“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
My most prized possession as a three year old was a tiny brown tea set made of glazed clay, complete with tea cups, saucers and a tea pot just the right size for my miniature fingers. I still remember forcing my grandma to drink the concoctions I served in the name of a tea party out of the chipped cups. A few years later the fashion bug bit me. My younger sister and I would while away the simmering hot afternoons parading around in my mother’s discarded chiffon saris accessorised with mounds of colourful plastic bangles and beaded malaas. Kitsch wasn’t even a term then.
As I got older, the colony playground became the center of my world. Doorbells would go off in unison up and down my lane at exactly five in the evening, a signal to shut school books, gulp down the customary glass of milk and gather as a tribe in the park. The sights, sounds and smells from my childhood are so tangible and still so vivid: the dusky evenings with a light blanket of dust thrown up by the evening’s play… screaming pithoo till you were hoarse… the burst of flavour while eating shahtoot straight from the tree. This was the childhood I wanted to replicate for my kids… carefree, stress free… simply FREE!
Fast forward to six months ago… I spent yet another frenetic Monday chalking out the week ahead for my 6 year old and 4 year old. Their calendars could rival a CEO’s. School excursions, homework, project submissions, after school activities, swimming/ballet/tennis lessons, art class, play dates, birthday parties… a full week just the way they like it. Or so I thought. A last minute cancellation of my son’s tennis lesson had me fully expecting to face an ‘Oh maaaan, not fair!’ kinda reaction.
Instead, he asked me, ‘Does that mean I can play today?’
‘What do you mean?’ I answered. He was going for kung fu, tennis, skating, swimming, piano and art classes; wasn’t that enough play?!
‘No mamma, today I can REALLY play!’ It was the most excited I had seen him to come home from school in a long time.
I could have brushed his statement aside, but it set me thinking. Before I became a mother, I would watch some of my friends with kids cart them off from one activity to another in the name of broadening their mind and horizons. My heart would go out to these children who were clearly overworked and running out of creative excuses to skip theses lessons. And I swore to myself that I would not become one of those tiger moms. The reality was that I had not only turned into exactly that, I probably was the leader of the pack! That evening as I saw him running around the playground screaming his lungs out in giddy excitement, I got flashbacks of my childhood… the kind I had vowed to give my children.
The change didn’t happen overnight, rather it was quite a process for me. I was so used to lists and timetables and running my kids life on a tight schedule that I literally had withdrawal symptoms while adopting a more relaxed parenting style. And then there was the creeping doubt. Was I taking it too easy on them? Was I depriving them of opportunities? Would they be missing out? In today’s competitive environment would my kids be left behind? Was I wrongly prioritising enjoyment over enrichment? So many complicated questions! But the smiles on my children’s faces were all the answers I needed.
While I’m all for establishing a routine for your children, there is a big difference in structuring their lives and straight jacketing them. A little spontaneity will go a long way in making memories they can cherish forever. And you’ll be surprised by how much fun you’re having simply because your kids are! My children still go for classes, but I narrowed it down to the ones that they really enjoy, leaving the rest of the week free for them to simply play. I know as parents we want the best for our kids, which means giving them every opportunity and as wide an exposure as possible. But are we really expecting to raise a tennis racket wielding pianist who paints while doing a full split as the music reaches a crescendo?
Everybody needs some down time, even if they are only 5 years old! My kids now actually look forward to the few classes they do have, I’m not constantly stressed with scheduling and rescheduling lessons, they get a lot more of my time, and the husband thinks he’s hit jackpot with all the money saved on fees. I think I’ll keep him in the dark about the new Gucci bag I bought with all the ‘savings’… shhhhhhhh!
Aditi Kalra is a part-time writer, experienced reiki healer, and a full-time mom. She’s lived across three continents, raising two high-on-sugar kids and managing one low-on-patience husband!