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A Garden of Weeds

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By Pooja Marwah

How many times have you sat back and reminisced about your childhood?

What is it that you recalled as your eyes lit up and your smile widened?

Most of us have spent our formative years in parks, pools and outdoor recreational activities. School was a part of our day where we went to learn about subjects that we enjoyed or not. But once that bell rang, everything was forgotten as we charged to the bus to make our way home. At that moment, the only thing running through our minds was who would sit next to the conductor on the bus, as that kid always got a ‘Melody’ toffee.

There wasn’t any stress of being pottered from ballet to chess to robotics. There weren’t any Coursera classes to upskill ourselves with. All there was – free time to play a game of cricket or monopoly with our friends, before we were called into dinner.

Today, if I were to summarise it in one statement, all I would say is that – Childhood is a training ground for adulthood. Period!

Even before they enter playschool, the choices made are not about the proximity of the premise but its ‘HNI’ parent body. Is it ranked amongst the top 10? What kinds of people go there? It is more of a status symbol for the parents, as your child would get invited to the birthday parties of the who’s who. After that, the journey begins as young as grade 1, when the little one is handed a golf club or a tennis racquet. Competitions, Seminars, and Matches are all that the child hears whilst growing up, while pressing their noses against the window, smiling wistfully, seeing their friends play in the first rain of the season. Thus, you have begun a garden of weeds for them, putting remorse as the first.

As they grow older and reach middle school, all I hear are parents talking of counsellors for college applications. Headlines scream over social media and every WhatsApp group – MAKE YOUR CHILD READY FOR AN IVY LEAGUE UNIVERSITY.

TRAIN THEM TO DEVELOP ESSENTIAL LIFE SKILLS.

TEACH YOUR CHILD TO WRITE AN ESSAY THAT WILL MAKE HARVARD/OXFORD ACCEPT THEM WITH OPEN ARMS.

(And these are headlines I have received as a prospective parent.)

Everything the child can do from grade 9 onwards is an enormous contribution! And this does not include participation. Oh No! Your child HAS to excel! It is ingrained in them that winning is the only way to be! This adds blades of egoism and narcissism to the imaginative garden of weeds.

And then, as college nears, even before they enter their first year, they are already looking for opportunities to intern or build networks, so they have a guaranteed placement upon completion! By now, their garden is accumulated with stress, tension, anxiety and worry. And they are all of 17 or 18.

Where did their childhood go? Why was their garden abundant with weeds when it should have been overflowing with colourful flowers, bees, and butterflies? What life skills are we talking about? Because, at the end of the day, when I see my child, I see eyes that are tired and listless. I see a body well-toned but devoid of energy. I see a mind with 2354 tabs open, but nothing that excites them as much as a surprise – Hey, would you like to go out for a drive and ice cream?

As adults, we spend so much time peering over the neighbour’s garden that we often forget to water our own. Children are not things to be moulded but are people to be unfolded. (Jess Lair) And this is something I want every parent out there to understand. Everyone is their individual. Just let them be them.

I want to stand on the terrace of my building and scream at the top of my lungs – STOP. BREATHE.

We don’t want another bout of the corona to teach us the value of life, for if the last two years haven’t taught us anything, chances are – nothing will.

More than the children, it is the parents I want to question. Is your child a trophy for you, or are they a project you are building? Are they responsible for living out the life you wished you had, or are they bound to your every whim just because you chose to bring them into this world?

There is more than enough time to be a part of the rat race humanity seems to be engulfed in… but there will never be another childhood. There will never be a time when you can swing on that hammock and fall asleep without a single care. However much technology advances, you can never go back to enjoying the innocence of childhood. You will never get back those days when you could putter about, basking in the knowing that someone was there to take care. You can’t relive the moments when every memory you have, is just one of extracurriculars, classes and coding!

Don’t you think we are taking away their today for a better tomorrow? It is their time to splash in the puddle or build little mud dolls. But, we are so busy coercing them to make a CV, that we have forgotten that they aren’t lab specimens being experimented upon to win that Nobel Prize, but are tiny human beings who have an equal right to live in the world as they like.

Classes, grades, and positions are important, but there is a world beyond that. A world that helps your child grow into an empathetic human being. A world that gives her the challenges and lets her find her way above them. A world that accepts him with all his quirks, fears, and dreams. Perhaps it is time that we change our mindsets into a more developed, accepting one.

Bill Gates very confidently stated, “I failed in some subjects in my exam but my friend passed in all, now he’s an engineer at Microsoft, and I own Microsoft.”

Need I say more?