When my son was about 3-4 years old he loved the cartoon series "Thomas and Friends". This was a cute series in which there were a number of railway engines eager to take more work from their boss - The fat controller and complete them despite all challenges. All of them wanted to be praised and patted by The fat controller who seemed to have just one criteria, who was the most useful engine. Each engine had a different persona, Thomas was the friendliest and most liked, Percy was his best friend - always watchful,supporting Thomas, James was a proud achiever so on and so forth. The bottom line was despite all their differences all them wanted to perform to their best and be the most useful engine. When my son was a fan of this show, he would feel happy if we tell him things he could do. He would always insist on carrying a small bag which he could pull himself when we traveled together. He would love watering the plants or finding my cell phone and retrieving it for me. I still don't know if this need was induced by watching the serial or the serial was made based on this basic need in kids to be useful to their parents.
My son grew out of Thomas a while ago but the basic idea of the show still lingers in my mind. 'Being useful to your near and dear ones' Does it really make you happy? Is this such an important need to have? Was it just a kids entertainment show or was it a deep human need manifested in that show? I didn't know. I wasn't really sure about this till last month.
In last few months, I had to spend a considerable amount of time with my parents by myself - no wife, no son. My parents needed my help and I had to set aside all my meetings, client engagements and all work related things to be with them. That was the first time I realized my parents are getting old and they need help in small mundane things. I arranged their stationary drawer for them. Filed some old bills and documents for my father. Helped him copy phone numbers from old diary to new. Helped my mom do pest control based on home remedy column in local newspaper. I took her for grocery shopping, let her choose what she wanted, carried her bags. I took her to her favorite flour mill, rather than asking her to by atta from a supermarket. Now a day, when I go back to India, I don't feel like bargaining, yet I bargained with vegetable and fruit vendors the way she likes, just to make her happy. Drove around my father to do his errands, which he normally does himself. To my surprise, this made me tremendously happy. I wasn't excited, I wasn't longing for more but it was a calm and contended happiness that filled my mind.
By the time I was ready to leave for Singapore, I could feel invisible tears in their eyes. Their voice was hoarse and their hands were shaky. In past twenty years, I had taken my parents to a lot of fun places. I had taken them on a 3 day cruise, some exotic destinations and fun places. I had taken them to nice restaurants, nicer movies and plays but I had never seen this expression on their face. In all my previous trips they would tell me to take care, do well, succeed and take care of grandchild. But this time they said they will miss me. They were fighting their tears back and so was I. For the first time in so many years they said they would miss me!!
I was moved beyond my imagination as I got into the cab.
Moments of peace and sight of green fields on backdrop of hazy grey mountains helped me round it all together. In last few days, I helped them in everything they did. Didn't create excitement or enjoyment in their lives but just made their life a bit easier. I was useful for them. It not just made them miss me but also made me happy. It was as if some unknown void was filled. Tears rolled down my cheeks but my mind was filled with calm happiness.
I realized that I had become their Thomas engine for a while. That is when I realized the joy of being the Thomas Engine!!
(If you have missed earlier part I click here - http://vivekvaidya.com/parenting-the-parents/)