Now that the child has early-morning swimming training, and a few days of evening training, (which effectively means that my days now begin at 4.15 am and don't end before 10 pm on most days); the true test of how much I love him would be in the willingness I show in waking up before dawn to get his multiple tiffins ready and accompanying him to the academy where he trains. And once there, instead of snoring gently in my chair with drool dribbling down my chin in an inelegant manner, I actually polish my eyeballs and watch him, stroke after stroke, paying careful attention to his improvement, or not. That, in my books, is true parental love.
Let me, dear reader, put the above statement in context for you. I am a person who cannot, in normal course of affairs, do without the prescribed 9 hours of undisturbed shuteye. I'm married to a man who can be found switching on the television at odd hours of the night-ruining my REM dreams which might or might not include George Clooney or Colin Firth-and consequently, get grumbled at, in addition to having pillows hurled at him, before he consents to switch the flickering screen off. Ergo, when the child began early-morning training, the duty of taking him to the academy in the mornings was exclusively relegated to pappa's domain of parenting tasks, because, let's face it, the man didn't sleep. Ever. For the first few months, the boy went for his morning training sessions with his father, while I snored on, undisturbed, until it was dawn as decreed by the rooster, or as in urban situations, when the muezzin decreed it so through multiple loudspeakers.
Things changed, circa the third month of him beginning competitive training. I realised that coming back home (a 10-minute drive away from the academy) after training, to grab his milk and a snack before rushing to school, was making him late for school almost every morning. And more importantly, I realised that I was missing out. Asking the spouse every single day how the child had performed at the training session wasn't as satisfying as actually sitting there, adding to the development of my already substantial writer's butt, and watching the child push himself to beat the clock, better his timing, improve his stroke. Swimming was slowly becoming a very important part of his life, and I did not want to be left behind.
I am not a sporty person. Far from it. My idea of exercise is walking down two flights of stairs because the elevator has broken down and grumbling about it for the rest of the day. But these days, the sight of me poring over swimming statistics, timings and nutritional information downloaded from Google baba, the font of all information, wanted and unwanted, is not an uncommon one. You will see me, a devout worshipper at the altar of the deep-fried and carbs-loaded food, drawing up daily menus that combine requisite amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats and all the important trace elements to ensure that he gets the mandatory doses to enable him to perform at his optimal. This has meant a rejig of what I considered cut-pack-boil-in-water-and-serve levels of culinary efficiencies on bad-time-management days. This has meant waking up at 4.30 am and making dosas fresh off the tawa and boiling and chopping potatoes in hitherto never-seen efficiency for healthy, nutritious lunchbox purposes. If you had told me eight months ago that within the next few months, I'd be boiling stuff at the crack of dawn and rolling out parathas with freshly pressed paneer at 4.30 am, I would have chortled in your face with disbelief. But here I am, groggy with too-little sleep, boiling them eggs, packing milk in spill-proof Tupperware and putting organic marmalade on slices of whole-wheat bread, to ensure that whatever the brat pops into his mouth is fresh, healthy and not infused with preservatives, chemicals or other bogeymen of the nutrition world.
I'm the one making sure he's packed his kit every night before going to bed. I'm the one making sure his school uniform is kept in his swimming bag. I'm the one ensuring his bottles of water are dosed with the right levels of electrolytes to replenish the body salts lost during a training session. If this is not love, what is?
I also have newfound respect not just for sportspersons, but their parents as well. It is a tough path you choose when you choose to be a sports parent. For one, your entire day revolves around training sessions and competitive events. You sit through evenings and mornings watching the children train-evenings you could spend with friends, or watching movies, or generally having something that resembles a life. Your conversation revolves around strokes, timings, events and training, thanks to which dear friends start avoiding you and innocent folks cornered by you and bludgeoned into a conversation, keel over and pass out from boredom. It is tough to wake up, day after day, at dawn and crawl out of the house looking like the remnants of whatever it was the good Dr Frankenstein put together to create his monster, when the cosy bed beckons in a sultry-siren manner, and when the weather is dark and it is pouring outside. It takes a certain discipline to infuse the concept of not bunking practice-ever. Despite horrendously long days, late nights and too-little sleep. Any sports parent, or a parent who has a child training in any performing art, will identify with this. The fact that one needs to discipline oneself into committing time and effort to the sport before the child will commit to it. That one needs to throw oneself wholeheartedly into the sport for the joy of it, before the child catches on to the joy and draws strength from it.
As parents, what do we get out of it? An indefinable joy that goes beyond the achievements of the child. (Not that my brat is at medal-winning level yet; in truth, he has miles to go before he reaches competitive levels in his timings.) It is the process, the discipline, the investment in a child's sense of self that goes beyond academia and marks scored in examinations. It is the realisation that along with the sport, one is inculcating lessons that go far beyond the regular, the sense of sportsmanship, fair play and the determination to do one's best, no matter what. Hopefully, these are lessons that would stand the boy in good stead through life, regardless of medals won or not.