Gift Of Freedom

AmmuPattu

I am on the phone with my mother in India. The handset is wedged between my neck and ear as I wash the suds off the griddle. I set it to dry, wipe my hands and perch on one of the island chairs to eat my breakfast in peace. The kids are sitting with a book each in different parts of the home.

“Did you know Ammu is reading better than she did before? They are working on two digit addition now…” The pride in my voice carries, ringing and bouncing off the walls until I register it myself. I am proud.

In September of last year when my daughters started first grade, I struggled with disappointment as I watched them try hard to read and give up in frustration. I watched as the five year olds and four year olds in my life read with ease, moving on to chapter books. I mulled putting them in after school classes to help with reading and math. Between exhaustion, laziness and an abhorrence for after school classes, I did not, hoping against hope that they will catch up.

Nine months hence, I see progress. I see leaps where I had expected baby steps. My maternal heart is happy. They are not quite where the rest of their class is. But that’s OK, I tell myself.

Putting the phone down, I shoo them upstairs for their bath. I gather their hair into buns, fit a shower cap on and send them in, all the while shouting instructions from the other side. Their glee at doing things independently is catching. I give up and tell them they have three minutes to play in the water before they should be out.

Half hour later, all three kids are bathed, moisturized and fresh. I plonk them before the TV to grab a few minutes for myself. As the warm water cascades on me, I look back on my life and my schooling. All those complex Math equations, the formulae that I once struggled with, I realize I have no clue what they are now. Conceptually, I understand integration, differentiation and the concept of infinity. At the end of it all, it boils down to knowing concepts.

I also realize the absolute lack of pressure to perform academically has been key in me figuring my path ahead. In my late teens and early twenties, the only thing that was impressed on me was that marriage was around the corner. Education if any was a ticket to a better groom. So I picked the most complex course I could. I was not expected to earn, so I forged ahead to be financially independent. I was not expected to live alone. I found myself a studio apartment and furnished it to my liking. The list goes on. I did things because I wanted to. I learned things because I liked them.

My career fell by the wayside as I blundered through friendships and finding out who I was outside the influences of my family. I discovered a love for music and a penchant for being an agony aunt. My circle was eclectic. I received much more than I gave.

At forty, I look back on my life and realize that the best thing I was offered was the gift of freedom. Freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Freedom to pursue paths that were dead ends. Freedom to follow my heart instead of my head.

I look at my children and realize that is the best gift I can offer them. To let them be. To allow them to learn at their pace. They will probably amble through school landing more C’s than B’s or A’s and that is OK. They will dance to Just Dance on Y.ouTube instead of ballet or bharatanatyam. They will croon to songs they write and sing instead of being trained in classical music. They will read books they love rather than books they ought to be reading. They will end up making a career out of something they care about, hopefully.

If at forty, they can look back on life and feel the way I do, I will stand vindicated, and happy.

13 comments

  1. What a heart warming post and reading you is such a pleasure. Gift of freedom is of utmost importance. To be able to do what one wants give us not just happiness but it also gets one to be at peace with their individuality. I’m glad your girls have you 🙂

  2. What a perfect time to get to read this heart-felt post that made me revisit my priorities. I have been worrying like crazy as my 4 year old starts her annual exams. I know she’s well prepared, but the pressure from my parents to push her harder was only adding to my confusion.
    Your post’s last paragraph came to me as an answer to my prayers. 🙂
    Thank you for writing this beautiful piece 😀

  3. I am with you on the freedom of it; but sometimes I wonder… Would a push here and a push there make it much better?

    Partly from experience of mine and others: I grew up with education and financial independence drilled in; but was never pushed for anything; I wonder if I might hv done much better and be more confident if I had that push. No after school activities, nothing … I was left to be me.

    Now with my son, I am always trying to find the right way … What approach shd I take? Seeing my nephew blossom with the right pushes … Anyway, just thinking aloud- more for me!

    • I wonder that too but looking back, my mom signed me up for singing/dancing/instrumental. All of which I gave up (with relief) in record time. Now, I realize I love music and dancing but there is no way I would have been a professional. End of day, each child and parent is unique and we each have to figure out what works for our family. I have a feeling if my children ask for classes, I may sign them up but I will not sign them up to figure out what their tastes are. This is something I hear from most people around me. They sign up their kids to expose them to multiple things so that their children can figure out what they enjoy. No right or wrong, just what appeals to each of us.

  4. The freedom of choice. That is the best gift a parent can give a child. Couple that with all the love in the world, good work ethics, curiosity and integrity and I think, our kids’ generation have a chance at creating a better world. Lovely piece as always Laksh 🙂

  5. A very wise aunt once chided me, when I told her that I give my child full freedom to do what she wants with “who are you to GIVE her freedom? You are arrogant to believe you can GIVE someone something that is theirs by right”. Was like a wet fish on my face, but she had a point there. Freedom is, pardon me, NOT a gift. It CANNOT be given. It can only be let be.

    • Your aunt is right and so are you. Unfortunate choice of words by me. Perhaps, I should title it Let them be? I agree with your sentiments.

      • That was a quite a whiplash by me, wasn’t it? Didn’t mean to be rude, but my aunt’s wet fish made a lasting impact on me to allow that to slide by !
        Every time I feel proud about “not forcing my beliefs on my daughter”, I remember my aunt, call myself a prat and have a lie down until the bout of arrogance passes over 🙂

      • Was definitely strong but I see what you mean. Not sure if being subject to feedback on what I write has made me develop a thick skin but I seem to be open to it these days. 🙂

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