Yesterday, I revisited one of my worst nightmares through my son.
It happened during his first ever sports day. My wife and I proudly sat in the first row, chatting with other parents and wondering if three-year-olds even ran in a straight line, while the teachers cautioned us grown-ups to behave ourselves and not get onto the tracks.
As the whistle blew, all the other three-year-old boys in his group ran. Nirvaan toddled a few steps unsurely, and then stopped and began to cry. With tears streaming down his face, he looked at the hundred-odd parents sitting alongside the track, pointing and giggling at how cute it was. From where I was sitting, it was heart-wrenching to see him look for us – searching for familiar, comforting faces amongst the crowd of laughing faces. My wife ran to the track, I sat frozen – smiling at him but stiff inside. Even though I didn’t think in words, so many questions flashed in an instant: Was he normal? Were we good parents? Was he not able to handle pressure? Was he unable to face crowds? Would this polaroid moment leave a scar for life?
I had a similar experience when I was a little older than he is. And I can still hear the raucous cackling of the ‘uncles’ laughing at me after a prank they had successfully played on me. In my mind, their faces are always ugly with laughter while I am always in desperate tears. Over the years, I have hidden my fear of being publicly ridiculed and of crowds beneath a cultivated smart-alecky humor. But this event reminded me that the scar underneath still remains to be healed.
My wife and I carried our son close as we left the sports day event early. His teacher reassured us that he had been tearful since morning and it had nothing to do with him at the race. On the way home, I suggested he should get a lollipop for being such a brave boy. In a few hours, he seemed to have forgotten it all. But the image of him on the track alone stayed in my head all day. It reminded me that no matter how much we love our children, we cannot protect them from life. Every parent has to someday learn to let go of trying to run that race for them.
That is a race they have to finally run on their own.
Image used under creative commons via Scott Macleod Liddle