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It was a beautiful morning. Everything felt perfect. I was prepared for my nine year old son Tanmoy’s poetry recitation competition. Ready with a self-penned poem.
Yes!! His poem would be the most unique. Not hunted from the internet, not any of the rudimentary ones, none of the sort. Rather, an exclusive one!
I couldn’t stop thinking how my other mother-friends would react. How everyone would appreciate my work. I kept wondering about it.
So having taken a print out of the poem, I started getting Tanmoy ready for school. I placed the envelope with the poem, in his English workbook and asked him to hand it over to his teacher. With everything in place, we reached the school.
After seeing him off at the gate, we mothers started updating each other about what we had been up to. Some were worried whether their poems would be rejected for being so common. Some worried that it was too long. While a few worried whether their kids will learn the poem well enough.
I took my time and when everyone had finished speaking, I declared that I had actually written a poem for my son. They were stunned, and wondered when I find such time and so on. They wanted to hear the poem but I asked them to wait until the event. I couldn’t have felt happier at that moment. How proud Tanmoy would feel about what ‘I’ had done for him.
I waited for the selection letter from Tanmoy’s teacher for about a whole week, but it never came. I became restless. How could it be? Was the poem rejected? But that is not possible. It was such a beautiful poem about 'a parrot who came often to our window and how after we fed it regularly, it became our friend.' Most appropriate!
Friday evening when I went to pick Tanmoy from school, I decided to meet his class teacher and enquire. When Tanmoy reached me, I enquired about the letter. He said that his teacher did not give it to him. I held his hand and entered the school building to go up and meet his teacher. It was important to find out what was not right and ensure that my son was selected. He should participate.
As we started to climb the stairs I felt Tanmoy drag his feet.
“Let’s go home ma.”
I said, “Yes dear, in a few seconds after I have spoken to your teacher.”
“No ma… let’s go just now.”
So saying he started tugging at my clothes. But I was determined, for I thought it was so unfair to deny my son his opportunity.
“Ma lets go home…” he said again and started to cry.
I stopped, looked at his worried face, and asked, “What happened?”
He said, “I haven’t given the poem to teacher.”
I was too shocked to believe this. I asked, “Why? Have you lost the envelope? Don’t worry, I can speak to teacher and we can give a copy tomorrow.”
He cried further and said, “No ma, I tore it.”
I couldn’t believe what I just heard. It was a while before I asked him why he had done that.
“I don’t like being on stage. I don’t like seeing so many people looking at me. I don’t want to do all that.”
“But why? Isn’t it wonderful that you say the poem or perform a drama or a dance? Isn’t it nice when you get a certificate or when you win a prize?”
“No ma… ‘I’ don’t like it. ‘You’ like it. You always force me to participate. I don’t want to participate. I want to sit and see the program. I want to have fun with my friends. But when I participate, I am standing behind the stage and I miss out on all the fun.”
I was still too shocked to respond. I sat down next to him right there on the stairs. I tried to tell him how good it would be for him as it would build his confidence and that it would help him when he grew up.
He looked at me with tears rolling down his eyes, and said, “Ma I don’t know about all that. All I know is that it scares me to stand on stage, in front of so many people, and I keep forgetting my lines. It feels bad ma. Please don’t make me feel so bad.”
His tears broke my heart. I hugged him tightly and assured him that everything would be fine. We got up and started walking towards the school gate.
That night was a very dark night. I was at war with myself. Having put him to bed, I kept thinking to myself, ‘What’s going on over here? Why did I not notice how unhappy he was when I gave him the envelope? And how scared he was every time I inquired about the selection letter? Why did I not realise that he was lying, and was very uncomfortable doing that?
Having thought for a long time, I got my answer. It was out there in his words to me the previous day.
‘I’ don’t like it…. ‘YOU’ like it…!!
Suddenly it all fell in place. I was the one pushing him against his will. He wanted other things. He loved playing group games. He was into sports at school. He loved cycling in groups. I could now clearly see that he did not enjoy being the center-of-attention by himself. He enjoyed being in, and performing in groups. He played so passionately on the sports ground. He brought his share of certificates in that arena.
But the ambitious 'me' did not feel content. I thought that if he is good at that, then he should be good at this too. Regardless of his approval, I had started pushing him on to stage performances and competitions. His teacher appreciated his performances, and so I pushed him further. Over time he started doing poorly on stage. But I didn’t give up. I kept putting in more efforts to make him do well.
And now when I reflect upon the is entire process, I see that he was right. It was all about ME!!
It wasn’t about what he wanted to do, or enjoyed doing. It was about what ‘I thought’ he should also do. I never stopped to ask him whether he would like to participate. I never inquired with him why he was not doing as well as he earlier did. It was so much about what I wanted, while I kept telling myself that it was all about him.
And in the bargain I was losing my son. He had started lying to me, out of fear of disappointing me. It was all so wrong. Not at all like I thought it would be.
That night I decided that this chapter had to end. I would now never force him to do anything that he was not comfortable in. I would definitely advise him to try out things that I thought was good for him, but never ‘force’ him against his will. Alongside I would work at honing his talents in areas that he was already good at and enjoyed, like sports.
Next morning I woke up to a very bright day. We decided to walk to school. And throughout the journey I spoke to Tanmoy of my decision. He hugged me tight. He thanked me like a hundred times. He kissed me a thousand times. He also apologised to me for lying, and promised that he wouldn’t do that any more.
At the school gate, I bent down and kissed him back, hugged him tight and sent him in with a loving smile. He sprinted his way to the staircase. The lightness of his feet made me realise how trapped I had made him feel for this last whole week. Trapped with the burden of expectation. Tapped with the feeling of inability. Trapped with such negative emotions. And all because I believed I know everything that he should do. Simply because ‘I’ thought so.
Those rough moments the previous evening was a cathartic experience. Not only for Tanmoy, but also for me. My altered decision liberated my little boy to being himself again. And understanding my son, and being with him in his choices, liberated me too.
The fact, that sometimes his identity and his being, will become dominant through his choices, became evident to me. I may want the best for him, but that is what 'I' want. And since it’s his life, I have to respect his wants too.
This new day brought in a new freshness in our relationship. The lightness of his steps lifted the weight off my chest too. It felt wonderful.
Spring had arrived! New tender leaves all around... blossoms and beauty abound... quite as much within, as outside. It was a Khuljaye Bachpan moment for me. Liberated childhood!! From the shackles of parental expectations.
Sometimes as parents, we takeover our children’s lives and decisions so much that they feel stifled. They feel helpless and dis-empowered. So regardless of our intentions, all our efforts can be in vain.
Take the democratic approach with the belief that it will all end well. Life is too uncertain. Destiny will take its course. All we can do as parents is to make this journey an enjoyable experience, so that achievements bring joy, not stress.