I’ve watched a day begin and fill the world with light, As slowly but surely has receded the darkness of the night./ The crawling caterpillar is not really a great sight, But the butterfly it turns into I admire in its flight./ Branches of trees all so bare lie below the winter snow, But spring isn’t far behind, it’ll soon put up a grand flower show!/ Then can’t I have faith in my children And wait for their passions to ignite? The world is hurrying by, but can’t I be sane? For tomorrow blossom they might.
Summer came visiting again and this time it was the swimming class that caught my son, Advaita, and his father’s fancy. Our neighbour’s son, Advaita’s best friend, swam superbly well without any training and had impressed my husband with his swift moves in water more than once. It was not only him, but me too who secretly wished our son too would swim equally well, given a formal training. I still don’t know how to swim, and Advaita’s father knows a few tricks, but has a lot more to learn. Secretly we wished Advaita would make up for that.
My eight-year-old rushed down the steps in his swimming costume, a mass of energy and enthusiasm, my husband in tow. After an hour, the father returned, looking happy and satisfied. In three days the smile vanished! Within a week, his face had knitted eyebrows and my son began coming home with a glum face. What was going wrong?! “You’re not following Sir’s instructions properly,” the father grumbled to which Advaita said meekly, “But I am.” “He is not concentrating during the class,” my husband complained the very moment I opened the door to the duo next day.
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My little daughter Diya had been keeping me busy and so I didn’t really know what was going on in the pool. Forever patient with his children, I had no reason to doubt my husband was wrong in judging Advaita’s efforts to learn the art of swimming. I didn’t take it very seriously though, and said some words of encouragement. But I thought he didn’t really need that because he was most likely not focusing enough but would be compelled to do so by Sir soon.
There wasn’t any significant change in the next few classes though. Time was running out, because there were to be around twenty classes in this session. Now I felt I had to be a little strict. “Why aren’t you observing Sir’s movements? Why don’t you be a little sincere sometimes at least?” I asked, peeved. This was because he indeed was a playful boy and his school report card often mentioned that along with his good qualities. “If you aren’t interested, you can pull out,” I said almost angrily, for what was so tough about learning how to swim at this tender age (when the learning curve is at a high in almost anything), that too when a professional was there to teach? He is just not being sincere enough, both of us concurred.
Advaita’s scowl disappeared as he said “OK, I’ll pull out”. Now that was not something I had seen coming because it was he who had got fascinated watching his friends swim. I became quiet, hoping he didn’t actually mean to stop midway through. Soon the comparisons began. “Riju has learnt quite a number of tricks, why don’t you?” Understandably, the father was frustrated because he was the outdoor games kind of man who had a good sports record during his college days. Advaita winced at the comparison.
THAT WAS IT. At this time or in this case, this comparison won’t help, it’s only making matters worse, I felt. He was no longer looking forward to the swimming classes and worse, his confidence in himself was dipping. (Was it a mother’s sixth sense?) And I could not watch this silently.
“He genuinely has some problem there. Perhaps, he is not suited for swimming.” Was I being a too-lenient mother? Or was I trying to see things without any bias? Maybe the fiercely competitive spirit his father was trying to infuse in him to tide over his initial inability to absorb the new skills was ill-timed.
To be honest, it did worry me that he wasn’t mustering up enough will power to make up for what he seemed to lack. But I thought no more and called him aside when his father was not around and said firmly, “Look, it doesn’t matter even if all in your group pick up the tricks before you or they all emerge as experts. What I’m interested in is you picking up the basic skills from Sir before he wraps up this session.
Forget them all, just watch Sir’s movements and follow what he says. Because that is the purpose – that you learn to swim and later enjoy swimming.” He looked straight at me and stopped sulking. Did those words carry a magic potion? Did they give him a comfort he badly needed at that time? Call it a miracle or what, he learned the tricks within a week, taking major strides every single day, making up for the last few days of disinterest.
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The father was visibly happy and the son came home routinely with an exciting story of the day’s achievement. When the month-long rigorous training was finally over, my son stood where most of the other learners were! Months later, when autumn set in, Advaita was back in the pool with his friends, splashing around and making merry in the water, covering the length and width of the pool, arms moving fast and wide, doing breast strokes and butterfly strokes, gliding in and out of water adeptly, his pace and skilful, smart moves belying that this was the same boy who had almost given up on swimming!
What if we had kept comparing and pressurizing him to learn as fast as others during those days of training? Well, we would have nipped in the bud his interest in it! And suddenly it all flashed to me. It was not that he didn’t want to be competitive. It was just that he couldn’t grasp certain movements promptly – he needed time for that. If deprived of it, and berating and comparisons had continued, he would have completely lost interest and very soon too! His was not a great start, but the end result was amazingly great! There were lessons for us to learn from the events that our son was centre of!
**Comparisons don’t always help, rather often do harm quietly, because the cornered child doesn’t openly say he hates being compared, but the damage gets done anyway. It can demotivate and even break the child’s spirit sometimes! **A child may or may not inherit the parents’ good qualities. **In future, our child may try his hand at something that appeals to him. If it’s not a great start, but the enthusiasm doesn’t die down despite that, he may just need to keep at it. Morning doesn’t necessarily always show the day! Progress might be slow, very slow, but if the passion doesn’t fade away, it’s worth continuing with. He might reach the finishing line late, but he’ll be secure with the knowledge that his perseverance and patience paid off and he’ll glow with the satisfaction of having achieved some skill that he wasn’t born with………Doesn’t this hold good for us adults too?
From Aparajita Bose’s diary