If you live in any of india's big cities, you will find yourself inundated with ads and newspaper inserts advertising summer camps and activity centers for kids. And you will find many of them full to the brim of kids, all learning to do colouring or to sing songs or whatever. Whatever happened to the carefree schedule-free days of summer?
I don't know whether it's purely a function of working moms, because several of my son's classmates who have stay-at-home moms are also enrolled in these classes. Last year, after we got back from a 2 week vacation, we enrolled Chubbocks into a thrice-a-week three hours summer camp, because my mom was away in the US and I didn't want him drifting around with nothing to do. Yet I'm a bit upset that I did it because I think it's so important for kids to learn the art of simply being as well as amusing themselves.
As a mom, while I don't believe in 'quality time', I do believe in benign neglect. I think it does kids a world of good to just hang out in the same space as their parents, not necessarily being read to/ taught/ 'spoken to'/ made to do anything in particular which is meant to mark the time the parent spent with the kid as something special. When I look back at my own childhood, what I see is a string of days or a blurred period of time where we all hung out, chatted, fought, played, cried and laughed together. The undue emphasis on quality time just leads kids to think the world revolves around them and they never learn to just coexist in the same space as other people, without the warm shininess of a spotlight.
This summer, though I knew I wouldn't have too much time off, I didn't want to enrol Chubbocks into any classes, especially those that taught him anything. I think school is good enough for most things he wants or needs to learn. So we just put him into a dance class that's an hour twice a week, as some of his friends from school were joining up as well and that was that.
Of course, it has led to him moping around the house, as I feared. It's bizarre but he doesn't have any company around, despite the fact that the colony we live in is full of kids his age. That's because these days, parents just don't send their kids out to play because 'it's too hot'. I remember during my summer vacations, we were forever outside, jumping, running, shouting and playing, oblivious to the weather. We only came home for lunch and the afternoon nap and the evening too would pass in merry mayhem. The high point of a day would be a trip with parents to the India Gate lawns where we would chill on the cool grass near a fountain so some of the spray would fall on us, and have an ice cream or so ( me only the cone because I had bronchitis). There was nothing organised about our entertainment, and yet we managed very well, be it playing Blindman's Bluff or catch-catch, organising Telematch tournaments or playing hide and seek in the dim gardens that ran behind our homes. The local library was raided week after week, while old books were lent and borrowed. I made an entire set of posters of all my favourite comic book heroes - from Phantom to Mandrake to Richie Rich - to decorate my playroom, one summer.
I wonder if we as parents are becoming over-protective of our kids, in the process robbing them of the ability to think freely and learn to get along with the elements. Of course, no one wants kids to fall ill with heat stroke, but a bottle of water/ nimbu paani and a summer hat should be fine protection except during the dog-hours of noon, no? Even at birthday parties, the amusement is organised and orchestrated so that our poor kids lose the ability to come up with games for themselves. Can you imagine the well-groomed kids you see at a typical birthday party coming up with anything as subversive and creative as Calvin-Ball?
I hate the words, "I'm bored", and have banned them from our house. I can't remember being bored once, though we used to have few books or games at home and of course television didn't come into our home until we were much older. This generation of kids, with so many toys and books and games, still manages to find the time to get bored. How?
Chubbocks has managed his vacation time okay so far, between hanging out with his grandparents and writing out little notes on his doodlepad. Now we have my cousin visiting, with her kids, so that's a new source of enjoyment for Chubbocks. next year i'm planning to definitely take 3 weeks off during summer so that even if we don't go anywhere, I'm there for my kids to hang out with. And yet I'm clear that I don't want to be organising anything - camp or playdate. I want them to find their own playtimes and games, with each other or by themselves, though I'm never averse to jumping into a puddle of water.
"What is this life if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows...?
Cross-posted at http://rain-bowdays.blogspot.com