I have never gone on a school trip for reasons best known to my parents. For many years, I thought we were ‘poor’ and that the school trip must have been an unnecessary financial burden on my parents but then when I had some financial sense and understood the expenses incurred on my wardrobe were ten times more than the cost of the trip, I realized my not going on the trip was more to do with my parents’ fear than the cost. I can never really know if that is all there was to the decision behind not letting me go because my mom’s no more and my dad either does not remember or think its worth discussing now. “ Let bygone be bygones,” he would most likely say trying to avoid a discussion which at his age almost always sounds like a confrontation. I, however have never really been able to completely forgive them this. No matter how old I get, statements like, “Hey, do you remember the time we went to Ooty? Oh! Sorry…you weren’t with us” or “Oh my God! It was hilarious when Mr. Marshall fell in the pool,” and everybody is laughing except me because I was not on the trip and have no memory of such fun-filled experiences which only seem to happen on school trips. Stories of school trips plagued me even at the school alumni meet, twenty-five years after we had passed out!
Yet, when my younger daughter came home looking elated, shouting “A school trip to Ladakh!” my face fell. The thought of sending her 2637 kms away from home made my heart sink into the well in my stomach but one look at her father’s face and I knew my feelings were not going to be considered, let alone entertained. He was determined not to let the genes of fear that I had inherited, be a deciding factor. He simply gave me a firm look and passed the judgement,” She must go,” and though I’ve never been the docile ‘whatever-you-say-is-right’ kind of wife, there was no arguing on this. I knew in my mind he was right. In my heart, I secretly hoped that the trip would be cancelled, miraculously by an act of God.
So, a few days later, when the husband expressed concern over his account not being debited for the tickets, my heart leaped, believing God and I wanted the same thing.
Just maybe, they hadn’t got her tickets. After all the trip had been planned a long time ago but since we had just joined the school, and only now paid up for the trip.
A few days later a text message from the bank indicated the account had been debited quashing all my hopes. However, it wasn’t long before the heart leaped with joy again. The doctor said her blood pressure was low and that she would check again after a few days and only then decide if she was fit to travel. She had never had low blood pressure before. This must be a sign from God surely, I thought.
“If it’s fine, you can go but in the meantime you need to drink a lot of water and have salt biscuits. We’ll check you again and then issue the fitness report.”
Despite the prospect of my wish being granted, we returned home with all kinds of salt biscuits and a deal which required me to remind her to drink a lot of water. I couldn’t bear to see the forlorn, puppy look she gave me when the doctor had passed the verdict. “You don’t want me to go, do you? God’s answering your prayers. He always listens to you,” she sounded dejected.
I spent the next few days giving her bottles of lemonade with a tinge of salt and loads of salt biscuits. I wasn’t even sure what I hoped for anymore. All I knew was I wanted my little girl to be safe, healthy and happy. So keeping my fears at bay and sending a silent prayer to God for her safe return, I kissed her goodbye at 12.00 a.m. on 26th of August 2018.
10 days, 18000 feet above sea-level, low blood pressure, first time away from home (I’m not counting the overnight sleep-overs at friends’ homes), you may say I am a brave parent. I can tell you, I am anything but brave when it comes to the children.
The trip to Ladakh was an educational trip as per the school and mandatory for all students with the exception of those who had a health issue which could be aggravated by the high altitude and the cold climate there.
At the end of 10 days as my phone beeps with what’s app messages from the coordinators telling me that the children have started their return journey homewards, I can vouch the trip was educational for me in ways more than one and listening to my daughter’s endless stories on the trip, it looked like it was for her as well. I have no regrets.
YOU HAVE TO LET THEM GO
While I do not fit into the bracket of parents who micro-manage their children’s lives and whose lives become so embroiled in their children’s that a distinction between the two becomes almost impossible or whose eyes well up on seeing the slightest discontentment on their child’s visage; I had somewhere, down the line fallen into the age-old parent-trap! Everything that we did that could be termed as ‘fun’ always involved the children. I was so grateful that the older one was still with me to keep me company. I hadn’t considered the husband as company and the fact of the matter is we have an amazing marriage.
With the younger one going on the 10- day trip, I learnt a few lessons for life-
I learnt to have faith in the Almighty. If I believed in Him, I must believe that He will take care. There are simply no two ways about it.
I learnt to let go, knowing I had little or no control over what happened once my little girl walked out of the door.
I learnt that I couldn’t hold on forever and that as children grow, they have their own minds, dreams and wishes. As parents, we must believe that we have taught them well enough that they are able to take care of themselves.
I learnt that I needed to be able to indulge in activities that kept me both happy and occupied and did not involve the kids; something that over the last few years had been relegated to the background.
I learnt we needed to be able to enjoy time together as a couple and it did not have to involve the children. Why do we forget “us” once the children come along?
The first morning after she left, I woke up with an upset stomach. It’s not alarming or surprising if you know me. The stress of not knowing how she was ( in the absence of a message from the coordinators) had taken a toll on my tummy; as it always does when I am stressed. Holding on to my generally optimistic attitude, I decided it was probably the best time for me to detoxify since it seemed to be happening naturally.
However, once the first message and picture poured in, of the kids having landed at their destination and was followed by some more everyday, the detoxification plan was shelved. My tummy reacted instantly with a hungry growl and the ache in my shoulder seemed to disappear.
While my little girl spent her first day acclimatizing to the pressure in Ladakh and taking thousands of pictures ( which we sat together and saw on the evening of her return while she couldn’t stop talking about all the amazing experiences she had had), I spent the day acclimatizing to my new life, independent of her constant “mama this and mama that”, hugs, jokes and arguments. With friends, some of whose kids were on the trip with her and some whose kids were still safe with them, acclimatizing became a lot easier and helped keep my mind off her.
I learnt to keep myself occupied during the day and check on my whats’ app for messages before turning the lights out and calling it a day as that’s when the coordinators had agreed to send us messages.
As a rule, the children were not allowed to carry their mobiles and I had to learn to satisfy myself with pictures sent by the coordinators at the end of the day, of the children engaged in various activities. If I was lucky, I would spot my daughter smiling, once on a double hump-backed camel or in a group picture surrounded by friends, implying all was well. Some days, the luck ran out and I had to make do with just seeing her ‘back’ in the pictures ( identified by the beige with peach stripe jacket she had borrowed from her sister for the trip or one of her own) or her pony-tail which somehow had made it’s way into the picture while the rest of her remained obscured by taller kids. Then there were other days where even an enlargement of the picture sent did not show any signs of her and all I could do was hope and pray all was good.
And so the days passed with an update from the tour operators on a daily basis, of how the children had visited the LOC ( line of control) and happened to be the first school to do so, the experience they had visiting educator, innovator Sonam Wangchuk’s SECMOL school, how they had played around in the Pangong lake which of-course had me worried considering that the temperature there was just 5 degrees Celsius. However, the next few messages of the children picking apricots, shopping at Leh market and crossing the Khardungla Pass, interacting with the Ladakhi children erased any niggling doubts I had on how right I had been in not putting my foot down and letting her go.
I saw my own future through this trip, a time when my children would leave the nest to try new pastures and I would have to carry on. A future every parent has to necessarily face but seems unprepared for when the time comes.
And then on day 10, she returned, browner, with more acne on her face but more confident and richer with experience, than when she had gone. The learning that she came back with, were nothing I could have given her on a family vacation or that she would have learnt within the classroom.
With the pictures came the stories of Ladakhi toilets ( where one needs to defecate in a pit and use a shovel to cover it up with sand from a heap kept in every toilet. I still do not know how she managed it but I now know that as parents, we undermine our children’s ability to cope). Then there was the story of the big spider that had found it’s way into the tent in which they were to spend the night, that her teacher had exterminated (she had screamed when she had seen it but she had survived the fear), how the high altitude had actually raised her blood pressure and made her feel normal (she’s actually looking only universities at high altitudes now because she feels certain that she can cope better there than at sea-level 😉 ), the fifty odd bells that she had turned at the Thiksey monastery (a Tibetan monastery) and made a wish for every member of the family, the last night where she had slept watching a million stars (somehow she hadn’t ever found it amazing when I pointed it to her on our holidays by the beach; she needed to experience it herself), how her legs had frozen after playing in the lake and how she hadn’t been able to feel her fingers because of the cold and how her teachers had given her a warm flask to hold, to warm her up. Last but not the least were the gratitude letters she had written and received from her friends and teachers. There were no complaints.
She had come back with a sense of accomplishment in the wilds of nature, cut off from mobile phones and social media, with experiences, memories and forged friendships.
I an just glad that her father had taken a stand and that I had given in.
A few pictures that she took on the trip that speak volumes for the place and the wealth of experience she’s come back with let alone her improved photography skills. Ladakh is definitely a place worth visiting but not for the faint-hearted.
The story of her adventure there is hers to tell. This is my side of it.