I remember Toynas first annual day at school. I think I was even more excited about her annual day than her. I dropped her at school at the appointed hour and then hanged around at school for the next couple of hours, just to make sure I got the front row seats. I coaxed my neighbor on the chairs to hold on to my seat, while I sneaked my way to her classroom to get some pictures of her in her dress and makeup. It seemed just the natural thing to do in those days.
6 years later, Yogs principal handed me the invitation to Yogs first annual day. I looked at her incredulously and asked, “Really!?! Annual Day for Yog? Do you think he …..” She smiled reassuringly and said, “He is the star dancer of his class! Please make sure he participates in the dance.” Well! What could I say? I was not so worried about Yog, but more worried about their whole act. If Yog, who was not even two years old, was supposed to be their star performer, then I could visualize the complete act in my mind.
Anyhow, I did my part. I made sure Yog attended school and participated in the dance practice. On the annual day, I dropped him to school at the appointed hour. I even managed to reach the venue just 30 minutes late. Years of attending annual days has taught me that the chief guest is always 30 minutes late. In this case, I was still early. The Chief Guest, a pediatrician with a childrens hospital somewhere in the city, casually walked in 1 hour late. He then proceeded to address the children, who had already been caged in their green rooms for the past 2 hours, for another 30 minutes. All the while, I kept searching his face, trying to see if he was real. How could he, being a pediatrician, not understand the plight of the little children (all of them less than 5 year old), waiting to come out of their green rooms. I could hear some of the children screaming their hearts out from behind the black curtains. My heart was racing and I was trying desperately to believe that Yog was not one of them. He would be happily playing or eating his snack. He would be brave through all of this. He would not cry.
As soon as the Chief Guest stepped down, the principal took charge and hurriedly finished her speech. She handed the stage for the first act – a dance from the playgroup children, a dance from Yogs class. As soon as the curtain lifted, I could see Yog crying, standing right in the center of the stage. His teacher was desperately trying to calm him down. I tried to get his attention, hoping that after seeing me in the crowd, he will calm down and focus on the act. I was wrong. I did manage to catch his attention but the reaction was quite the opposite. As soon as our eyes locked, his screams became even louder. He extracted himself from the hold of his teacher and ran towards me. For a moment, I was scared that he would run all the way and jump down from the stage, right at me. Thankfully the teacher caught up with him and pulled him back from the edge of the stage. All the parents in the audience, for some odd reason, found this very funny and started laughing. My heart, on the other hand, was about to burst. I ran backstage and got hold of Yog in my arms to pacify him. His teacher tried to reassure me that he was fine and he could still perform. I shook my head, clutched him close to my chest and got him out from from the backstage.
His head was soaked with sweat and his face drenched with tears. He had stopped screaming but his sobs were still racking his little body against my chest. At that moment, I couldn’t care less about the annual day or the dance or the chief guest. I picked up his bag, rested him in the car seat and drove back home. He was so exhausted by then, that he cried himself to sleep.
As his sobs quietened in the car, my mind started analyzing the situation more logically. Was I wrong in sending him to the annual day? Was I wrong in picking him back so early? Maybe this experience would have made him stronger? By sending him to school at such a tender age, was I exposing him to a little too much? Or by protecting him, as soon as he started crying, was I making him weak? As any mother, I wanted to do what was right for Yog. I wanted him to experience the world, but above all I wanted him to be happy and healthy. Today, I had failed.
Given the situation, it was obvious that my mind would end up drawing a parallel with Toynas first annual day. The excitement, the pictures, the fun was so intoxicating in those days. Was my heart becoming weaker with age? Or was Yog too young to cope with the strain? Or was it the poor organization on part of the school? Or was it the Pediatrician who didn’t know anything about children? To keep things simple, I chose to assign the blame squarely on the Chief Guest Pediatrician. Had he come on time and had he finished his speech quickly, none of this would have happened. It just felt right to make him the scapegoat.
I know, I protected Yog that day, but if another similar situation arises, a couple of months from now, I will not hesitate to send him again. Maybe he will cry again. Maybe he will be the star performer. Maybe I will be stronger the next time. Maybe the Chief Guest will come on time. Maybe the next annual day will have a different kind of story to tell….