On Monday evening, Arvind and I had an arts and crafts date. We were going to paint porcelain and make special presents for two people who have meant a lot to him over the past three years. Anita, his school therapist, and V, the physical therapist who came once a week to supervise his overall progress and take him for pool training.
Arvind was born with a brachial plexus injury (the most severe grade of avulsion) which, in his case, meant that he had an entirely paralysed left arm at birth. (Awful story that I don’t have the stomach to narrate.) It has taken two major, dollar-chomping operations (free medical care. socialism. remember?) and a tremendous amount of loving, patient and innovative training by Anita and V to give him a functional arm. By innovative, I mean just downright clever. It takes cunning to make a 3 or 4 year old like working out everyday. These two spectacular women have also taken the weight almost entirely off our guilt-free shoulders, allowing us to be just his goofball parents instead of parents and part-time therapists.
So back to Monday night. We are at our dining table, making initial sketches before we transfer our ideas onto the porcelain. Arvind comes up with some good ideas and we get started. Ten minutes into it, he is borrrreeed and begins to muck around.
“This pen is too slippery on the cup. Oops. Slipped. Harhar. That flower looks like a NOSE. Or a big bum.”
More hilarity follows and all the while, I sit there with my jaws clenched in irritation, bone-tired after a long day with office work and housework.
Predictably, I snap. And I come down on him like a ton of bricks. “Fine. We’re done here now! If this is how you want to do it, we might as well not do it. I can’t be arsed to waste my time. Go to bed!”
I begin gathering up the pens and after glaring at me balefully for two minutes, Arvind’s eyes fill with tears and he runs down to his room.
“C’mon, ” says the Viking, taking time out from surfing iphone waves, “Do you have to be so hard on him? He’s just six. So he fooled around a bit,so what? Its his present. Let him do what he wants with it. Its not like it has to be artistically perfect. Its a kiddie gift for crying out loud.”
By this point, I’m not far from tears myself.
“Its not because its not perfect,” I say, “Its because it’s a gift to people who have given him a lot of love and I want this gift from him to mean something to him and them. I don’t want it to be something that has been done in a goofy, half-hearted way. Thats just no way to repay them for all that they have done for him. I just want him to put his concentration and effort into making this as nice as he can. I want his appreciation of them to come through in it. Nothing to do with my standards of good art.”
I don’t like thoughtless gifts. Or thoughtless work for that matter.
If it doesn’t matter that much, then for heavens sake, cease and desist.
Its not really perfectionism, because as much as I would like that, its not there and I can’t beat myself with the stick of constant improvement. But it is all about knowing that you poured yourself into acknowledging someone. That you thought about them enough to come up with something that would move them. That you made it personal.
I go down to Arvind and he is huddled on the bed improving his sketches. He looks up briefly just to let me know that he is still upset and goes on drawing.
I apologise for snapping at him and ask him if he’d allow me to explain. One of the lovely things about him so far – he will give you a fair, but tough hearing.
So I explain. And I remind him about how much they have cared for him over the years. I remind him how weak his arm was before Anita made it strong, push-up able and Superman-like. I remind him of how often she has held him when he was very sad some days. How she always a chocolate biscuit in her bag that appears magically when he most needs it. How much fun they have had and how much they laugh when they work out/play/shoot hoops together.
He is eerily still in my arms till he turns his face towards me, utterly crestfallen.
“I wish Anita could come with me to the big school.” he says.
“So do I,” I say. “But she can’t. Thats why this is important. So how about you make the most kickass present ever to show her what you think of her?”
He stayed up till half past 9 that night, talking idly to me, squinting and sticking his tongue out in concentration as he thoughtfully created a gift. I loved the result, imperfect as the lines were, only because he had grasped the spirit of the process.
Was I too harsh on him? Most probably, I was. Maybe I could have gotten to point B without a minor explosion at point A. Still, life isn’t perfect and aren’t there things we should fight to instil in our children? Like putting effort and soul into one’s work – hobby or otherwise?
I know that I am willing to struggle to teach them that cost does not necessarily equate with value. If there is no thought, no effort behind it, its just bling – but it won’t make me sing:-)
When are we demanding and when are we doing the right thing by kids? I won’t even demand a college education from mine. They can be carpenters or mechanics or whatever makes their day. But I know that I will be disappointed if I see them living without spirit, without a sincere effort. Whatever you do, make it count, will be all I really expect.
Naive? Whats your take on this? And while you think, check out some tableware:-)
p.s. Porcelain is from Ikea. Painting is done with special pens. Check out your nearest hobby shop. Let the paint dry for 24 hours and then bake in the oven for 35 minutes at 150 degrees celsius – and voila! You’re dishwasher-friendly:-)