It’s that time of the year where the only place I am legitimately allowed to take my child to is a summer camp. Or a manicured holiday destination.
Instead, I have taken a train to a new city, spending the last two weeks in a new home, eating new food, listening to new sounds, running on new grass, chatting with new voices, looking out of a new window, and breathing a new air with Re. It helps that two baby pigeons and their mommy inhabiting a flower pot in the balcony provide for the animal life Re is used to back home in the form of two felines. It also helps that he is in high testosterone zone (the friend I’m staying with has two boys) and able to give vent to his maleness — a thing much needed when you are a boy on the verge of three.
This is my summer camp. Okay, part of it. Sure, we are not learning origami or flower making, finger-painting, puppet-making, breathing or ballet like all his friends back in Mumbai. But we are smelling new smells and breathing new life and it is working like a tonic, to say the least.
Cut to a few weeks ago. “So where are you sending him?”, asked dour-faced Mommy X in the park. She meant, “Which summer camp have you enrolled him in?”
“Nowhere. We will just travel, visit places, meet people, hang out.”
“You mean you are going on a holiday?”
Summer is the time for extrapolation. When parents are set to find cues in every subtle move of their child and allow their exaggerated interpretations to take over by enrolling the child in a camp. Pretending it’s all fun and games. And that it’s the only way to keep the child “busy”. You see a little girl shimmying to Chikni Chameli (what choice does she have? It’s in every birthday party) and she is slated to be the next Katrina Kaif. Or at the very least, the next stick insect who wins the Miss World pageant. Off she goes for Bollywood dance lessons. You see a child climbing chairs and tables in the house and her mother will beam, “I think she will be a gymnast one day”. Baby gyms boom. You see a child fascinated by the somersaults of Parkour boys in the park and his mother will say “He is really kinesthetically inclined. I want to put him somewhere.” You see a child picking sticks, twigs and leaves and she will be slotted into a nature camp. A girl dressing up Barbies is a fashion designer. A child dabbling with a home video is slated to be the next Fellini. An iPad junkie is the next Steve Jobs. A splatter painter is the next Warhol. For parents who don’t have the time or the attention for detail, their children are all of the aforementioned. So, in the quest for generalisation, it’s Jack of all. And so, the creation of more dull, monochromatic versions of themselves in their children begins.
Meanwhile, Mommy Y, who is a kind of ebay mommy (a mommy who compares prices and comes up with the best value-for-money deal) soon computes that camp A charges less money for more activity and more hours than class B or C. It took me a while to figure that play was not “activity.”
I don’t know what Re is good at. Yes, he loves “shaking it all about” to “Mikeel Jackshun” or play-cooking pasta with crayons or playing “aminal aminal” with his hand puppets and line-up of rubber wildlife. Or shaking his curls and tossing them about. Or mixing and matching bangles.
“Have you got his portfolio done? He should be in ads,” says someone.
“Isn’t your husband in advertising? Why doesn’t he cast him?” says another.
“Is that your son in the Aviva commercial?,” asks a third.
“You must get him auditioned. Imagine, if he gets a break!” says another.
I think he is too young for talent. But not for texture. It might mean that I have to work harder. Also, I have enough time before I want him to be productive. Maybe, I don’t have it in me to be a tiger mommy. Maybe, what I really am is a lamb mommy — a mommy who grazes, who spends her time on reflection, who doesn’t really want to fill her child’s life with “productive activity”.
So here is the thing. What do I want him to love? Sometimes, I want it to be something I didn’t quite dabble in. So I get to live vicariously through him. Like art. Or music. But camps make me queasy. Camps make me claustrophobic. Camps are a school away from school. And how much school does a child need, really?
The last time someone saw Re shaking his wild curls to a song, he said, “That is the next Rahman. You should really get him into music.”
We will see. Until then, I am allowing him childhood.
(This piece first appeared as my parenting column in the Sunday Eye of the Indian Express on 22nd April 2012)