Letter to a 4-year-old

Dear Abhishek,

This letter continues the tradition of writing to you every year on your birthday that I had started when you were born. Hopefully, one day, you will read these letters and be able to relive your childhood days.

Your fourth year has been an absolute delight – for you and for us, your parents. You are now so full of life, questions and comments on everything.  Every moment is to be enjoyed – with no care of what is to come. Every day is to be lived fully – from early in the morning (sometimes, too early) to late  into the night.

You interact with the world on your own terms. You now lock the door when you go to the bathroom. You have memorised my mobile number and call me whenever you feel like – mostly to ask me if I have seen one of your missing toys. You navigate through Google Images with ease to identify your favourite cars for printouts which you neatly file away in a folder. You interact with the TV and DVD player with an ease that is a little scary! In short, that little Abhi who lay in bed helpless four years ago is now getting ready for the world.

For us, the biggest challenge this year was finding a school for you. I had missed getting the Cathedral form a few years ago, and you didn’t get into Dhirubhai Ambani (which anyway was too far from home). So, we had all our hopes on New Era (Aditya Birla World Academy) – it was just perfect for you. It was co-ed, walking distance from home, and had the IGCSE curriculum which meant that you wouldn’t need to spend the next dozen years cramming textbooks. Considering that anything that is remotely linked to studying is anathema to you, we wanted you to attend New Era.

Our first interview went well. You came out smiling with a chocolate in hand. Unknown to you, your parents had just participated in a group discussion with some other parents. The second interview where you were with us wasn’t that great – you insisted on answering every question with an “I don’t know” even when you knew the answer. Only a little prodding got it out of you. And they stuck to your favourite topics – cars, snakes and planets. (More on that later.) You got quite a talking to from your Mom after that interview. Of course, it made no difference to you.

So, it was a big relief when a few weeks later, we got the admission confirmation. You will join LKG in July. We hope you like the school we’ve selected for you. It is where you will be till you are 16. I hope you have some great teachers like I had  so you can learn how to learn – that is perhaps the most important ability that you will need  in today’s world.

I also hope you will develop some nice and deep friendships – for that is what matters most. (Like you know from McQueen and Mater’s friendship in the “Cars” books and movie.) We’ve laid the foundation, now your teachers and friends will build on that. Their influence on you will, going ahead, probably be much more than ours. So, choose your friends with care.

Moving on to other fun things, what matters most to you now is “Cars.” Cars, the movie. Cars, the book. And all sorts of Cars toys from the movie. We’ve already got 11 of them (Mater x 2, McQueen x 2, Doc, Sally, Ramone, The King, Chick Hicks, Chuki and Fillmore). Unknown to you, I have a few more waiting for you in my cupboard – you almost discovered them recently! We ration these toys to you at one a week. You watch Cars the movie three times a week. You know every scene now. It has filled your life. You learn life through the characters in the movie and your questions on their relationships. And I must admit, I too like the movie!

Before that, it was Snakes. Snakes in books. I don’t remember how it started – I think we were reading one of those books on Natural Habitat, and of all the creatures in the book, you took a fancy to the snakes. After that, we built up one of the largest snakes book collections any three-and-a-half-year-old would have ever had! And to the utmost discomfort of your mother, snakes were the only discussion topic at home. Luckily, you didn’t want to get pets at home!

For a brief time, you had a love affair with the Planets – all 11 of them, including the 3 dwarf planets of Pluto, Ceres and Eris. We’d keep reading how the Sun looked so small from Neptune, how Venus had a killer atmosphere, and what the rings of Saturn were made up of. You never tired of reading the same books again and again – and again. You even knew when a sleepy me would skip a sentence!

You are currently into car magazines, and especially have a fondness for Volkswagens. We even went the other day to their showroom to check the Jetta and Passat out. When we are out on the road, your eyes are constantly searching for VW cars. You go through car magazines identifying all the cars, and to the consternation of your Mom, even reeling out the number of stars the magazines have given the different cars.

While all this is going on in your life, you still need your Mom to get you to drink your milk and eat your food. Thankfully this year, you gave up on the straw for the milk. But you still cannot get yourself to sit at the dining table for your meals. Your morning milk comes to the bedroom, your breakfast and lunch is eaten watching TV (CBeebies from the BBC), and your dinner is eaten with your cousins (my sister’s kids – 7-year-old Siddharth and five-year-old Maya) roaming around the Hall. Fortunately you eat a wider variety of food than I do – I shudder to think what your Mom would have done had you been as fussy as me!

As has been since your birth, your Mom is everything for you. That one look from her is good enough to tell you how she is feeling and what you should be doing next. Your happiest moments are always with her – rolling in bed, fawning over her, jumping on her back, or just affectionately hugging her. She is also your taskmaster – you will do anything for that one hug from her. So, that keeps you in check! Though I have to say that she gives you all the freedom in the world as long as you stay within certain boundaries.

This is also the year you have learnt to be away from her. She goes to the office a couple of hours a day twice a week. You hang around at home – playing, sometimes sleeping, but managing without her. Of course, when you are over-sleepy as happens sometimes, the only person who can handle you is your Mom!

There are plenty of memories of the year gone by.

Like last April when I returned from my US trip (I had missed your birthday), you were sitting on the staircase at 11:30 pm waiting for me to open all the toys. (And this was after telling  me not to buy any toys since you had everything!)

Like the day last May when you hit me and refused to say sorry, steadfastly looking in the other direction. Your ego stood in the way. You knew you  were wrong, but something held you back from apologising. We finally made up, but it was I who took the first step.

Like the Singapore trip in June – which was about buying toys (mostly vehicles) and afternoon sleep as your Mummy walked the shops. That was the trip in which we discovered togetherness as we spent four whole days with each other. We walked through Singapore Zoo – and you could not have been more disinterested! Luckily, it started raining and we came back to the hotel. On the last day, I forgot our bag in the taxi with the camera, and you didn’t let me forget that for a long time!

Like the craze for jigsaw puzzles after the Singapore trip (where we had bought a couple nice ones). Morning and night, all we did were  those puzzles! For a brief time, all three of us were doing different jigsaw puzzles at home!

Like when you first started using the computer mouse around August. You then started navigating UptoTen.com (and now, YouTube for the Pixar Cars videos) on your own. Suddenly, you didn’t need me!

Like the time a few months ago when you did away with your afternoon nap on most days. That meant that I’d miss seeing you at night if I came home after 7:30 pm. But in the bargain, you got a good, continuous 11-hour sleep.

Like the visit to Palitana when you climbed the 4,000 steps to the top. That was quite something. I never expected you to even get halfway on your own. But your Mom’s determination made you walk up on your own.

Like when you slept on the Songadh train platform (on our way back from Palitana) since our train was a couple hours late. And in the anxiety to get in, I almost left you on the platform in the crowd!

Like the time when we went to Crossword bookshop (we go there almost every week), and you picked a book and asked me, “Papa, is this a study book?” Excitedly, I answered Yes. You then put it back, answering, “Then, I don’t want it.” Your non-academic interest became quite clear then!

Like your love for music and your make-belief piano playing makes me hope that you will do something different in life. As your Mummy and I have decided, we will not impose any of  our dreams on you. You are free to chart  your own course in life.

Like the time when you started playing with my iPhone. You had a peculiar fascination for the Weather and Time in various cities. I never quite figured this one out. You finally moved on to a Cars game on the iPhone.

Like when on Dassera Day you had a convulsion. You scared us all. Thankfully, that was a one-off, and  you were fine after that.

Like the Pune trip we took at Diwali time. You played with everyone. We started seeing the first glimpses of the Social Abhi.

Like the look on your Mummy’s face you first told her, “Have Patience.” And the look on my face when you looked at a car (it was your uncle’s Toyota Corolla Altis) and said, “Awesome.” Where do you learn all this from?

Like our phase in between where we were completely into the Curious George books. I had got a few of them from my US trips, and we were reading these stories every day. You knew it all, yet you wanted me to read it!

Like the time when you asked your Mummy if you could get a baby sister.

Like how smart you looked when you went for your school concert.

Like the days when you’d create patterns with a hundred vehicles on the bed before going to sleep. And then, I had to quietly remove them after you fell asleep.

Like after the New Era school interview you came out and before we could ask you what they asked you, you fired at us, “What did they ask you?” All that your parents could do was to look at each other.

And so it goes on and on. Memories which fade with time because you grow every day. Memories which come back as we see you grow.

Nowadays I don’t get to spend as much time with you as before  because of work and travel. I cherish the time when we are together. You are so full of questions – and now your questions  are deeper. I  answer every question you ask. But  of course, you then have more of them. It amazes me that you remember so many things without bothering to take notes (unlike me)!

We haven’t pushed you into anything. We’ve let you live your childhood on your own terms. And it should be that way for every kid. We let you discover the world, ask questions, get answers, ponder over them, and then ask  the same questions again! You then start putting things together, and making your own interpretations. Like, just the other day when you wanted to go to God’s House and not be born a Jain because you wanted to eat non-veg like your cousins do. But when you realised that you’d not have the same Mom, you changed your mind. For you, Mummy is Everything.

You don’t have a sibling, but there are plenty of kids around. At home, you play (and fight) a lot with Siddharth and Maya every day. Most Sundays, we go to your grandparents’ house where you play with Hriday, your uncle’s son. In fact, Hriday brings out the naughtiness in you. It is amazing to see what the two of you together are capable of doing!

There are times in meetings and at work where I feel like just leaving everything and coming home to you – and just letting you tell me what you want to do. You love bossing me around – and I let you do that. (You don’t try that with your Mom, though – you know what will happen!) The couple hours we get together in the morning and evening I let you decide what you want to do – reading, printing some car pictures, watching some videos, playing “Name Place Animal Thing”, going to a bookshop, car-watching at the petrol pump.

These are wonderful years for you – and for us. And I hope it stays like this. As you grow up and go into the big school, your friends and teachers are the ones who will guide you more. At home, your Mummy and I are always there for you.

Happy Birthday, Abhishek.

Previous Letters: 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.