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.

Advertisements

Things to do on a holiday (applies to 4 yos only)

1. Watch little TV.

2. Tell mamma it’s a holiday so we can watch ‘so much TV’

3. Watch ‘so much TV’

4. Declare TV is boring.

5. Build a building for mamma and dadda.

6. Watch cat break the building.

7. Build it all over again. This time, break it yourself.

8. Pull out all the dinosaurs and have them race the snakes (rubber ones of course)

9. Make the snakes win.

10. Make the dinosaurs bathe for losing.

11. Declare today is no-bath day.

12. Put Barbies to bed with the snakes.

13. Raid the fridge. Find a chocolate and a piece of cake. Ask if you can eat both.

14. Eat both. Skip lunch.

15. Interchange Barbie’s clothes. Let snakes be.

16. Go back to point 1.

Bend it like Beckham: Calling junior soccer enthusiasts

If more than 400 kids in Mumbai and their parents were waking up early every Saturday morning in the last few months, it was not to have leisurely breakfast and lie in front of the TV. It was not even for cricket. It was to play competitive soccer on one of the most beautiful grounds in the city – the Western Railways Association Ground.

The Junior Football Championship by Soccer Connections, Mumbai’s premier professionally run football league for kids, has forever changed the children’s sports scene in the city. Singer Shaan calls the event  “the most refreshing way to start a weekend with the family.”

More than an opportunity for the kids to play competitively, improve their soccer skills and build new ones, the JFC has become a meeting point for like-minded families who believe in an active lifestyle. The professionalism and enthusiasm of the coaches, gourmet catering for healthy (and not so healthy) breakfast / brunch and streaming music, makes it the perfect day out for the family.

Four pitches with kids aged 5 – 12 are segregated into age wise batches. Younger kids (2 to 5 years old) enjoy a special program called Soccer Tots, where they learn the basics of the game, hand-eye coordination, and to be part of a team, in a fun, non-pressure environment.

Soccer Connections also provides specialised coaching by a carefully selected team of Indian and International coaches from Italy, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Serbia etc. The Indian contingent consists of professional players and highly qualified coaches. Batch sizes are small and there are a minimum of  two coaches for 12 children to ensure maximum personal attention.

Soccer Tots, another unique and niche programme for toddlers between the age of 2.5yrs and 4yrs has been created by Soccer Connections after extensive research and internal training, adapting basic soccer training for our smallest fans and ensuring they get the maximum benefit of fun learning games and improve their agility. The props are colour and number coordinated for better learning.

The Soccer Connections concept has expanded into cities like Pune, Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. The company also has an a great community programme where they are trying to give back to society by training the Hosiarpur Village in Punjab. They have also worked with the Wockhardt Foundation of “Khel Khel Mein” and Akansha Foundation. The company also organises overseas soccer camps for kids where they can experience the very grounds and skills of their international idols (coming up is a camp at the Bobby Carlton Academy in Manchester).

In the making is Campville, a reformed, clean, 5-star version of a good old fashioned camping ground where children indulge in outdoor activities all day long.

To know more, please log on to http://www.pslg.co or our facebook presence @ http://www.facebook.com/SoccerConnections

 

 

Learning to grow down

A few days ago, while dropping Re to school, I shared an auto ride with a 12-year-old. He was charming, polite, well-mannered, and I couldn’t help thinking, “This is how I want Re to be when he grows up.” He then asked me what I did. Now this question usually makes me squirm when posed by an adult, particularly at a stage when I am ambivalent about my career (or whatever you could call it). But somehow, I was happy that he asked. I was eager to tell.

“I write,” I said. It felt good to say it in a manner that involved no legacy, no flourish, no validation. He then went on to ask me what I wrote about and that was harder to answer. “Everyday stuff,” I said, after some thought. “Marriage, children, food and things like that? But I try to make it funny.” I really wanted this boy to like me.

–“That must be hard. Humour is the hardest to write,” he said.

–“Yes,” I found myself saying. “It is.”

–“Does it make you happy?” he asked.

–“Yes.” It was a “yes” pregnant with extreme conviction, after years. It was a “yes” that set me free.

I love this boy, I thought. He just distilled the meaning of my life for me in this very short ride.

Re and I are going to have many such conversations in the years to come, I thought. This is going to be so much fun, my chirpy mind told me, while my body, still weary from broken sleep and the overtures of my child, an extremely “morning person”, did a mild grumble. I hushed it. My body is getting used to getting hushed by my mind these days.

Children are as liberating as they are limiting. On most days, I feel physically depleted by motherhood, but my mind has never been more fertile as it has been in the last three years. Re and I live in a world of green dogs, blue horses, pink hippos and cats wearing hats, and in that world, anything seems possible. Lions sleep with zebras, baby bears drive mamma bears around, fish climb up mountains, sharks have pet rhinos and cats lick dogs. I love playing along. I seem to be asking “why not” instead of “why” more often these days. I want to learn how to skate, write for children, do ballet, somersault.

Pic By Bajirao Pawar

I think we all reach that point in life when jobs and relationships make us more adult than we ever wanted to be and soon we find ourselves all grown up and nowhere to go. I was there too till I felt slightly rescued by my child. I am enjoying the growing down much more than the growing up. There’s definitely less angst. And more exclamation marks.

Very often, you also put your foot in your mouth. In a nice way. Like when Re asked me one day, while watching Shrek 2:

– “Mamma, why is Shrek beating Puss in Boots?”

– “Because he really annoyed him and that made Shrek angry.”

– “But he is a good boy, no?”

– “Yes, but sometimes, good boys do bad things too.”

I found myself thinking deeper about the treacherous dichotomy of life when Re told me one day:

– “Mamma, you are a very bad girl.”

– “Why?”

– “Because you are a good girl.”

Children have that effect. Just when you thought you had reached a dead end, along comes someone “Youer than You” and you begin to feel grateful to Dr Seuss for helping you start all over again.

So I found “me” back. I found I liked mud and water, that clothes were limiting and that norms were lacerating. I found the joy in black, my child’s favourite shade of paint. I found that horses looked good in pink and a sheep had every business to eat a lion if it wanted to. I found my body. I found dance and how to let it all go. (He had me at “You did it mamma!”). I found that there was a whole new universe in children’s books, for even a die-hard realist like me. I realised that there can never be enough oxygen. Or words. I found a little room in my head where I used to live.

(This post appeared as my column in the Indian Express Eye on 1st July, 2012)

A summer camp called life

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?”

“Kind of.”

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)

Did Picasso have boundaries?

To cross or not to cross the line

Re is on a coloring spree. It makes me happy that he has discovered the effortless strokes with oil pastels as opposed to the stubborn, unyielding rocks he had for hand-me-downs which seriously, I’d like to know which child can colour with, until he reaches the age of twelve or gets triceps (whichever is earlier).

The thing with oil pastels though, is that they are too effortless. They just have to barely make contact with you or just about touch you, and your clothes get all kinds of brush strokes, purples, pinks and greens, all mingling in glee, making a new style statement.”Yes, I am mommy to a two-year-old. I have been colored,” it seems to say.

I didn’t have this problem with those stupid earlier crayons which probably produced color if Genghis Khan held them, and poor Re always wondered if mamma would ever live up to her promise of producing a color from something that was meant to color, each time staring at his poor stubby fingers after having given them a workout with said crayons.

Now, of course, the OPU and I have pyjamas marked by Re’s artistic strokes, not to mention thighs and other body parts, and Re is spilling out of his prescribed “coloring books” and sheets onto the floor, the wall, our bodies, his, and those of the cats. The only one who doesn’t show signs of much wreckage is Nadia, since she is already all-black, and so, can camouflage.

I felt strangely ambivalent. Part of me wanted to revel in my child’s new-found interplay with color, texture and surfaces. A cheeky part of me wanted to tell him that I was not the easel or the medium. The disciplinarian in me wanted to tell him that ‘Coloring is for books,” the way they tell you in those silly books that talk about how to talk so your kids will listen. The artist in me wanted to just watch him and see where it goes.

I am still not sure who to listen to. Re on the other hand has built his own defence in support of his artistic exploits. Everytime he colors a surface that conventionally, is not ‘meant to be’, he stares long and hard and it and says, “Who did this?”

School actually

Last Monday was a first.

Yes, I know there are several firsts that you want to keep track of when you have a baby and I am ashamed to admit that I am thoroughly useless in that department. Like I haven’t documented when Re first turned, or smiled, or teethed, or ate, or walked or talked.  All I know is that each time still feels like the first. Okay, I have a vague idea when they happened, but I was so ‘in the moment’ that I forgot to write it down. Hell, I forgot to start this blog till he was 16 months old!

Last Monday, the husband and I went for an orientation to the school that Re will be going to in six months. Six months! School!

I am already feeling Re’s babydom slipping away, and this morning, as I was talking to a friend whose child is in school and dealing with group dynamics (why x got a star and she didn’t), I began to wonder how little time I have for my baby to be a baby.

But something else stirred inside me that day, other than the OPU and me nodding at each other in unison at how much Re was going to enjoy what he was going to do at this school, because he already had a PhD in some of it (he doesn’t know that though).

As the teachers went about demonstrating materials and things they would use in play to teach language, arithmetic and other such, I was touched by the simplicity and the silence of the whole thing. I was also struck by a pang to go to school and start all over again. Just to learn in a way that is fun. Just so that I wouldn’t end up with a post graduation in pharmacy one day and then wonder what I had done with my student life. Just so it wouldn’t take me three decades to do what I loved doing at age seven.

I so want to go to that school.