I dread vacations, I really do. And, I think, almost every mother does.
Every year, for the past four years now, I brace myself with all possible ammunition much before the school break begins. I order books, I get drawing-books, I buy crayons, and colour pencils, and paints. I pull out all the birthday gifts that I have successfully stowed away for months for this is when they will be utilized best. I even procure CDs and DVDs (although this year I have played smart and installed a new set-top-box that allows me to record TV shows and movies). Because all of this is not enough, I reserve train tickets well in advance too – sometimes to mother’s place, sometimes to brother’s, and mostly to both. And yet, when the vacations begin, I find myself terribly ill equipped to handle the girls.
Perhaps that is why, no sooner than the holidays start, most mothers, like me, want to pack the children off to some camp or other. Some do it because they genuinely believe it helps their child, some do it because the neighbour is doing so, while some do it simply to keep the children away. This year, worried about engaging the kids, I was tempted do so too: they will stay away for sometime, and, hopefully learn a thing or two.
All set to get them enrolled, I asked my older daughter what course would she want to attend. “I want to stay at home, mumma. It is my holiday, I don’t want to do anything.” Her response got me thinking.
While growing up, not so long ago, our holidays were either made of simple things or nothing at all. Our mother never bought us paints, or books, or videos, neither were we given new toys or games (come to think of it, we hardly had any toys). We made do with whatever we already had – we read the same old comics a million times over, watched the same TV shows over and over again; we painted with leftover paints on old newspapers or behind old calendars, and we invented indoor games (some of which I now play with my girls). When we were bored we helped mother put together a cake, or ice cream: Oh! What joy it was to repeatedly check the freezer and finally discover that the ice cream had set.
Sometimes, to break the monotony, father would pack us off to granny’s, where we did more of the same stuff although in a different setting and with a whole gang of cousins in tow.
This process of doing nothing though, taught us many a life’s skill. The incessant quarreling among cousins gave us lessons in interpersonal relationships. Painting on old newspaper taught us recycling. Helping mother bake a cake and set the ice-cream taught us patience. Reading the same comic over and over again ensured we valued what we had – and worked hard for what we wanted. The list was endless.
In the brief period during which I graduated from being a child to being a mother, the holidays however underwent a makeover. Parents now had more money, more exposure, more expectations but little time or patience. They wanted to utilize these precious weeks/months to ensure their child was a notch above his peers: he should know swimming, dancing, music, martial arts, puppetry, theatre, doll making, and every other possible skill. The availability of crèches, day-care centers and camps assuring to turn their children into a Picasso or a Tendulkar only helped their cause.
And so, vacation after vacation, more and more children are dully transferred from one camp to another in order to acquire yet another skill, unravel yet another hidden talent, their holidays, needless to say, being sacrificed in the process. Something even I was tempted to do.
Thanks to the reminder from my daughter though, this year – and hopefully in the years to come – I plan to leave the girls alone, doing nothing; I plan to join them too. Who knows what this nothingness might nurture us into.