‘ So what kind of school do you prefer?’
‘Err…the educating kind?’
The fairly noticeable twitch in her cheeks suggested clenched jaws, and if there was any doubt regarding the displeasure I had caused, her raised right eyebrow reflected suitable amount of contempt.
‘What kind of education?’
The emphasis on the word ‘kind’ made it clear that she was looking for some kind of a well thought out reply.
‘There is more than one?’
She rolled her eyes and mumbled some excuse about refilling her wine glass and moved away.
I get that a lot. And I do answer like that a lot.
It is better to feign ignorance than justify my stance as a relaxed mom. Yep, the breed is growing and how! Tiger moms! Some where in the Sunderbans, a tiger mum just winced at that misnomer. She doesn’t push her cubs to swim an extra length or run an extra mile. She just idly sits and watches the cubs explore life, always keeping an eye out for danger and putting them in their place when they get to be a paw-full but never making them walk a straight pre-defined, straitjacketed existence. So, by that definition, I am a tiger mom. But, if you go by the popular reference, I fall more in the dinosaur mom category…err, more specifically – the herbivorous kind.
Not long ago, Ishaan used to go to these Junior Golf tournaments. I can only imagine how unnerving it must have been for him to deal with pressure, when I, the tough grown-up, used to get palpitations merely listening to the mums there. They came armed with plastic smiles and a steely gaze that could freeze you down to the marrow and talked of competitions, three hour long lessons and elaborate warm up routines.
‘So, what do you do to get him to do better?’
‘Err…let him play?’
The eyes rolled, nose crinkled ever so slightly and I was left alone. Phew!
Sometimes, it does get difficult to stay unaffected. You have frenzied parents all around you, scurrying from one class to another, from one competition to another, half pulling, half dragging their children. And there you are with a mug of coffee in your hands and two boys who mostly read, sometimes write and indulge in free play at the local park if they aren’t playing with the five dogs. That doesn’t mean they do nothing else. They do get to play their fair share of sports but never have I walked up to the coach and asked him when can they play ‘professionally.’ As long as they keep those muscles moving, I am cool. But the coffee mug and books strewn everywhere have become a permanent state of our lives.
So what do we have here? The quintessential tiger mom would say – a bunch of unmotivated, directionless children with a future of an obsidian shade. The Dino mom, however, is convinced that the motivation levels are optimal and the bit about direction is true. How boring to know at twelve what you’d want to be at 40! It is delightful to see their career choices change from astronaut to artist to comic book illustrator and then settle somewhat on a bookstore owner for a while before it takes off again.
Back in college, I remember, during one of our classes, our lecturer had told us, ‘there is enough space for everyone in this world and there is absolutely no point in thrusting our own dreams on to the kids.’ In the name of a bright future, is it fair to push my child to study a particular subject or pursue a sport? If it were so bright, why did I not succeed in it? Perhaps, we end up making our real or imagined failures, stepping stones to their forced success.
Research has repeatedly shown that unreal pressure leads to nothing but stressed out children heading for a fairly early burn out. The key term being ‘unreal pressures’ – a thing we all deny with a vehement ‘NO! Absolutely not! I am a strict parent but I let my child choose whatever they want to.’ On a closer look, there is always a child lurking in the shadows who might disagree with similar passion. There is a thin line that separates the tigers from the dinosaurs and an even thinner one distinguishes between optimal control and a free for all. Where we stand is always obscured from our vision, as the tiger stripes camouflage themselves very well within parental duties and the child’s ‘best interest.’
What does it mean then? How do I decide what is optimal? How do I remain immune when I hear other moms brag of their little one’s skills and medals? Or when I see some other child outshine mine at the debate competition? It was difficult when the boys turned one and I heard mothers exclaim, “Hasn’t started walking yet? Mine walked at 10 months.’ And it is difficult now, when they say, ‘German? Why did you allow him to study that? Sanskrit is far more scoring.’ Sanskrit could be scoring but my ten year old wanted to study German – that should be reason enough. Apparently not – more eyebrows shot up and eyes rolled in contempt.
Each day, I question myself – am I doing the right thing? The answer is seldom heard – the loud cackles of the boys’ laughter that ring through, drown the voice. Something tells me that so far, we are okay. The boys are doing well at school, they have read more books than I ever laid my hands on, they are mostly respectful, barring the times when the preteen hormonal surges happen and most of all, the stress in their lives is still limited to dog eared pages or broken toys. They are compassionate and never hesitate to question. What else can I ask for? Books ar read for the sheer joy of reading and not moral education, sports are played to keep active and academics are attended to with fervour since they are an inseparable part of growing up – only a part and not the purpose of growing up.
A computer wizard, a national level player, or sets of straight A’s – they are all labels. At the end of the day, what we ought to reinforce is a fair usage of character strengths by them. Psychologists across the globe are presenting large amounts of data indicating that happy, fulfilled children go on to have a contented, joyful life and this happiness comes from exercising character strengths and not mindless mugging up of science lessons, though, if that gives joy to the child then so be it – a win-win situation! The point is that they ought to feel the joy when they compete in those maths classes or dance competition or cut throat academics and not a sharp shove from the over-ambitious parent who has elaborate designs to ensure a blindingly bright future.
So, as tiger moms continue to claw and tear ahead pulling a child along, we, the coffee mug wielding dino-moms smell the roses that the little ones got for us, with bonus hug thrown in free of cost.