How to turn summer vacation blues into a rainbow
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I haven’t been very good at summer vacations as a parent, but I am happy to report that this year around, I seem to be doing better than before. Summer days continue to be long, I am still the same restless person, fearful of empty stretches of time, but our children have grown up.
I smile as I write this. It’s a relief to discover yet again that some things will always remain out of my control and despite my short-sighted despair, wonderful things happen on their own and without sending me any advance notice.
I had fantasized about visiting libraries, museums and cafés with our children. Once or twice a year, I do that too. Some days the rain comes home. Summer holidays is when you are home to see the clouds gathering in the sky. When the quiet trees in your neighbourhood bear fruit and you are around to pick up your share.
“It is all too well to write that we should let the children be,” wrote a reader to me recently. “But how? I mean, what should I do with myself as I look away from what they are doing? I keep getting it all entangled. How do I stop myself from being meddlesome when I am with my children? I feel like it sounds simple but it is very messy in real life.”
I was tempted to delete the email as soon as I read it on my phone. I hate coming face to face with raw truths without preparation. It’s like catching oneself in an unexpected mirror when the light is all wrong and the angles are worse.
I didn’t delete the email. I made notes instead. I know where this parent is coming from. It is very hard for most of us to not treat the time we spend with our children as a boot camp for etiquette training and other urgent life lessons. We mean well. But we are wasting our time and their time.
“Help is the sunny side of control,” says Anne Lamott in her TED talk, in which she makes a list of things she is reasonably sure of. “Our help is often toxic. Stop helping so much.”
I can tell you that it is a lot of hard work not becoming one’s own parents. It is so much simpler to slide into the role we are trained to emulate. The same dialogues, the same concerns, and the same endless advice. The same results where the children have shut out our voice and we sound like mindless parrots to ourselves.
We need to learn how to let things happen without believing that we must do them all by ourselves, I wrote back to the reader. As a return gift, I made this handy checklist for her. Please feel free to add your suggestions to this list:
Move into the children’s room
Turn up in the children’s room with your books, laptop and other screens and find yourself a corner to read and write. Make yourself comfortable. Don’t comment on what they are doing. Let the children find out that you can relax around them without being troublesome. Resist the urge to ask them to make their beds or sort their cupboards.
I write in my children’s room. I nap there too. When my husband followed me there, we ended up improving the air conditioning, rearranging the furniture, changing the curtains and spending a lot of time on the floor.
Home is where you can escape your parents. Home is also where your parents escape themselves and crawl in with you.
Start something you’re just not good enough at
Start yoga. Or crochet. Start cooking or writing online. Swimming, painting or gardening. Use your extra time and effort doing something that you’re just not good enough at. You have earned the right to be in zones where you aren’t perfect. Where you are just dabbling. Being a child. This is the definition of success. Let your children watch you.
Ignore the children’s gadgets
Do not peek into the children’s tabs, phones and email accounts. Play badminton with them instead. I mean, play with the children, not the gadgets.
Okay, once I did peek. I was in the children’s room alone and a notification appeared on the screen. I read it once. I read it again. I was calm. Then I freaked out. Then I did something very bad. But I can’t tell you what I did. Not because my daughter might read this column and blacklist me, but because I want to protect you. I don’t want to give you bad ideas. So go back and read the previous paragraph again.
Listen to the messages from your body
If your body is middle-aged like mine, then I know it must be sending you as many messages as your telecom provider does. You are probably ignoring both of them in the same manner. Growing up means you have to pay your phone bills yourself and alas, get X-rays and MRI scans for your own self too.
It took me a couple of months to notice that I haven’t become lazy or depressed recently; I have developed a condition called a frozen shoulder. Now my children enjoy snacks at the hospital café while I get physiotherapy in the afternoons. Life surprises us with plans of its own.
Take unscheduled showers
I have shared this before, and I’m bringing it up again. Home is where you break the routine. Whether you work from home or outside, have your own unique way of doing things. Small detours keep us dusted, fresh and agile. Growing up means doing less and letting more happen around us. Cultivate your own inner freak, and you won’t have time to obsess over others.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.