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.