Time has made me realize the privilege of having a mother who is born in a family of nine kids. Summer vacations were a riot when we cousins got together. And because there were so many of us, everyone had someone to play with. Food was always in plenty, movies were watched by the dozen, and trips were a whole lot of fun.
Train tickets would be booked in advance and our visits would extend for a month. Mom would look forward to catching up with her parents, siblings, and friends. Dad would visit during the end of our stay. His calls would come daily with clockwork precision on the landline – once in the morning and again in the evening. This was also the time when we would visit greeting card shops to send him something that conveyed how we missed him despite the fun. He would send too – one for his beloved and another for us kids. We waited for the postman each day, in anticipation.
Nobody needed to keep us entertained or busy. Occasionally, we would attend some art class or swimming class. In general, our time was spent in playing seven stones, cricket, hide and seek, five stones and hopscotch. Unfortunately, a lot of these games have got lost in oblivion today, along with the earlier concept of summer vacations.
Last week, as I waited to pick up my daughter from school, I got asked by more than one parent on my plans for her for the vacation. "I'm not sure how to keep my child occupied in the absence of school," said a mother, whose hands are full, thanks to a job and a second baby. She has enrolled her daughter for swimming classes within the community premises so that she can monitor her during the class, with the laptop or the baby in hand. She is among the handful of parents who spend their time daily near the community park, tapping away on their laptop keys, while keeping an eye on their kids at play. For many like her, parks have become a co-working space, not necessarily out of choice.
“I have very fond memories of spending leisurely vacations at my grandparents’ place. But because of the nature of our jobs, taking such vacations is no longer possible. So, now we invite the grandparents to come and stay with us,” says Pritha Srivastava, a working professional and a mother of two, adding that any available leaves are now saved for emergencies or outstation trips.
Vacation time is not an issue for Avril Aranha, a manager at an MNC in Dubai. They are entitled to 30 days of annual leave as per the employment policy in UAE. But the lack of cousins for her kid does make the experience of summer vacations different. “Most of my siblings and cousins have migrated. So, even when we go to India, my son does not have many of his age to bond with. He spends time with his grandparents and the limited number of uncles and aunts left in our hometown,” she adds. So, now Aranha splits her vacation time between India and abroad – the latter for new experiences.
Aranha grew up in Mangalore and her summer vacations as a child were spent in Chennai at her grandparents’ place for a month. “We loved it because it meant beach time with cousins and grandparents, without being chaperoned by our parents. We read books, played outdoors and every evening our grandpa would teach us songs, while he played the violin. This was followed by a game of cards. We were taken to the movies as an occasional treat,” she reminisces. She moved to Dubai post marriage and while it gets tough to “fit it all in”, Aranha says that they try hard to make sure that her son spends quality time with his grandparents.
Contrastingly, in some cases, the issue is also about not having anywhere to go to for the summer vacations. Many couples either live in the same city as their parents live or have asked their parents to move in close by for support. This means that while kids get to bond with their grandparents more frequently, the novelty in spending time with them during the summers is lost. In such cases, perhaps the grandparents also need some respite during the summers. “My parents have told me that they now want to live their retired live without having to provide child-care. They’ve been there and done that, and I understand that,” says a parent, who has only one unmarried sibling and therefore no cousins for her child to play with,on the condition of anonymity. She has made use of the umpteen summer camps available in the city to keep her child occupied for the next few weeks.
The face of summer vacations has changed, not just for the parents and the kids but also for the grandparents. Reshmi Chakraborty, co-author, Rethink Ageing: Lessons in Ageing From The Older and Bolder Generation, says in an interview to Lounge, that the family structure, age of the seniors and the time at their disposal are definite factors that matter. “Senior citizens with good health and access to resources now have multiple options to keep their grandchildren entertained beyond time-honoured traditions like storytelling or teaching them classic games. We've met senior citizens who have gone Christmas cake-making with their grandkids or to art workshops. One grandmother we know told us how she has done aqua aerobics with her teen granddaughter, who in turn taught her digital painting,” she says.
Grandparents today also have active social lives of their own, Chakraborty notes. She adds that focusing on themselves is no longer seen askance in a senior citizen who was earlier expected to be available for grandkids and the family at large. While that still happens, many urban older adults are fulfilling their own goals, be it learning a new language or going for their Yoga practice. “It may require the family to adjust their schedules and work out alternate arrangements (summer camps, day cares) so that grandparents can chip in when they want to and not because they have to,” says Chakraborty.
It's said that the greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories. Summer vacations have always provided a reservoir of opportunities to create those. Maybe those treasures have shifted to newer places. Maybe we were just looking for them in their old hideouts.
Barkha Shah is a Bengaluru-based writer and digital marketing strategist.