Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing…

I was first introduced to the concept of summer camp for toddlers the summer my daughter turned two. I was blissfully day dreaming about the long, lazy summer days ahead on the last day of what had been quite a hectic school year (getting a two year old to preschool is no easy feat!) when I was accosted by another mum who was part of the mother toddler club that I attended with my daughter.

“So which summer camp are you signing up for?” she asked me urgently, while waving a few brochures that screamed ‘Summer Camp!’ in bold letters in my face.

“Eh?” I answered in my customary eloquent manner.

“Summer Camp!” she snapped impatiently “There are just a few days left before seats fill up everywhere. You have to act fast if you want to get in!”

“Really?” I was quite horrified “And you think this stuff is necessary for our kids? I mean, they’re only two!”

“Of course it’s necessary!” said the woman looking at me as if I was a particularly slow species of the human race “It’s an important part of their educational base! You don’t want your daughter losing out in the long run do you?”

I headed home suddenly feeling a lot less happy about the lazy summer vacation I had been looking forward to. What if that other mother was right? Maybe summer camp was an integral part of toddlers’ early education these days! After all, the times our kids are growing up in are very different from our own, relatively simpler childhoods. I took a few deep breaths and decided to tackle the summer camp issue in a calm and rational manner.

“We need to send Nikki to a summer camp!” I shrieked like a banshee the minute the husband walked in through the door that evening “It’s an important part of her educational base! She’ll lose out in the long run if we don’t enroll her right away!”

“What nonsense” said the husband without batting an eyelid, “There were no summer camps when we were kids and we turned out fine!”

“However,” he added quickly seeing that I was about to get into the wailing banshee mode again “You can always take a few trial classes and check them out. See how you and Nikki like them.”

And so a few days later, armed with all the research I had done on summer activities, I set out to attend a few trial classes with Nikki. I had identified a summer camp which had a variety of activities for toddlers, designed to hone their gross and fine motor skills, sensory abilities, cognitive behavior, speech development and every other skill a young person is supposed to be equipped with these days.

Our first stop was a yoga class for mothers and toddlers, which aimed at getting the tots introduced to fitness while the mothers improved their flexibility and mental well being. A matronly looking woman greeted us as we entered a room where a few mums and their babies were already perched on yoga mats.
“We will begin with some basic exercises” she announced “Please lie down on the floor and stretch out your arms and legs.”
I obediently lay down and stretched out my arms and legs as instructed. As I took a few deep breaths I felt a feeling of calm envelop me. This was brilliant; I would soon be relaxed and supple and I was introducing my daughter to the benefits of yoga at such a young age!
“We will now begin the deep breathing” the instructor called out “Please inhale deeply and exhale with an Ommmm”
I took a deep breath and began to exhale slowly “Ommm….OW! Owwwwwwwwwwwww!”
Nikki, seeing me lying prostrate on the ground with my arms akimbo, had assumed this was some sort of new game and had clambered up on me.
“Horsey horsey Mama?” she asked brightly and began bouncing up and down on my tummy like it was a particularly springy trampoline.
“Ommmmmmmm” said the instructor, quite oblivious to my predicament.
“Owwwwwww” I yelped in agony, desperately trying to get Nikki off.
I saw the instructor shoot me an irritated look from the corner of her eye. Thankfully the stretching exercise was over soon and we got ready for the next posture. This involved balancing on gym balls and doing some more stretching.
“Look Mama, beeeeeg ball! “ Nikki said delightedly and made a lunge at a bright red gym ball on which a plump woman was precariously balancing herself. I grabbed her in the nick of time and deciding that slip disc surgery would probably be the outcome if I tried any stunts on the ball with Nikki around, beat a hasty retreat.

Our next activity was art where I hoped we would fare better since Nikki enjoyed doodling. The room itself was lovely with a multitude of art and craft materials strewn around, and Nikki grabbed a handful of crayons delightedly and began scribbling away.
“Do you know how to draw a circle?” a teacher came up and enquired. Nikki obligingly drew a squiggle.
“No, let me show you” taking the crayon from Nikki, the teacher drew a perfect circle. “Let’s try a triangle now” she went on.
“I want to draw!” Nikki took another crayon and drew a few more squiggles.
“No, no, no!” the teacher looked vexed “That’s not a triangle!”
She tried taking the crayon from Nikki again who decided that enough was enough and began flinging the crayons on the floor like a missile bomber on a combat mission.
“That’s enough drawing for today Nikki! Maybe we should try something new!” I took Nikki out again and looked around for another activity. Music! Just the thing we needed to calm down. I walked into a room strewn with musical instruments where a few parents and babies sat in a semi circle around the teacher, a kindly looking elderly gentleman, who was explaining to the group that he would now introduce the kids to the concept of ‘sur’ and ‘taal’.

“Mama I don’t like this uncle!” Nikki announced.

The teacher took a deep breath and broke into a ‘sa re ga ma’. With near perfect precision Nikki threw her head back and burst into a loud howl matching him perfectly in pitch and crescendo. The elderly gentleman, now looking significantly less kindly, was beginning to give me pained looks so I gathered a bawling Nikki and headed out to the garden, dejected. I sat down on a clump of grass and contemplated the summer camp debacle. Beside me Nikki sighed contentedly.

“Mama, I so happy now.”

“What?” I gaped at my daughter. She hadn’t been remotely close to happy in the state of the art yoga class, art class or the music class and here she was sitting around, doing nothing and proclaiming great joy. “You’re happy Nikki? Why?”
Nikki gave me a look of infinite wisdom “I so happy Mama, because I do nothing.”
And I finally got it. It was all quite simple really, just the way my childhood had been, until I had tried to over complicate it with my own misplaced zeal and paranoia that my child would get ‘left behind’.

We didn’t sign up for any camp that summer, Nikki and I. Instead we spent a lot of time in the park, counting birds, chasing butterflies and watching the clouds make funny shapes in the sky. We pottered around at home in the kitchen and baked a cake. We went shopping for vegetables and fruits. We made up games and wove imaginary stories out of nothing. And when we got bored we thought of ways to amuse ourselves. It was a happy, contented summer. And at the end of it I really didn’t feel like Nikki had missed out anything or lost out on building her educational base. Because you learn a whole lot more when you are just doing nothing.


Originally written for "The Punekar"

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Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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