeping it simple, keeping it in bit-size chunks, easy to take-in and understand. Keep it simple, keep it great for the orientation week for staff and students. Upwards and Northwards!

What Did We Miss?

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It is almost three years since the pandemic hit and we are still grappling with the reality of what teaching and learning looks and feels like in the current context. As we are picking up the remains of an education system we knew, we are slowly coming to terms with what we missed in the past three years.

I asked myself the question: What Did We Miss? as I was having an important conversation with my son about his university choices. My son was in year 9 when the pandemic hit, and he started online school/classes in February 2020. He missed social interactions, he missed school lunchtime, he missed sports tournaments, he missed music ensembles and performances, he missed a lot of things, a lot! Most importantly he missed out on learning collaboratively, a very effective pedagogical approach to learning. The pandemic robbed us of the most important teaching and learning strategy-learning by collaboration.

I asked myself the question: What Did We Miss? when I was talking with my ex-students who could not go to university in 2020 due to the pandemic. They shared with me that they missed the graduation ceremony; transitioning to university; moving to a new country for higher studies; making new friends. They missed a lot! Most importantly living the dream of getting into the university of their choice. Dreams were shattered and yet we did not realize the residual effect of what we missed. Three or four years of undergraduate learning from a university of your choice is probably the biggest dream a student has, did we ever realize how much was lost and missed? Are we keeping a track of what we missed so we can make up later? Can we make up for what we missed in the past three years?

I asked myself the question: What Did We Miss? when I was reviewing the school policies with the school senior leadership team. We added sections and procedures into the policy documents that were never considered necessary earlier. For example, in the case of school closure the exams will…; in the case of body temperature over…; in the case of travelling outside the province…; in the case of online teaching and learning…; in the case of school trip cancellation…We missed a lot! Most importantly life experiences that become happy memories; like studying together for exams; discussing the exam questions after the test; going on school trips; having parents on campus; going on field trips. We lost and we missed out on learning by experiencing-experiential learning.

I asked myself the question: What Did We Miss? when I was talking to a colleague who is separated from her child for the past two and half years. I could relate to the pain as I am separated from my husband for the same amount of time. As a family we missed eating dinner together; going to movies together; going on holidays; celebrating birthdays, and anniversaries; taking care of each other; we missed a lot! Most importantly we missed the protection of love and warmth that a family offers during a crisis. My son did not have his father during his interschool matches, music performance, or middle school graduation and yet we carried on. The pandemic snatched away these precious moments that parents reminisce about their child’s school life. Will we get this back, no, never! Like me and my colleague, we will never completely know what did we miss?

Little cracks develop on the surface of the porcelain when it has lived a long life, telling us about its experiences and longevity. It also reminds us of a grim reality of the time lapsed during this journey-that the cracks will lead to a break. What we missed in the past three years are cracks on the surface; we are yet to ascertain the break this will cause in teaching and learning. It is like knowing something is missing yet not able to pinpoint on the exact thing that is missing. What Did We Miss-A lot, Everything and Something!

Find a Critical Friend

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Finding a friend is easy but a critical friend can be a lifelong quest! A critical friend is someone who asks you critical questions about your work. Yes, a critical friend is a colleague who you can trust to discuss the success or outcome of your work without inhibitions. The critical friend will have your professional objective as their priority and will guide you accordingly. A critical friend is your own ‘guide on the side’. The term critical friend was first coined in the context of education during the era of critical pedagogy. 

A critical friend can also be a mentor who guides you through your professional journey. Therefore finding a critical friend is absolutely necessary. They will help you to critically analyze your work and give you feedback to improve. Does this sound familiar? I am sure it does, it is the role a teacher plays in a student’s learning journey. Hence it is fair to say that teachers are a student’s critical friends. 

The easiest way to encourage teachers, school leaders and administrators to find a critical friend is to reform the appraisal system to a culture of coaching and mentoring. This will ensure every professional has a mentor, coach or critical friend. This critical friend does not have to be an expert in the field, they only need to be someone who is honest and can be trusted. They will help you in your self-evaluation, discuss your challenges, and strengths and highlight areas for growth and development. Interestingly this can’t be reciprocated, you cannot be a critical friend of your critical friend!

Let us try to imagine how this would work in a professional setting. As an educator, we always set timely objectives or smart goals for ourselves. At the beginning of the year, we try to plan ahead and create a few success parameters. As time goes by we tend to forget our objectives and sometimes get complacent about our success pathways. This is why we need someone who can keep us focused and committed to our objectives. This is when the critical friend intervenes and helps to stay on track. There are various ways they can help; by reminding us about our objectives; critiquing our approaches; analysing our achievements; encouraging our successes; and simply reminding us about upcoming deadlines. This is a beautiful relationship of trust and commitment where both parties understand their roles and fulfil their responsibilities with due diligence. Hence all of us need a critical friend.

In the quest of finding a critical friend, it is most important to remember what not to do. Do not choose someone who only finds faults; do not choose critical friends who directly report to you, they might not be comfortable criticising their supervisor; do not expect your critical friend to provide solutions to your problems, their role is to motivate you to find solutions to the problems. Choose someone who listens, does not jump to conclusions, and shows empathy and kindness. 

It may sound very difficult to get a critical friend, so think of it this way, if you can be a critical friend to a colleague, you can also find one for yourself. 

How to identify a critical friend? Think of a social media analogy, when you post a selfie the whole world reacts to it but when you post an achievement none or only a few react. This means there are only a few people who think critically and truly care about what you have to say. So find those few who react to meaningful conversations instead of those who applaud meaningless achievements.

In real life too a true friend is hard to find, a friend whom you can call up anytime for advice or just for no reason. A 2.00 am friend, a non-judgemental friend, an honest and truthful friend.  A friend who is critical as well as complimentary. If you have a friend who satisfies all the above requirements you are truly blessed. Similarly, in professional life, you can be truly blessed if you find a critical friend.

Let it stay-the gun

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At the tip of a gun

Is the story of many

The bullet that is nested in its womb

Does not want to see the day

Let it stay.

For once delivered it will never return

Never bring back all that it snatches

Lives, memories, trust, innocence, love, peace, sanity, soul, family

When you have so much to say and yet you cannot say

Let it stay.

For there will be no order for it to stay.

There will be no one to put a stop

As it brings our world to a stop

I stop and wonder, is this why I go on

To see the bullet rip into the gone

Let it stay.

The bullet speaks to me, begs me

Don’t build any more schools as guns will not go away

Kill it all before it kills a child, the school or the gun, kill it

The bullet wants to be buried and returned to ashes

Before it buries more

Let it stay.

For the pain will stay and this pain will rise

Rise and revenge will call a gun again

The bullet told us so, kill or it will kill you

When will it stop, never as it waits in the womb of a gun

To be released, to be lodged, to be validated for this reason or that

Let it stay.

It will rise again, kill again, and laugh at us

Who take it with open arms, die for it, kill for it

We created it to protect us, from what?

Our children, our brothers, our sisters

Yes, we did, and we made our enemies the day we got the gun

Let it stay.

Give it another day and it will take us all

For it was born to destroy and it will take us all

For no time machine or words of sympathy

Can bring back the gone, the young and the lost

They die and we kill another one

Let it stay.

The memory of the hurt and pain don’t forget

For it shall raise the gun again

And spare none, this time it will be you yes you and your child.

How do you feel? Keep a gun to protect yourself and kill someone?

But the bullet is for your child, the blood is of your child

What did you save and what did you kill? Think and

Let it stay.

The feeling that this is enough, let it stay.

The crushing sadness of loss, let it stay.

The blood on the hands, let it stay.

The memories of the day, let it stay.

I have a lot to say but I will let it stay.

Let it stay-the gun.

What is your single story?

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Recently I was showing my senior students Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk The Danger of a Single Story. This led to an interesting discussion on ‘Single Stories’. As per Adichie, a single story is a one-sided perspective of something or someone. Single stories have the power to create false interpretations of the actual story. She coins the term Nkali to describe the power that creates false one-sided interpretations. For example, single stories about India narrate spicy food and dirty cities; Americans are plagued with gun violence; South Americans are suffering from never-ending substance abuse; African countries are underdeveloped and unhygienic. These single stories develop as we keep believing the same narratives without uncovering the whole context of the narrative. Also, single stories are fed to us by powerful lobbies or political rhetoric that are purposefully constructed to hide the whole story.

Going back to the original discussion with my students, I decided to do a critical reflection about single stories. I invited students to think about their single stories with the following two questions:

  • What is your single story?
  • How/why is it created?

Interestingly it was not easy to answer these two questions, hence I decided to give them a task in groups to identify a current issue that they know from a single perspective only and to look for a counter perspective of the same issue. For example, illegal immigrants, jobs being taken by foreigners, ivy league universities, the world wars etc. This strategy stirred up a lot of conversations and helped students to identify some of their single stories:

  • Thin is beautiful
  • Top universities better jobs
  • Ukraine is unjustified but Iraq is justified
  • China is a communist country
  • Diet to lose weight
  • Japanese are suicidal
  • French people are snobs
  • Women are weak
  • Showing skin is asking for it
  • Men should not cry

These are some of the examples my students came up with. This made me think, do I have a single story, yes, I do. My single story is-iPhones are the best! It struck me hard as I always believed that iPhones are the best phones, I have never bothered to look or research other phones in the market. I have created a single story that even makes me get into the debate of android vs IOS with my close friends and family! This is an insignificant example. The bigger danger of single stories is far more disturbing as it harbours inequality and prejudice. These stories generalize and marginalize people and justify a culture of dominance, discrimination and indifference.

Single stories can be challenged by recognising the purpose and the people behind propagating these one-sided stories. Another of avoiding single stories is to develop nuanced thinking-accepting multiple perspectives. Critical thinking isn’t enough, it must be complemented with nuanced thinking. This will help widen our perspectives and embrace conflicting points of view.

I leave you with a simple exercise, next time you meet a person from a different culture, religion, language or ethnicity, try not to assume or generalize their persona. Take the leap of faith and challenge dogmas that have penetrated your psyche. Single stories have the power to distort your mind, spirit and even soul, crush them before they crush you. Introspect today and answer my question ‘What is your single-story?’

Mother’s Day not Mothers’ Day!

All the Best Mother's Day Gift Ideas 2022 | The Strategist
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The world celebrated Mother’s Day today to honour motherhood. I saw posts and messages like-“to all mothers out there”, ” for all aunts, sisters and grandmothers”, and ” for the wonderful women who are our mothers”…And the greatest irony-it is celebrated only once a year! Why not once a month, once a week or every day? I know this is a debated topic, some believe that we get a day to make our mums feel special and others believe it undermines the value of being a mother as they are only celebrated once a year.

Another question-why don’t we celebrate Father’s Day with equal diligence? Do we love mums more than dads? This can’t be right! So, what is the reason we get so worked up to celebrate Mother’s Day? I personally think Mother’s Day is a great business strategy. Anything sells if it is packaged with emotions that tug your heartstrings and compel you to take immediate action. Many companies have done good business selling merchandise for Mother’s Day, others have increased engagement on social media due to the flurry of posts that suddenly appear to remember mothers.

Apart from good business what else does this day bring to light? It brings to light the irony behind this type of celebration, that it creates more discord and discontent than true celebration. It is funny how this day creates sibling rivalry as they compete to impress their mums. It is sad how this day reminds and pains women who cannot be mums or have lost their child/ren. It is obnoxious how children wish their mums on social media yet forget to call or visit. It is confusing for those who genuinely love their mums and do not want to be public about their feelings. It is giddy for mums who know that this will only last a day. It is worst for mothers whose children have disowned them. So, what is the benefit of commemorating only a day to honour and celebrate motherhood?

The idea should be to educate our younger generation to strengthen the bond of respect and love towards one’s mum instead of making it a public mimicry of giddy emotions and caricature of the very essence of motherhood. Teaching ourselves about the special bond with parents, mother and father, and how to celebrate them every day. Learning to be better parents every day would be an attempt to truly celebrate or honour motherhood.

Also, celebrating and honouring a mother would be meaningful if we give equal due to a woman who is a mother and does not have to be anything else. A mother does not have to be juggling life and work; a mother does not have to choose between her child and financial stability; a mother does not have to give birth if she doesn’t want to. The day a mother has these privileges and choices she will truly feel celebrated and honoured.

Interestingly, people forget that “Mother’s” in Mother’s Day is a singular possessive, for each family to honour its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world. So what have you done today to actually celebrate Mother’s Day not Mothers’ Day?