As a school going kid I thoroughly enjoyed participating in competitions and performances. Never did I understand the importance of such things in a child’s life until the time my daughter started participating in them. These events have played such a vital role in developing her personality. But I feel that competitions are like double edged swords. They can be beneficial in providing a child ample exposure so that they come out of their shell and gain in confidence. At the same time if the child doesn’t get desired result (which is quite likely) they can possibly lose confidence and self-esteem. Recently Akshita my daughter won a gold medal along with few others from her painting class in a national level painting competition held for children. But I don’t want to discuss her success story. Instead, I find that it is the story of her failure that is worth sharing.
Couple of months earlier I had got a message from Usha, my daughters painting teacher, on WhatsApp. It was to inform the people in that group about a national level painting competition for children which is to be held in Hyderabad. She wanted all her students to participate in this. We needed to send entries latest by 28th of June. There were topics to choose from as per the age criteria. After reading the message my thoughts drifted to a similar situation in which we were in a few months ago. On a Saturday afternoon I went to Usha’s Studio to fetch Akshita home. Within seconds, I realized it wasn’t a usual day at the painting class. The students were engrossed with the work assigned to them. Usha informed me of a painting competition which was supposed to be held at a preschool located near our society. The topic for the competition was ‘save the earth’. Akshita was informed by her teacher about this and she was excited to go for it. She was just out of a splendid dance performance which she along with other girls had given during the ugadi celebrations in our society. As a result, she was basking with self-esteem. I was delighted to see her enhanced confidence, but at the same time was sceptical about the topic. I thought the topic was too much for a five years old to handle.
Next one hour I sat silently watching her in admiration. What I like the most in her is the fact that in spite of quite a few shortcomings, she exhibits great zeal to take up challenges that the life throws at her. Even though Akshita looks quite timid and delicate to the world outside her home, but deep inside she is pretty gritty and strong willed. This was very evident from the very beginning. For instance, when she was in my womb this tiny soul had to play a tug of war between life and host of medical issues which could have occurred. But fortunately got avoided due to the intervention of a good team of doctors… and God’s will. Amidst the pre and during delivery complications, she was holding on to the twig called life. She was born in the month of August, exactly two weeks before the due date. Thus being a Leo cub she is a fighter to the core. Akshita is one of those children who started speaking late. When she joined preschool she saw a whole bunch of her peers talking, screaming and communicating in so many languages. On the contrary she could barely speak a few words. But still that did not deter her to love going to school. She was the youngest of all girls at the dance class when she had joined. She used to give a confused look and was totally fish out of water. But neither did she show reluctance to go there nor did she ever asked me to hang around at the dance class. In fact, after coming back home she use to spend next half an hour teaching me Bharatanatyam steps. Believe me she is a tough task master; because no matter how much my thighs use to pain she wouldn’t leave me.
In order to master your shortcomings/fears you need to confront them, running away from them can never be a solution. If you choose to do the later, you restrict your growth as a person. The fear of failure will always be there but that shouldn’t deter you from facing challenges. I took fifteen years to realize this, but I am glad to find that this quality is inherent in her. During this time, while I was busy in retrospection, she was diligently following instructions and replicating her teacher’s drawing. I causally glanced at her drawing notebook. “Plant more trees” was written in bold letters on top of the sheet. It depicted a scenery with lush green patches, trees, blue sky and a small hut in the middle of nature. It looked beautiful.
Next day my husband dropped both of us at the school. We were received by Renu, one of the teachers at the preschool, who also happens to be a neighbour. She took Akshita to a room where all the kids were busy drawing or colouring. I could see three more students of Usha there, apart from Akshita. I feel it is God’s grace that we have facilities like music class, dance class, painting class etc in our own society. During growing up stages children are in constant pressure from all quarters. As a result, they have lot of pent up emotions. These activities are just a medium through which these emotions get released, their social skills increases, self-esteem and confidence enhances. And this in turn helps in overall development of the child. Akshita is far more obedient and manageable now then what she was before we sent her for these classes.
After about an hour and half, Akshita came out totally satisfied with whatever she had done in her painting. We were asked to wait as there was Prize Distribution Ceremony within 20 minutes. I immediately called up Anirban to let him know that she was done with the painting. I asked her how was it. She said ‘superb’. In the meantime, within minutes a makeshift stage was set up and prizes wrapped in coloured papers where kept on one side of the table by the organizers. Akshita was all the more excited after seeing those prizes. From her exuberance it was very clear that she had high expectations from the event. Considering the fact that Akshita was probably the youngest participant, I had genuine apprehensions of her chances of getting a prize.
The first prize went to a girl whose painting depicted a scene controlling air pollution. Her painting was shown to the audience, who in turn applauded her for the painting. Akshita was disappointed for not getting the first prize. I on the other hand was surprised to see that she actually expected the first price. Isn’t it too big an expectation? I thought. She is here to participate; get some exposure. For us the main purpose for sending her for different Co-curricular activities was that she would get ample opportunities to mingle with children of her age, which in turn would help her to learn social skills and also time would be utilized in a constructive manner. We felt that this purpose was being served. We didn’t expect her to bring laurels for us at all. We just enjoyed the baby steps that she took in her journey of development.
In order to soothe her restlessness, I said accolades don’t decide our love for her. Instead we take pride in her zeal to participate and compete. I could sense that my little girl was not convinced. Deep within I dreaded the situation which we might have to tackle if she does not get recognition for her painting. We might have to get into a crisis management mode sometime soon. Much to my solace my husband was on his way to join us.
In the meanwhile, second prize went to one of Usha’s three pupils Sai Charan. My daughter had started losing patience by this time. So far we have never pushed her for anything. The fact that she chose to participate was more than enough to feel good about. But kids of her age can’t really understand this. The child needs something to hold, to feel. Something to show to their parents. In my opinion they are too young to understand the importance of a participation certificate. According to them, a small Candy is better than a certificate. Parikshit, another student of Usha got the third prize. Akshita was all teary eyed by then. I thought to myself if her confidence dips down, that would probably be the last thing that I would want from this competition. I gave her a quick hug and said “I love you”.
My husband had reached the venue by this time. Akshita jumped with joy and wiped her eyes instantly, seeing her father. She shared her curiosity with him about what could be there inside the gift wrapped boxes. In next ten minutes few of them received consolation prizes and each one of them got participation certificates. Akshita received only a participation certificate. She felt dejected and sad, actually she is too young to understand the importance of a participation certificate. I cuddled her and kissed her forehead and said Maa and Baba is simply proud of what she did. Our love for her is not dependent on her successes or failures. But we certainly appreciate her willingness to work hard to achieve a goal.
I glanced at my husband and he immediately understood what I wanted to convey. He took over the task of motivating her. Over the years both of us have learnt the art of communicating through eyes. It was so heartening to see Anirban’s softer side. He lifted her and made her to sit on his lap, embraced her and planted a kiss on Akshita swollen cheeks. These gestures are so essential to repair a child’s broken heart and spirit. She in turn put her arms around his shoulders. Anirban whispered in her ears: “You are a winner in our eyes as we value the attempt that you made and will definitely get a gift from us”. I wondered if she really understood what we were trying to tell her but I am sure she understands the warmth we shower on her. So on our way back home we took her to the nearest supermarket and let her choose things that she wanted to pick from there. We have made conscious effort to bestow her with our precious time but not freedom of demanding loads of toys and gifts as a compensation. She understands this very well; thus she rarely demands anything. We on the other hand make sure that we provide her with all necessary things and give her surprise gifts even without asking for it. Except for special occasions like this, when we give her liberty to ask whatever she wants, we generally don’t fulfill her demands immediately.
In the supermarket while Akshita was busy selecting things, I said to my husband “She is finding it difficult to digest the fact that her painting didn’t fetch an award”. He nodded his head in affirmation and said “Sometimes it is good to get a taste of failure. This a very important lesson for life. Don’t worry she will be fine”. So true… if you don’t see failures and setbacks in life, you would neither learn to gracefully deal with it, nor you would experience sense of accomplishment after toiling hard for success.
Akshita’s mood started to change while picking things from the shelves; and we felt so relieved to see that. I started feeling confident that together we would overcome this phase. As parents we just need to be available for them, to support them when their chips are down.
Coming back to the present, we have to gear up for yet another painting competition. As far as my little girl is concerned, my gut feeling says she must have learned a few lessons from her previous outing. Let’s hope it would be easier to handle the situation this time around. And if with God’s grace she wins accolades in the process, it’s always a bonus but certainly not the ultimate thing.
Aradhana Basu Das