Who said parenting means entertaining your children?

I have often heard this (even among very aware parents): I don’t know how to entertain my child. Or heard them whining when the more active partner is away that they they don’t know how to keep them busy.

I don’t get this.

Why is entertaining your child even a thing?

I got into this trap for a brief while when Re was still in his crib and had a limited geography within which to entertain himself (although my cats helped hugely).

It was boring as shit: Singing. Making faces. Speaking in funny voices. Peekaboo. The hand puppet thing. Yes, Re loved it. But then I realized I am not his playmate. Why should I pretend to be? As soon as he started crawling and then walking, he was on his own. And he found plenty to amuse himself with, mostly in the kitchen. I still have a video of him trying to sort a bunch of cherry tomatoes and talking to himself. And one of him trying to roll a chapati with a rolling pin and board and proceeding to wear the chapati as a mask.

Every time the other parental unit came home laden with games/toys, I arched my eyebrow. It was excessive and unnecessary. Collaborative games which assume the parent who’s around more often is stuck with playing them with the kid get me worried.

On the few travel dates that I had with fellow parents, I always noticed that they come armed with suitcases full of toys, gadgets, books, games. I found myself saying: but it’s just two nights. Why do you need so much? And they replied: Oh, if we keep them entertained, we can get more time for ourselves.

It never made sense.

Traveling alone with Re was much more satisfying. It still is.

Why is constantly being entertained a way of living? Why is it a norm? It is as though one is teaching children that this is how life is – a series of fun-filled, action packed time capsules on loop, where there is no time for recovery, stillness or nothingness.

If you are doing this, you are in a dangerous place. It’s a slippery slope from there.

Yes, we all want our children to have a happy childhood with a variety of experiences. We just have to stop curating it for them. I have seen friends plan reading lists for their kids, populate their schedules with every activity that looks good on paper and that they can tick off an imaginary list. It’s like every hour of their waking life has to be accounted for.

I feel like telling them: It’s your life, it’s not a pinterest board.

Yes it’s important to engage in fun with them occasionally, listen to them, keep conversations going, but by not allowing their imagination and creativity to come up with something on their own, you are actually hampering play.

We have to provide for our kids, nurture them, look after their basic needs – clothing, food shelter. I signed up for these when I became a parent, not for being his entertainer. And if I do play with my kid, it will be when I am having fun doing that. Not because of some boringass article that said, “Imaginative play with your child helps nurture their soul”. And who started this anyway? I am sure they didn’t think it through. It’s not sustainable for sure. Besides life is all about a lot of mundane things on loop and our kids need to know that and be a part of that too.

For a year now, Re has been assigned the task of arranging the utensils daily after they have dried in their rack, folding and arranging his own clothes in his shelves, feeding the cats in the evening and refilling their water bowls, making his bed, and helping us put the house in order before going to bed every night.

When I was 10, my mother handed me the keys to our house. Until then, we went to school together and returned together (I studied in the school she taught in). I now had a three hour lag from the time she left. In these three hours, I had to help Appa finish the cooking, pack his lunch dabba, pack snack dabbas for me and my twin siblings, wake them up, get them ready (this involved detangling and tying my sister’s unruly hair into two tight plaits, which took the longest time), send them to school (which was an hour earlier to mine), help Appa staple his shirt sometimes, when a button was off and he had to rush for work, and finally, get ready (which involved tying own long, unruly hair into two tight plaits) and go to school myself.

We were poor, we never had help, we all had chores to do, but we never needed to be entertained.  We also didn’t have money to afford toys. Books and play were all we had. We came home from school, ate a snack, did our homework and went out to play (I usually did my homework in school so I had more time to play). Sometimes we played physical games that involved running, jumping, getting dirty in the mud. Sometimes we played “school” and “office” and “restaurant” and “home”. Our parents never asked us what we played. They never played with us. Except Appa teaching us bridge. And Amma who taught us some fun board games from when she was a child, like pallankuzhi.

I was the queen of imaginative play and Enid Blyton with her scones and ginger ale and meringue descriptions hugely helped my childhood. I always imagined myself as an only child who had a secret room in which she hosted midnight feasts. Each time one of us announced we were bored, another chore was handed to us. I learnt to cook at age 10 because I was bored on Thursdays (our convent school day off) and since I was already souz chef to Appa, I started trying things on my own, and one day, I put a meal together and surprised Amma. Vacations were full of jam, pickle, karuvadam and sun-dried fruit projects. And then we traveled.

When I remember my childhood, I remember the cooking, I remember the baking and knitting and crosstitch and embroidery that I did as my mother’s apprentice. I remember making papercuttings of things my mom learned in her sewing class and making them to scale for my only doll, Neetu (who was named after Neetu Singh)

Most afternoons, Re is engaged in active theatre with his dolls: giving them makeovers, tattoos, braiding them, making houses for them with blocks or Lego, sometimes turning them into mermaids, having car rallies with mermaids driving cars, cooking, baking in his play kitchen, making paper clothes for them (now that he can use scissors, he often asks me for fabric swatches), and more such. Or he is sketching or painting. Hours pass by.

I may not be the ‘engaged parent’ but I know when my kid is having fun.

I often get this from people when I visit them with Re or when they come over: He is really good at entertaining himself. My response to that is: well, shouldn’t we all be?

Once in a while if Re does come up to me and say he is bored, I tell him: be bored. It’s good. Boredom is fertile.

What is fertile?

It’s a place where new things can grow.

You mean things can grow in my head? he asks.

Yes, they can. Of course they can.