As I waited for my husband to come on the line, I drummed the table impatiently. ‘Is it an emergency?’ he asked. ‘I’m in a meeting.’
‘Well I don’t think it’s an emergency yet,’ I replied, ‘But it certainly is something urgent.’
And urgent it was – it was the last day for submission of applications for enrolling my daughter in school for the pre-nursery class. I was filling out the form and was stumped when I came across a section for choice of additional language. There were two options – German and French. My daughter (who is not yet two), barely speaks ANY language barring a few mumbled words like ‘boo boo’, ‘bye bye’, ‘mama’ and ‘baba’!
I totally panicked when I realised that this was a big decision that could determine the future course of my little one’s life. And since I was not capable of taking such a big decision on my own, I had to pull my husband out of his meeting to get his help on this family emergency.
I know parents have an enormous responsibility in shaping their children’s future – however I thought I had a little more time before I needed to make life decisions for her. For now, all I wanted was to send her to pre-nursery for a few hours every week – basically to play and develop social skills with other children. (And yes, I admit, to give me some free time in the week, too). But now it seems that the next 25 years will be spent agonising over various decisions we will be required to take to create a bright and successful future for our child.
After a hasty family meeting and with input from my mother-in-law (‘I think French is a good choice – Paris is a beautiful city’) and my mother (‘German is better – I used to enjoy watching Telematches on the TV’), we finally decided on French. Having made the decision that would chart the course of my daughter’s life, I felt a great burden lift off my shoulders. I also felt a little proud of us as parents – we’d do a good job I think – after all we had safely crossed the first hurdle in life’s race that lay ahead of us.
As I drove to school to submit the application, I tried to recall how my parents had dealt with these choices. Of course in my time languages were introduced only in Grade 5 – certainly not at the pre-nursery stage. I mentally thanked my parents for having made a good choice for me back then – one that would hold me in good stead in my future life and career. Mulling over the events of the past, I remembered that my parents did not even know that I had opted for French until two months into the first term. I now recall that the teacher had just asked us for a show of hands and basically broken the class into various language groups. My preference for French was solely driven by my best friend – she put her hand up for French – I followed – and that was that. I did not want to be separated from my pal for three classes a week, and so French it was.
It was only when I brought home a note from the teacher two months later, asking for money for the Mange Blue text book for beginners, that my mother was even aware that we had languages from Grade V. ‘Two hundred rupees?’ she asked? ‘How much was the German book for?’ Having satisfied herself that both language books were the same price, she then handed over the money to me and went about her work. I presume she was rather pleased with the way she had reached a decision about my academic life. One more hurdle crossed.
Three years later when my brother was in Grade V the selection of languages was a little more structured – they actually sent home a form for a language elective. Hence my parents had to actually take a decision this time. I presume they had a similar family meeting then – I do recall that the final decision was French, a choice that I think was largely driven by the fact that my brother could reuse my old books. By this stage I had graduated to the intermediate level, Mange Rouge, and they figured they’d save on buying language books for the next five years.
Both of us embarked on our life and careers armed with a little knowledge of French. But as I see it, the choice of language did not have a life altering impact on either. Ah well. I now look forward to my daughter speaking French! Well at this stage, frankly even English would do!