Getting into the lift recently, I was confronted by a neighbour. “So how do you structure your child’s time once he gets home from school?” she enquired. I frantically thought of something elevating to say. I could think of nothing. “How do you do it?” I countered. Her daughter, she informed me, comes home, does her homework and goes for theatre classes, then tennis and music lessons by which time she is ready for dinner and bed. My child’s life after school, on the other hand, is like that of George Kastanza in Seinfeld — it’s about nothing. He comes home, lolls about in the front of the telly munching some non-nutritional snack, reads Archie comics, takes a spin on his bicycle and rolls up home grubby as Pig Pen and eats a large dinner. After a pitched battle, his homework is done. I lied to the neighbour that my son was a voracious reader omitting to tell her that he was not exactly devouring The Brothers Karamazov.
It was then that I started making enquiries among my friends most of whose children led structured lives. Clearly, my son was a misfit who would grow up and live off me all his adult life, I thought. Back home that evening, I raised the issue with my son. “Pallavi does so much once she gets home from school while you fritter your time away,” I said sharply. He said nothing but changed the TV channel from Nickelodeon to Nat Geo. I addressed my husband on the matter. “I see you are quite content for our child to be wandering about doing nothing while other children are playing tennis and taking music lessons,” I said. My husband, unfazed, asked me whether I hoped our son would eventually become Andre Agassi. Or Luciano Pavarotti. Or Sir John Gielgud. No, I said, I wanted him to grow up happy and well-rounded. Well, the spouse said, let him be and let him enjoy his childhood much as you did growing up in the wilds of Africa.
I thought of my own growing years where after school I and a gang of friends wandered about the neighbourhood pretending we were detectives. I did not engage in anything meaningful after school activity but I guess I turned out all right. Nevertheless I needed to know whether my son at least had any aspirations to be a productive person. “What would you like to be when you grow up? A journalist like mum or an entrepreneur like dad?” Neither, said the progeny, a gangster maybe or a cook in a takeaway. I was aghast.
The spouse saw a positive side to all this. The boy has imagination, he said, he is not your run-of-the-mill individual, so let him be. And so I did and am actually quite thrilled that he is happy. Who knows, my son may yet turn out to be a corporate lawyer or IT wizard. But at least, I will not have deprived him of the wonder years by filling it up with largely useless activity aimed only at keeping him out of my hair. And I will have enjoyed his company, which I would not have if he were running from activity to activity until he went to bed in the night.