The most precious gift a parent can give to a child is not money or things money can buy. It is a bundle of memories.
What is the most precious gift a parent can give to a child? No, it is not money or things which money can buy. It is a bundle of memories - each a gossamer fabric of fun and togetherness. And how is this fabric created? By investing time. As someone has said, "Spend time with your kids, and give them the most generous gift of all. Toys get lost and broken, but memories last a lifetime." Unfortunately it is time that is suddenly becoming scarcer by the day.
By spending time I don't mean merely talking a day off, sitting in front of the TV, giving a bunch of sketch pens and a drawing sheet to the little one. And during commercial breaks turning an indulgent eye on her and feeling thrilled that you are the model parent who is spending 'quality time' with the child. By time I don't mean merely sharing of physical space, by time I mean involvement, attention and sharing of emotional space.
Many time when a child rushes to you with a problem or a question or simply an entreaty what is your response, "Not, now. I am busy." "Don't disturb son. Go and ask your mummy/papa." This brings to my mind the thoughtful words of Patricia Clafford: The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won't wait while you do the work."
The relationship between a child and her parent is built on little moments, not on the edifices of deeds and duties. When she reaches out to you and you brush her aside she cannot understand the profound reasons for your lack of response. But what she understands is her own hurt feelings. If you continue to prioritize your priorities over her concerns soon you will cease to be a priority for her. A stage will come when both you would be doing your duty to each other. And in this strait jacket of duty the love, fun and togetherness will get stifled.
I remember when I was nine years old my father owned an old Labretta scooter. Every three months he would take it for servicing to Shankar, the mechanic. Shankar's 'garage' comprised a single room and an open verandah.
My father used to take me along on each of these trips. I had written a 'novel' consisting of 47 pages in my spidery scrawl. While the mechanic worked on the scooter my father would sit on a chair in the verandah with me perched on a stool beside him. I would keep reading from my maiden 'masterpiece' and he would listen with rapt attention. Sitting there in the heat, dust and grime, with the noise of the market around us, with cacophonous exchanges of Shankar and his boys working as rude punctuation marks - the two of us carried on our literary tryst. After every chapter my father would patiently give his suggestions answer my questions and then we would move on. Amidst all that chaos there was never any doubt in my mind that my father was giving me undivided attention. In this process he created a memory that I still treasure and always will. He also helped me imbibe the values of caring and sharing.
For many years now I too have been making conscious, deliberate efforts at creating memories - to leave behind a legacy of endearing moments for my daughter and son. Every year during the first burst of rain in the month of May we three go out on the lawn in front of our house. There in broad daylight, clad in our shorts, we get totally drenched.
As we slide through the slush and mud singing and dancing the moments are captured on camera. This unselfconscious, uninhibited and unadulterated madness has been going on for years. And when it stops I don't know who will be sadder my kids or me!
My wife and I are both working. Keeping this reality in mind we have made a few rules that we try to follow at home:
Wherever either of us goes, whether it is to the market, to a debate competition, outstation or to a bookshop we take one or both the kids along.
We socialize with families where our kids feel comfortable.
We make it a point to attend every function in our kids' school - whether it is annual day, sports day, PTA meeting, nursery convocation etc.
Dinnertime is sacrosanct, TV dinners are a no-no. Sunday breakfast, lunch and dinner are taken together as far as possible. During mealtime my daughter and son take turns eating from the same plate as me.
Every night while putting them to bed I tell them stories - all my own.
If approved, some of these stories reach the word processor and then the reader!
Every quarter we celebrate 'Papa's Day Out'. I take the kids out on a picnic and the entire agenda - where to go, what to eat, what to wear et al, is set by them.
You too can, using your talents, abilities and interests think of innovative ways of spending time with your children and weaving the gossamer fabric of indelible memories.
Let me add that if you feel by spending time with a child you are doing her a favour, forget it. You are doing yourself a favour. The company of a child is one of the most effective stress busters, provided you too become childlike. You should make every attempt to internalize the qualities of love, joy, innocence and playfulness. This is you are able to do, at least for those precious moments when you are with her, then you'll emerge from the experience in a calmer, happier and more fulfilled frame of mind.
As Fyodor Dostoyevski has said, "The soul is healed by being with children".
Finally I would like to draw the attention of all parents to these immortal words of Pablo Neruda, Chilean Poet and Nobel Laureate:
We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer "Tomorrow". His name is "Today". So, dear parents, spend time, make memories and shape your child's Today in such a loving and caring way that his Tomorrows will bloom and blossom.