By Rohini Mohan
Yes, yes, labor is excruciatingly painful, but wait till you’re hit with what follows – raising the bundle of joy! And I don’t mean the next few months of sleep deprivation; I am talking about the next two decades of insomnia. The drooling baby morphs into the monstrous rug rat who metamorphosises into the precocious pre-schooler. As you walk him to his first day of Montessori, do I hear an involuntary sigh of relief escaping your lips? What? Freedom for a few hours, you say? Quick – bite your tongue; you have no idea what you’ve let yourself in for.
You are, at your own risk, entering the red zone of school blues (very different from Blue’s Clues) which will involve progress reports, Kumon classes and spelling bees. It takes a village to raise a child, and you, my friend, are the village. Elementary school will pass by in a blur of soccer practice, chess club, band recital and the ubiquitous Sunday Bala Vihar class. You will live in a world of endless parent teacher meetings, open houses, science fairs and birthday parties. Before you know it, middle school will hit with a ferociousness you would have neither expected nor imagined. Gone will be the sleepy little cherub who crawled into your lap and offered you his thumb to suck when he felt a special surge of love for you. Puberty will become a reality and questions about the opposite sex will come at you from all directions. You will never again be able to sing along to “Joanna give me hope” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as their true meaning will strike you with a sudden horror and will cause you to frantically eye all of your rebellious teenager’s friends with righteous suspicion.
A couple of years, and high school, APs, SAT preps and College applications will become the center of your existence, your anchor in mid life. Prom nights and graduations, college campuses and GPAs will all whiz past and leave you reeling. The inevitable dates and heartbreaks and job successes and failures – you will relive those days minute by gut-wrenching minute as you hold their hand through it all. Empty nest syndrome, wedding bells and grandchildren – they are all in your future.
I feel exhausted just thinking about it. Sometimes I wonder how my parents went through this whole circle of life phenomenon. And then I wonder – were they as involved in the process as our generation is?
Getting good grades was non-negotiable in our household when I was growing up. Apart from that, for pretty much everything else we went with the flow. My parents did not lose sleep over which school I went to as I do with my son. Somehow they were able to avoid the obsession I have with the outcome of each one of his school assignments. Birthday parties were quite unheard of; let alone the meticulous orchestration I do year after year to make sure that my son and his friends enjoy every minute of activity that has been painstakingly planned months in advance. Vacations were meant for staying at home and relaxing. Yes, we were bored out of our skull, the days were hot and long and endless. There was no exotic beach resort or cruise or fancy trip to a far off land that is considered the bare minimum in our lives today. We were left alone to fend for ourselves, eat what was served, and take what was handed down. Our parents told us what to do and for the most part we did it. Life was smoother, less intense. In complete contrast to my whirlwind schedule (which needs to be diarized in my palm pilot, day timer and social calendar lest I miss an important detail thereby causing the entire house of cards to come tumbling down) they took life with a pitcher of salt. A 9.00 to 5.00 job schedule, few but firm rules and just less choice all around introduced a simplicity which made us appreciate what we had and gave us the thrust to want to do better. The fact that no-one was going to pick up after us made us more aware of our own existence.
There was, in a weird way, a sense of equality and one-ness that we enjoyed in the household, unlike the scenario today where our children are special creatures and their entire existence is tailored to their age and the particular phase in their psychology they are supposedly going through. We have introduced another complication that we really do not need into our already topsy turvy lives. We are simply just prone to over-processing everything we do, including raising our kids. Well, as they say, paralysis by analysis.
In this era of synthetic pop parenting, I fear that my intensity will drive me to burn-out before long. Should I not be conserving my energy like my parents did so that the prospect of grand parenting thrills and not chills? Should I not slow down and build a friendship with my child that will be much more valuable than all the academic and extra-academic activities that fill our days? Should I not let instinct and not the 2000 page guide book on “Parenting for Idiots and Morons” tell me how to instill the correct set of values in my son?
I can go on and on, but here’s one sobering thought to cap off my whining: I had better carefully rethink my parenting strategy, because if I don’t, I’ll end up like the tourist who spent his entire vacation taking pictures so that he could go home and see what he should have seen but didn’t because he was so busy taking pictures…..