Term1 exams have just begun. Back from her first paper, my 11-year-old yells out a disclaimer as she enters the main door, “Don’t ask how it went because I am not telling. It’s over. You promised pav bhaji for lunch. I am starving.”

I sit patiently by her side as she washes down the spicy bhaji with buttery pav, hoping to get some insights into her attempt at the language paper in my mother tongue. But she can’t be bothered. She is bustling with tales of her friends and their pre-exam stress instead. “Sana looks serious before the paper, Mom. She doesn’t talk, shushes everyone around. Priti prays to god before she begins. Dena thinks of worst case scenarios, like scoring a ‘D’ or worse still, coming prepared for the wrong subject. The boys only manage to giggle.” That’s my little girl—well, don’t we need a journalist reporting straight from the examination hall?

But she says nothing about her paper. The next morning, as I pass her a mock mathematics paper to solve, she smartly dodges the subject and displays curiosity about my childhood. My mastermind hatches a quick plan and I decide to turn a new leaf. I don the cape of the motivational mom. I brag about churning straight ‘A’s year after year. Of course, there was a dip when I hit puberty, but I choose to skip that part. I shock her by saying I loved taking exams and that I found them thrilling. She rolls her eyes and takes me with a pinch of salt. Real life hacks were never meant to be found in academics. Because guess what, no book told me how to bell this cat.

In a world of reality TV and college dropouts turning into billionaires, getting your child to follow a discipline to reach their potential and fulfil their dreams seems like a herculean task. At age 11, she has questions about the best profession to make big money. At 11, I had just gotten glued to a fascinating new series on TV called, ‘The World This Week’ while hubby was playing cricket in the hot sun. Making money was never on our bucket list.

While I engage in self-talk and struggle to find a way free from force, threats and bribery to bring home the coveted ‘A+’, the seven-year-old, who has been all ears thus far, springs into action. She draws closer and asks, “Since you loved taking tests, are you willing to take one right now?” I feel ‘foot in the mouth’ personified.

The day ends on a chaotic note as the older one drifts from academics to piano followed by reading before I finally check on the status of homework. The whole world comes crumbling down and facial expressions change. Happiness withers away. It is just another Sunday evening where we drag ourselves to finish that which we hate the most.

Motherhood feels like running a marathon. There will be plenty of ‘B+’s and ‘C-’s along the way. But you must maintain peace and be there for your children. You need to make them feel loved and wanted no matter what their grades. Take a bad grade like a pit stop to pee. After all, we panic because we consistently want the best. But sometimes, the best comes only from failing a little.

Setbacks can bring out the grit, the anger and the ambition. So embrace that ‘C-’. You never know what it does for your child. Two days before her Hindi exam, the older one came home red in the face. Her score on a mock test was the lowest in class. She felt ridiculed. It had a positive impact. She skipped the television and went straight after her notes and made sure she was better prepared for the real exam.

There, I chanced upon my weapon. Self-image and peer pressure work best for my 11-year-old. What works for your child? Because there is nothing better than a self-motivated individual in the long run. You can push a child to sprint a 100mts, not run a marathon. As I am about to start my test, my seven-year-old teacher whispers, “Can you make some mistakes on purpose?” I smile as the first question reads, ‘2×4=’.