It’s that time of year. Everybody is in vacation mode. Yearning for one. Having just returned from one. Planning the next one... Most parents would concur that there are two kinds of vacations: Those that you go on with kids and those that you go on to recover from the ones you went on with kids. There is also a third kind: The one you take daily when your kids are at school and you are at work.
Yes, for working parents, “work” is primarily just a vacation from our kids. The pay is just a bonus. (Most of us would die before we admit this openly. We prefer to live in denial that our kids feel the same way about school.) This is why you will never hear a mother say, “Thank God, it’s Friday.” Unless, of course, it’s a homeschooling mom.
It has now been about 18 years (no, not months, ask any parent) since schools shut down in India and children were turned into little glazed-eyed WiFi-dependent zombies who can edit a Google slide faster than they can hop on one leg. While older children have only recently returned to ‘physical school’ (evidently a ‘thing’ now), the younger ones persist with the arduous task of juggling YouTube how-to videos and Minecraft games with breakout rooms and desperately-attempting-to-discipline teachers hopelessly reliant on unreliable broadband connections.
I think it is safe to say that at this point, our children have become expert togglers of the mute button on Zoom and know just what length of T-shirt they can get away with without having to put on a pair of pants. They also have mastered the art of appearing vertical while being horizontal and thereby chanced upon a whole new door of perception. Isn’t it interesting how homeschooling brings with it a whole new set of skills?
So, what exactly is it like to vacation with kids in the context of Covid-19/20/21/29 when you and your children have basically been glued together (to your respective screens) for the rest of the decade anyway? It is like being in a chicken coop with other chickens that you liked at the beginning till everyone got restless and started flapping about, wondering who would be supper next, and suddenly the coop just isn’t big enough and then one day someone comes and lets you out of the coop and says, “Go forth and multiply!” Okay, maybe not exactly those words, but you get the drift. And then you float away on a rainbow into the great, green fields and beyond, collecting dande — but I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you get to hit that rainbow, you need to inject and swab yourself a few times, but what’s a little discomfort when you get to spend a day with your kids without having to play “Teacher. Teacher”?
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Show me one parent who doesn’t love that moment when they get to become a ‘good cop’ again and marvel at missing teeth instead of missing math assignments. Given a choice, wouldn’t you rather point out a seriously squashed centipede that is missing all its legs than a grammatical error involving a missing comma? And given a choice again (yeah right, like parents are ever given a choice), wouldn’t you rather research which nearby restaurant has the cheesiest pasta than which mountain range is the longest (and then get flak from your offspring when you get it wrong?)
Of course, you would. But while you are ecstatically planning your organic plunge into the wild, dreaming of riding maskless into the sunset with your children on duly sanitised rented bicycles down wholesomely dusty country roads, your child has an entirely different vision of the ideal vacation, which primarily includes — wait for it — WiFi. Your archenemy, the iPad, will follow you and bring you down, if you are not careful. You will find yourself competing with Road Blocks and Squid Game while you stand there squinting in the sun holding a hula hoop, feeling ecstatically rustic for some inexplicable reason. Your only hope of salvation will be a drained iPad battery, an indefinite power cut and a child who thinks that playing stick-in-the-mud beats watching Goosebumps.
Just a heads up from an experienced parent — the first two are a lot easier to come by. You may need a backup plan for the third. No, I am not suggesting you take a backup child along (although now that I think of it…)
You know that adage: “When you can’t beat them, join them?” Put those Enid Blyton books away. Learn how to play Minecraft and begin to care about things like the colours of virtual tiles. Get so savage at BGMI that your cub starts taking gaming tips from you. Quit your job and other hobbies and dedicate yourself entirely to this admirable goal. Earn your offspring’s respect. Then when you have their undivided attention, diabolically bring out that picnic basket and your tattered Scrabble board and even though they will still secretly think it is an incredibly lame game belonging to the dinosaur generation, they will play it with you — because this time you have challenged them to Level Up. Happy wickedationing!
(Shivani Tibrewala is a writer and a mother — not necessarily in that order)
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