Learning to Unlearn|Sep 26, 2003 5:46 AM| by:

Snakes and Ladders

As I pick up my study material to understand the fine points of insurance, my child wants me to play snakes and ladders with her. I have just sat down to study, my Module Two of the Certified Financial Planner exam is just a month away, and now there is snakes and ladders calling. First it was the presswalla, then the courier and finally the gas man to deliver a cylinder. It always happens like this, I sit down to study and the whole world decides to call my attention. Now it is my six year old who must NOW play snakes and ladders.

I feel like telling her to buzz off, I’m busy. I’ve anyway played that game so often that it’s coming out of my ears. But mums will be mums, so I threaten darkly – just one game and no more and push my fat book off my lap. I sit down to the nuances of being bitten by a snake and climbing ladders in a bid to reach my goal – score 100 – on the board. As I play I share with my child how I have been disturbed through the day and how I need to study for this exam.

What is study exam, ma?

Innocent question, but not in this age and time. Part of Mirambika, our child is cocooned from the home-work and exam routine that other kids have to go through. But here I am studying and she needs to know what it is.

I explain how we must keep learning and sometimes learning becomes specific, like this game of snakes and ladders, we begin at 0 and end at 100, so our goal is to win. Studying is like this, there is some reading to do and then we answer questions out of that book to prove how much we know. But sometimes we get delayed in reaching the 100 because of a snake and sometimes we go faster because of a ladder. Even as I speak, the beautiful logic of the game and my attempts at studying become clear. Isn’t everything like a game of snakes and ladders? Some things delay while others are waiting just ahead to help us progress.

Should I only let the snakes get me down or believe that there are ladders up ahead, hoping to give me a leg-up? (The ladder did come unexpectedly one week before the exam when she decided to go visit her granny across the city for a week – no child at home means eight hours of study for me!) While I’m working these deep philosophical things out for myself, while rolling the dice, my daughter is still picking at the exam bit.

Is it nice to do exam?

I’m actually enjoying my study and taking the exam is like a challenge that’s giving me a buzz. So I tell her the truth –

I love what I am doing and I’d love to crack this exam!

What is crack?

So I tell her – I would like to reach 100 before you in the game, so also in my exam. That other people are also taking this exam and I would like to be the person who gets most answers right. But for that I need to study hard.

The game is suddenly over for her. She packs it up half way.

You study. We’ll crack it!

For the next full month she is co-operation itself. I am asked periodically – will you crack it ma?

Before the exam, she wishes me luck – crack it mumma!

When the results are out, I find out that I did not crack it, but did well nonetheless. She searches my face for disappointment. And I tell her, I did my best, but others were even better, so that’s fine. Anyway there are still four more exams to go! We’ll crack those. She cheers!

The person who invented snakes and ladders does not know it but nonetheless has taught me two important lessons of life. One, life is like a game of snakes and ladders, you go up and down, it is upto you what you choose to remember, the snakes or the ladders. Two, your own attitude towards something gets transmitted to your child. Had I made the exam a stone round my neck, something I hated and wanted to finish quickly, my child would have been damaged for life against the concept called ‘exam’. Sooner or later she is going to face one, and I’d like to believe that she will go with a positive attitude, with a focus to ‘crack’ it, while enjoying the process of studying as well.

Anyhow, today, she is already all set to ‘crack’ anything that looks like an exam!

Monika Halan

(Monika Halan is a New Delhi based personal finance resource person. She is attempting to integrate The Mother’s ideas on bringing up children to bring up her daughter Meera. )