Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Careful Can We BE?

It was a normal Tuesday afternoon when I pulled over at the local grocery store. We had guests coming over for dinner and I had this one ingredient missing for a dish. As I unbuckled my seat belt I instructed my older daughter who was in a car seat to start doing the same. Grocery stores were not her favorite thing and she always sulked whenever I had to take her along (she didn’t know that if I had a choice, I wouldn’t take anybody along when I went to any damn store!).

“Mom, me and my sister can wait for you in the car, why don’t you go inside and get what you want”, she offered a quick solution. Her sister, the baby was barely 18 months old and in no position to unlock herself from her car seat and wander off anywhere, so the quick fix suggested was very tempting.

The store we had parked in front of was not a departmental store, it was a small store, pretty much empty at this time of the day and going inside, grabbing what I needed, paying for it and coming out again would all in all probably take a total of 4 minutes, I calculated.  As opposed to taking them both out of their car seats, forcibly making one of them sit in the shopping cart, maneuvering the cart in that small store, buying what I needed and then pay, get the cart at the door and fasten them both again in their car seats (not without protest I assure you), a minimum of 15 minutes and that too for one single purchase.  Now, this here may have looked to you like an awful lot of thinking, but it is because I am writing it down, the actual thought process started and ended in 10 seconds.

“Ok, don’t fight with your sister” I mumbled, stepping out of the car and locking it, sounding affirmative but yet not sure of going ahead with it. Since my car was parked right outside the store, all I had to do was keep looking out of the glass doors while I finished the business in there, I said to myself. I can see the kids every second while I am in there, I reiterated in my mind, depositing the car keys in the right hand pocket of my white jacket. Inside the car, just an arm’s reach away, my older daughter seemed overjoyed at this newly entrusted responsibility and freedom. Enthusiastically she waved her hand at me; I waved back and started to walk, the very next second retracing my steps. I don’t know what hit me, maybe the unusualness of the whole scenario (I don’t remember going into any store at this time of the day by myself after the birth of my second child, it’s like I always either struggling to get the stroller inside the store or trying to balance a child on the hip and another by the hand) or the maternal instinct that kicked off at the right time.

Whatever it was, Baby no. 1 was definitely not pleased to see Mom returning even before she left. “Mom, I am a big girl now, I can take care of me and my sister” she argued as I ordered her to come out and stand by me while I took the baby out from her car seat. “Mom, why can’t I just sit and wait for you” an imploring tone and finally, “I hate the store, I don’t want to go with you” Anger and tears, a last effort.  “I promise to finish it in 5 minutes sweetie” I told her in my best possible calm voice (any experienced mother will tell you that it is when you are most frustrated that this voice descends on you like a gift from God, a saving grace in hard times).

And I did stick to my promise that day, for under standard conditions a nearly empty store was the perfect excuse to walk leisurely through every aisle, check out the new arrivals and ponder over a couple of products trying to choose between them, did not matter that none of them where ever in the original shopping list. Running a cooking blog clearly made this whole time consuming, extra money spending exercise not only justifiable but essential.

So out we were in a very short time and heading home with almost no fuss from the girls at being confined in their special seats again.

All this while, starting from the minute I retraced my steps back to take the kids with me inside the store, the enormity of what I had thought of doing, was creeping in slowly, a sickening feeling of how close I was to taking a risk that would have cost me more than life itself.

A part of me had its defenses ready. You are just one of those paranoid moms who trust nothing and no one. If anybody had tried to tamper with your locked car, the alarm would have blared off, attracting a lot of attention including yours. The car and the kids were within sight, you weren’t about to leave them unattended. There was no physical danger to their life, you were going to be away for just a couple of minutes, and you probably take a lot longer in the shower. And finally, will you stop thinking about what MIGHT have happened since actually speaking you didn’t end up leaving them alone in the car.

And this was even before we all read the news about the 7 year old Atlanta girl abducted, molested and killed. When I read that news which made headlines and had even strangers crying over it, I couldn’t sleep for days.  One wrong choice and a child is lost forever. And since a child cannot be expected to make wise choices, the adults/ parents/caretakers have to take care they don’t goof up. Terrible outcomes arise out of perfectly normal circumstances and scar you for life.

This makes me arrive finally at the inherent question of this post. How careful can we be? Sadly, in today’s world; not enough, never enough. Whenever this topic of child safety comes up for discussion amongst friends, parents, we always drift a step away in the past when we used to be kids. Someone points out how much we used to play outside, unsupervised play, on the streets play which kids now a days are not seen doing much of. Another parent says, we have turned our kids into sissies they can’t even walk to the school bus stop alone , do you remember your mom coming to pick you up at the bus stop when you were 8 years old?  No, yet another person in the group joins in and we used to roam around the whole neighborhood in summer on our bikes without a care in this world, didn’t have to worry about carrying cell phones for Mom to reach us every 20 minutes or even worse wait for Dad to come home from work and follow along. I dare not even go the trash can to dump garbage just a minute’s walk away from the apartment leaving a child at home, a mom chips in. Do whatever, take as many precautions, if something bad is going to happen, it will, a few just reconcile to fate, maybe because they were lucky enough not to have bad things happen to anybody they knew or held close. But, kids today have no idea what a carefree childhood is, everybody agrees.

The burning question is have we become paranoid or is this the need of the hour? Should we fear the personality damage that we inflict on our children by constant supervision or should we feel guilty about leaving them unattended even for a minute?  Should we risk bringing down the child’s survival instinct (a child of a reasonable age like 7 years or older) by not testing his or her reflexes and reactions to everyday small time dangers like hopping over to the neighbor’s place one lane away or playing unsupervised with a bunch of other kids in broad daylight OR should we rather not take any chances at all? Should we try and curb their independence outside for as long as we can (meaning till they are ready to drive) or give them a chance to spread out their wings, like we were given, teaching caution?

If I had been asked those questions a few days before, I would have probably said I will teach my kids to be alert, prompt and ready to scream for help and after a couple of years when they are older I shall let them enjoy the last bits of childhood armed with the above said attributes.

But today, I will say, times have changed now from when we were raised. People were less busy and the neighbors were friendlier. Communities were stronger and the families were closer. Awareness has increased but so has exposure. However smart children maybe in this day and age, whatever safety tips you may have taught them and whichever latest technology they may possess  in their pocket to reach out for help, he or she is still a child. Vulnerable and fragile; an easy target and certainly no match for an adult.  So be with them, guide them and protect them for as long as you can. Do not take chances, our children are precious. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Plans And Dreams

Where will I be and who will I be ten years from now? This isn’t a very unique question. Most of us wonder where life will lead us.

There are people you meet who strongly advocate living each day as it comes. What’s the point in planning for the future, who knows what’s in store, they argue. And there are the dreamers who never stop thinking beyond the present day.

Many times confused to mean the same, plans are different from dreams. At some point of time they intermingle but per se, they are different. If I go just by the sound of it, a plan sounds like something concrete, attainable and dependable.  And dreams speak of anticipation, indulgence and the impossible. Yes, the sound of a word has a feeling that reaches you much before its denotation. 

And as different as they are from each other, one may lead to the other, automatically or not.

I always dreamed of settling down in my own city, the place I was raised, close to my family, in vicinity of my friends. I also dreamed of books, great writers and the magical words they wrote.

Years passed and dreams faded. Life happened and ambitions changed; an alteration of perspective and the path.

Plans began to form. A degree considered commercially viable (though my heart was always in the stories and pieces I read), steps towards a corporate career and the first sacrifice was made. It still did not perturb the way I lived because the place was where I wanted to be. And the days rolled by, happy and some, the paradigm shift was yet to come.

Tears dropped silently as I boarded the train, hand in hand with the love of my life. A home together was much more important than a house away from each other. We were young and the distance from our hometown was not too much, going back and forth every month would be manageable, I consoled myself.

The new city promised a better future, but was it the one I had dreamed off? Perhaps not. One step farther away and the only sound I could hear now was the echo of what I used to want to be.

How incredibly cruel that time sits still for some, those who wait painfully for things to change and come their way and for some others; it runs faster than they can hope to catch it.

The transition from the new city to the new country happened almost effortlessly, adaption they say is a wonderful quality that brings peace of mind to the displaced. The zeal and the vigor to visit discover and stay amid a different culture, an unseen world played its part too. 

So how far exactly have I come, I often asked myself. Did not matter, an inner voice replied, one step away is far enough. I let my plans overshadow my dreams.

And that’s when the resemblance between the two surfaced. Plans can backfire and dreams can return to haunt you. Plans or dreams, whatever it was, it was nothing short of a wakeup call for me.

Five years back, I picked up a pen and a piece of paper, imagined I was in school and had been told to write an essay. The pen flowed, slowly at first and soon picking up momentum, just as it did then.

Fortunately that is all there is to how I started writing AGAIN. No drama, no suspense, no tragedy either! My article “A New Beginning” was published in SPARKS on 5th December, 2011, possibly the best thing to happen in the last month of the year!