Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Reflections on Safety
I cannot begin to think about the changes ahead of me as I return home without giving some serious thought to the issue of safety.
As Americans, we are obsessed with staying safe. Scan the headlines and you will see references to safe driving, playing it safe, workplace safety, safe sex, lunchroom safety, etc. We protect ourselves from every bad guy, monster, germ, terrorist, or miscellaneous danger by recalls, warnings, advisories, and law.
As we were getting ready to leave for India, I had just had my first baby, so I was very concerned with safety. I made Simon sleep on his back, even when he probably would have slept better on his stomach. I took note of recalls on child products. I made Ben take our car seat to the fire department to make sure it was installed correctly. As a mom, I did my best to control everything I could about my child's environment for his protection.
When I got to India, every idea I ever had about safety was challenged. You have to be a new American mom moving to a third-world country to really appreciate how shocking this was. I spent $160 on a traveling car seat that I would never use once here. Not only did Simon not use a car seat, he spent most of his transportation life bouncing around in an open-air autorickshaw. There were no seatbelts. Then, I broke all of my safety laws by letting him ride a scooter.
All of these safety infractions were compounded by the intensity of the traffic here. When we weren't riding, we were walking, and that meant pushing a stroller through traffic, nosing into intersections, where no one was going to stop and learning how to best sprint to the middle of the road and wait there for the next two lanes to clear.
And, then there was dirt. Now, mind you, even when Sy was an infant, I have never been too paranoid about dirt or germs, telling myself it was good for his immune system (which I was either right about, or God has just been protecting him because in 2 years, he's only had a cold once). But, when you come to India, you realize you hadn't seen dirt yet!
The floors are dusty. Always. There are dead bugs which get eaten. If your kid wants to play in mud, you can't be sure he's also not playing in poop. If he walks down the street, he might get curious about the dead rat that is lying there. People touch him, all the time. And, yes, they are dirty, because there is dirt everywhere, and because water is scarce enough that bathing is not an every-day activity.
As an American mom, I am taught by Oprah and by Parenting Magazine and by Good Morning America that it is my job to control all of these things. As an Indian mom, I am shocked to learn there is little I can control. It didn't take long for me to turn into what I would have once labeled "reckless," but now call "realistic."
I wonder how these changes will affect my return home. How quickly will I get over resenting the fact that I have to strap my child in the back seat? How thankful will I be that anyone who comes in contact with Sy will be expected to meet certain standards of safety?
I know I must sound like I've gone crazy over here, and I do promise that I have continued to look after Sy's best interests. I have, however, enjoyed a certain amount of freedom in the Indian understanding that accidents happen. Not every tragedy is a reason for a lawsuit or a new law. I have enjoyed letting him explore his world from a front-row seat, even if it means I need to be extra alert to grab him if trouble comes.
It was shocking to me when I moved here and security guards, waiters, and shop keepers used to pick him up and hold him so I could take care of business. While, at first, Amber Alerts would sound off in my head, now when someone is nice enough to do that, I smile at them gratefully and watch Sy entertain them. (Here, kidnapping is not a big fear.)
I have learned to enjoy the freedoms that are offered here, and be as cautious as possible, while still taking advantage of the fact that legal and societal codes give Simon more freedom here.
Most importantly, I have had to practically accept that my faith for our safety is in God alone, not in my ability to control our environment. So, while I do my best to be the wise and attentive parent that God asks me to be, I thank Him every day for preserving our lives. (I have found that I have many more reasons to do that when I'm dodging buses, stray dogs, and speeding tractors on a daily walk.)
God has protected Simon from scary germs, malaria, cracking his head open on marble floors, snakes (which he saw on a walk and if I had seen I would have probably come home 6 months ago), one auto accident that we were in, countless others that we could have been in, dogs, motorcycles driving on the sidewalk, and more. I am so thankful that he has protected us so far, and will continue to trust him for the 5 remaining days, where I will have at least 10 reasons to thank Him for protecting us.
And, when we get home, I will keep trusting in His protection. Even when Sy is secured snugly in his car seat (screaming his head off) and there is not a mosquito in sight.