When the afternoon bell rings signaling the end of school, the second shift of whirlwind activity begins. In Delhi, children rush off for music, tennis and soccer lessons. One of the lesser acknowledged joys of motherhood is waving a cheery goodbye to your child at the bus stop, secure in the knowledge they’re somebody else’s problem for the next nine hours. In fact, the most stressful time for working parents are the holidays, when you have to come up with a plan. It’s all very well to talk of the importance of unstructured playtime but the reality is if two siblings are left to their own wiles, they’ll be beating each other up in about five minutes. So, a formidable cottage industry of extra classes have sprung up to fill in the hours between school, sleep and holidays.
I had a taste of some of this hectic scheduling in the recent Dussehra break. As the oldest mom in my Whats App group of parents of three-year-olds, I am generally silent while information flies around about extracurricular activities for toddlers.
Besides dance and music, the options include diction and articulation workshops for preschoolers. I try to remember if I was this dumb at 30, determined to account for every minute of my child’s day in the vague hope that it’s a head start in life. It’s been a while since I figured my children won’t turn into misanthropes if they’re not doing a hundred different things but then I recall how years ago, I had put my son in an etiquette class. One fine day, without a please or thank you, he flat out refused to go.
Old habits die hard. Recently, an enthusiastic young mother suggested I try a “foot and frolic” class for my daughter that allegedly improves coordination. It cost around Rs 6,000 for eight weekly classes of 45 minutes each. We land up at the venue, an impressive four-storey building in Gurgaon, far larger than some of the offices I’ve worked in. The teacher, who was perhaps 25, strummed a guitar for two minutes before putting on some music. She handed the kids a shiny baton, twirled them about for ten minutes, then let them run wild to the beats. And that, incredibly enough, was it. First, I had to put out of my head that my daughter does exactly the same thing at home, for free. Then I tried not to think about how I’ve wasted my youth writing pointless articles like this one when I could have just pranced around with 20 toddlers and earned 15,000 bucks an hour. There was a line of 30 kids waiting for the next batch. My admiration (and envy) for this young educator (if she may be called one) only grew when I heard she charges Rs 70,000 to make kids sing and dance at birthday parties.
It’s unfair to deem something a racket if perfectly sane, educated adults are willing to pay for it, of their own free will. Parents who enroll their children in organised activities have a variety of motivations, and it’s not all about creating little Einsteins. They’re outsourcing time. How they see it is it’s paid babysitting, a bonus if they learn something, no harm done if they don’t. At least they hung out and had a good time. In the 2-4 age group especially, I’ve noticed a brilliant strategy — every class ends with a muffin. When the parents ask the kids if they enjoyed it, the child nods yes vigorously, since he’s forgotten everything except the cake. Parents, teachers, kids, everybody’s vindicated, everybody’s happy.