Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Playground Politics

Generally if you go to any preschool when parents are there to pick their kids up, you will be able to make many observations. You will notice the children playing in the sandpit and on the play-gym, parents pleading with kids trying to get them to leave, while others try different tactics with their offspring, such as bribery or threats.

“Betay chalo abb, dair ho rahi hai!,” says a mother wearily.

“Ok bye I'm leaving. You can stay in school if you want.” This threat will work on a younger child usually.

“If you don't stop crying right now, I'm going to..(threat hissed in ear of child to avoid any judgmental looks from nearby parents/teachers).” This may result in a louder howl or an instant silence with a shocked expression on the face of child.

Apart from child-parent conflicts, you will also notice conflicts of various levels taking place amongst children. There will be a little girl taking on someone larger than her over possession of a ball, a boy pleading for a turn with another on a tricycle, two kids making a sandcastle which one decides he would rather destroy than build. These kinds of disagreements either result in tears or fisticuffs (which eventually end in tears).

If you look even more closely you will notice contests of another kind going on as well. These are far more civilized in the sense there is no physical contact or any blatant threats involved. But once the gloves are off, eyes slit, claws appear and fangs protrude (not literally of course) but it might as well be that way. These are the 'conversations' playground moms have amongst themselves, while waiting for their kids to tire themselves out a little more or agree to going home (which ever comes first).

Usually the emergence of these 'monsthers' takes place when their style of parenting or their child's intelligence or any perceived insult related to either of the above takes place. For example if you start eavesdropping on the conversation of a group of mothers sitting around, you will notice that usually they are about the same topics. These include moaning about how their child spends ages here and doesn't want to go home, how the child is doing academically, discussing which park you take your kid to after school in the evenings and so on. If you venture into the territory of which elementary school you plan on sending your child to, maternal blood pressures start rising immediately. Almost everyone wants desperately for their preschool-going son to get into the (so-called) 'best' boys school in town (for which preparation begins at age 3 for an entrance exam that takes place at age 5.5 – 6). Any mention of said school's entrance exam results in anxieties and sensitivities increasing to the point where you would think it was the mother who was going to be taking the exam.

“I have started sending my son for some extra tuition in the evenings,” says one such mother (about her 4 year old son).

“I'm going to start sending mine soon too,” says another, not to be out done.

“My son doesn't need to go for tuition. He knows everything,” says a third, silencing the others.

Please imagine growls emitting from throats, as unbeknown to the kids, preschoolers moms battle for glory.

“So will XY be applying for 'TheBestestSchoolInTown'?”

“Yes of course. XY will go there,” says mom with the kind of determination seen on the face of an athlete going for the gold, or a gladiator about to face tigers in a fight to the finish.

Apart from the friction caused by discussions of future educational institutions to be attended by their progeny, mothers also manage to feel insulted where no insult is meant. The other day I was having a conversation with a couple of other moms about which milk we give our kids. One said she gave her kids fresh milk. I said "Oh I've heard that's good but I feel paranoid about germs." She asked me what I gave my son, when I told her, she retorted, “Well I have not heard good things about that. The amount of preservatives they must put in, it can't be any good.” In order to appease her (as I honestly had not meant to look down on her or anything), I said, “You're right. It's just that I guess I'm a little paranoid.” She still looked annoyed though. I was quite amused by this outburst on her part.

Then there was the mother who wanted to know in all seriousness if my child could write within the red lines of his English notebook. When I said yes mostly he did manage, she got a look of panic on her face and whispered, “But my son can't usually....” I felt really bad and wished I had lied rather than have her walk away muttering under her breath with a manic look in her eyes.

My son started school at the age of 2 and when Playgroup ended for him, a report was sent home which had a general good/satisfactory rating for things like 'motor skills', 'hand/eye coordination' (which were signified by smileys) etc. Later in the evening a particularly competitive lady called to ask 'So how was HRH's report?' For a few seconds I didn't have any idea what she was talking about. I asked her “What report?” She replied impatiently, “The school report card.” I was amazed she wanted to compare 2 year olds 'report cards'. I wasn't sure what to say, “Oh it was alright. There were 8 happy smileys and 2 satisfactory smileys?” or maybe I should have announced proudly “It was awesome! All happy smileys!”

HRH is 4 years old at the moment. With battle cries resounding from every corner of the school playground already, I dread the level of competition that is to come. For me that is.


  1. Wow. Some mums can be really competitive. It's unfair for the kids because of all the pressure being applied on them. I understand that their parents want the best for them but it's not a great idea to pile so much pressure at such a young age. Parents are usually out there to compete with each other and to find ways of outshining the others. It seems like they care more about themselves than their kids. I have seen a friend of mine putting her kid through the grind. Her son has to attend Arabic school, Quran Classes, Ballet (yes ballet), Swimming Classes, go out for play dates, Riding and what not, Prep classes for school, etc. I am surprised to see all that. Whatever happened to the good old days when things were easier and there was not much pressure on the kids? Why do they have to be so ultra competitive? I pity them.

  2. The sad thing is that a lot of people don't realize how stressed out they make their kids from all the pressure. I have heard horror stories of burnt out kids at the age of 5/6. To each his own I guess :)

  3. So funny, I posted a comment here the other day and now it's not here.

  4. Thanks Aliza. I'm not sure why your previous comment didn't appear. I didn't get an email notification for it either..

  5. haha! just saw your blog for the first time today. loving the post. am doing the registration for pre schools bit abhi. who knew you had to register children SO EARLY!