The summer of 2012. The cusp of April showers & May flowers !
I was enjoying the ride in the scenic route. The Coimbatore-Velliangiri route was scenic and the weather cool. I was driving the car and would have been super excited normally… but now I was a little pensive too.
I had enrolled my son Abhimanyu in a 5-day Nature Awareness camp at Isha Ashram, Velliangiri. He was all of 8 yrs and was going away on a camp alone ! It was me who motivated him to join the camp, registered, packed, prepared etc… But now I was having doubts. I tried to hide my worries and was trying to pep up Abhi who was sitting beside me silently, a little thoughtful too. He was not very happy to be away from home for 5 days in an unknown place, with strangers. Though he was excited a month back while deciding, he was also worried now.
I tried to cheer the situation by singing songs and telling Abhi how great a time he is going to have. How his little brother is too tiny to be accepted for such camps,, and that Abhi is truly the big boy now ! This seemed to bring a little smile to Abhi. Ofcourse Rahul was not happy that he was being used as a pawn in my earnestness to cheer up Abhi 😉
I thought to myself of the time when I was in standard 4th in school. My class was being taken on a day trip to nearby Mahabalipuram, a trip of just a few hours from Pondy. My dad had flatly refused to send me, fearing that – I’ll drown in the beach / lose my way / be kidnapped, or all of the above !! It took me a long time (many years) to convince my father that none of the above would happen to me on a trip ! But each time it was a struggle to get permission for trips ! But that did not deter me from trying and going on fun trips in school, college & for chess tournaments 🙂
But forward to the present, and here I am, sending away my little 4th grader to a camp – for 5 days !! A camp where I will not even be able to talk to him on phone ! How much more cool can a mom get ??!! 😉
My other family members were not too happy with me sending Abhimanyu to a camp. But, I was firm. I did not want my child to be timid like me, it has been a continuous hard struggle out of this timidness for me. I wanted him to be brave, to live upto his name – Abhimanyu !
I tried to look cheerful & positive about the whole thing. We were now turning into more secluded roads while nearing our destination. Now, I too became quite and little jittery. We entered Isha ashram and after the formalities it was time to let go, as parents were not allowed to go beyond a certain point. I hugged him and tears started flowing in my eyes.
Suddenly Abhi says : “Amma, don’t cry. Its going to be only 5 days. I’ll ask them permission and call you.”
I smiled at him and thought “That was supposed to be my parting dialogue, and this little guy has stolen my words !!” All I could do was hug and kiss him .
I drove back in silence. Even Rahul’s incessant chit-chat could not elicit a reply from me.
The 5 days seemed to move very slowly. I spent the time with my second kid, brother, cousins, nieces etc. We explored Coimbatore, Pollachi & the beautiful Anamalai hills. We spent most of the time soaked in rivers ! Pleasant weather, wonderful people, good food, stunning locations, fun times – yet something was missing.
I tried to call the Isha office, and everytime they said that all kids are fine, do not worry. Once I got the info that the campers have gone to Nilgiris for trekking & camping. My heart skipped a beat. Nilgiris is too vast an area, and I had no clue to which part of the hills they have gone. I was not sure how Abhi would cope with the trekking and camping there .
Abhi had gone on 3 day camps from his school for the last 2 years. The consolation in those camps were that, it was hardly 100 kms away from home, with his dear friends, caring teachers, known people, delicious familiar food, in an absolutely safe place and 2 way communication open with mom – though it cannot be overused. All these previous camps & treks had familiarised him with camp life.
But this Isha camp was different ; unknown people, unknown itinerary, no friends while entering the camp, different food habits and absolutely no contact with mom ! How is my baby going to get through this ?!
I have been taking my kids on a few mini treks and couple of full day treks. They had just glided on the trails with ease and had enjoyed it immensely. So I was confident that Abhi would be able to trek decent trails. I also had faith in Isha to choose activities with safety in mind.
Then why was I worried. Well, blame Motherhood !
The last day of the camp arrived, draggingly in my opinion ! But I arrived at the Isha Ashram in lightning speed, so it seemed to me !
Abhi was dancing with his friends ; ya, the shy Abhi dancing happily to a beautifully rhythmic folksy tune !! Though he tried to become a spectator now and then, his new friends and teachers in the camp were pulling him into the dance floor. It was a heart warming sight to see all the kids dance happily with a permanent smile over their lips !
Abhi saw me & Rahul and ran to us ! Before I could hug him, he was called by his friends.
There were parting hugs and goodbyes and Abhi took me to his dorm to show his abode of 5 days ! It was a spartan hall on the first floor with bunk beds, a few shelves and lots of space for the kids ! The bathrooms were down the hall. It was airy and lots of sunlight came in.
Abhi was telling me about his camp life – early morning wake ups, standing in line for the bathrooms, sharing things, getting ready, yoga, food etc. He tried to tell the experiences of 5 days in 5 minutes ! He had packed his bags all by himself and showed it to me proudly ! I listened to his banter happily ! For once Rahul also was spell bound and listened quietly.
I was looking at this apparently grown up boy and wondered where my little boy was – my careless, home-sick, babyish mom’s boy ! He seemed to have metamorphosed into this self-sufficient, courageous, outgoing big boy ! I was happy at this transformation and was proud of him ! I was proud of myself too for being brave enough to send him to this camp !
Well, my illusion was broken quickly ! Rahul was teasing and pulling Abhi into brotherly ‘games’ ! Abhi appealed to me “Amma, look at Rahul… he is fighting with me !”. Well, All izz Well & Normal after all 😉 !!
We walked back to the car with his luggage and as we were loading the bags, Abhi quickly pulled out a book from his bag. After we were seated he showed me the album of his camp memories, which the organizers had beautifully put together. He turned to the first page and pointed very proudly to a photograph ! My heart stopped on seeing that. It was a picture of Abhi with a snake around him !
Tears started flowing from my eyes and I instinctively held him close. Abhi looked at me silently and wiped my eyes.
“Why are you crying ma ?”
I could only mutter, “Hope you were not hurt by the snake.”
Abhi patted me and said “Amma, it is Indian Rat Snake. Non-venomous. It is diurnal and are found near human habitation !”
I was surprised to hear this from my little boy !
He continued “I was afraid in the beginning ma, but later enjoyed holding it. See, it did not bite me at all and I’m fine !!”
I smiled at him encouragingly, not wanting to diminish his new found courage !
He said with concern, “Ma, you cried when you left me at the camp. You cry when you receive me at the camp. You are crying when you see my pictures.I am fine, dont cry ma !!”. Again this little boy had changed the script and stolen my dialogues. I was supposed to be the brave mother, in control of the situation and telling him words of courage !! I smiled bravely and told him, “I am happy that you are brave !”
His little brother, was in awe of him and utterly proud of him. He kept telling me for many days later “Abhi is brave ma !!” , though only when out of earshot of his big brother ;).
While signing up Abhi for the camp, my goals were to increase his nature awareness, adapt him to mingling with strangers easily, learn to be away from me & home, become self-sufficient in his daily personal activities and learn to eat different foods !
More importantly I wanted him to become independent and bold enough to take his own decisions and stand by them, never going back on a promise, even if the world turns against him. Only a brave person can do this.
I was glad that majority of the purpose was touched upon, a beginning made.
While signing up, I had thought about my acceptance of his absence & my reactions to camp conditions only fleetingly ; lest I do not sign him up at all !
It was as much a test of courage for me, as it was for him ! More so for me, perhaps !
A camp of growing up for the mother as much as for the child !
Now my younger one is waiting to go for the camp and show me proudly his picture with a snake around him ! I teased him that the snake may be afraid of Rahul and so let’s not trouble the snake. But he has made up his mind ! I have one more stage to grow up I guess, with my little baby !
As Abhimanyu turns 10, I look back at the way he has overcome challenges in life at this young age, how he has adapted to sudden turns of tides and situations and how his innocent childhood blooms amidst a rocky sea.
This does not mean that he has magically become mature, very brave, perfect etc etc. That is boring anyways, right ? A child has to take his/ her own sweet time to grow, being naughty, careless, fun-loving etc along the way ! Infact, a person should retain a little of his childlike nature even as an adult.
But exposure to nature and new situations at an young age definitely gives the child a strong foundation, rooted personality , a courageous outlook and respect for all of Existence. This is what I’m trying to give children.
Abhimanyu’s growth reflects my growth as a person and a mother in the past few years, in some ways.
May Existence take care of every child on this Earth.