Sunday, October 14, 2012

Safety and Hurts

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 Have you ever noticed the vast difference between what groups of people consider dangerous or unsafe… especially when it comes to kids?  In some countries, it’s completely OK for an entire (small) family to ride on a motorbike. No helmets. In the USA, we don’t let our kids outside without knee pads, elbow pads, helmets. We’d pad them up in padded suits if we could.  Wrap them in cotton wool.

We traveled to Bagan and Inle Lake this past week. In Bagan, at a traditional bean paste factory (paste made from soy beans), I watched a four year old boy roam nimbly between gigantic vats of boiling soy beans and open fires. The ground was slick with the paste – I nearly slipped and fell – but this kid in his flip-flops didn’t even flinch. No one flinched. It was totally OK for him to be there. He apparently knew his limits.

Inle Lake is dotted with small, floating villages. Water is life. Everything, everything is about the water. Kids row to school. Families row to the pagoda, to the market, to the clinic. They wash in the lake. Fish.  Fly kites in canoes. By the age of five, kids are taught how to row very small boats. I saw eight year olds (or so it looked; perhaps the kids were slightly older) row their group of neighborhood kids to school.

By the age of 12, boys know how to row with just one leg while standing on their narrow canoe. Babies snuggle in the arms of parents sitting at the upper edge of the shaky boat, completely balanced. It’s normal. It’s OK.  And no, there aren’t lifejackets. This is life. Life on the water.

Are you gasping yet?  It might be hard to wrap your head around these differences.  You might be thinking “I would never let my seven year old go out on a lake, rowing an unsteady canoe all by himself,” but kids here are never alone.

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Extended families share the same house. One moment, a mom breastfeeds her child, the next she’s gone and a sister or auntie or friend is watching the baby. No hand-off. No “do you mind please watching” or “I’m going to run upstairs real quick…will you please look after…”  It’s natural. Everyone helps.  Multiple eyes are watching the kids, teaching them how far they can go before being hurt.

The perceived safety gap is stark between western and non-western countries, but things aren’t so different at home. 

Growing up in the country, we sat in the back of our pick-up truck on top of wobbly bales of hay. We rode horses bareback.  My brothers had guns at a very early age.  Real guns that shot real bullets.  Entire summers were spent at my BFF’s house, unsupervised, swimming in her pool and riding four-wheelers in the fields. I took walks alone into the forest telling no one what I was doing or where I was going. Many of my friends were driving combines by the age of 13.  This was our life. No one thought it was crazy or weird or strange or unsafe.

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My city cousins thought this life was foreign and dangerous.  Perhaps they thought our parents put us in unnecessary jeopardy. On the flip side, we country bumpkins wouldn’t let our kid ride a subway alone or walk to school by themselves in a big city. The city is perilous, after all, right?  Unknowns lurking around every corner…

You get my point.  Safety is relative. And no one wants their children hurt. 

At Inle Lake, my daughter fell into the water.  Well. The truth is my big bum knocked her over the edge of a very slim and rickety “dock.” Within seconds, complete strangers had jumped in the water after her, pulled her up, and women came running out with clean clothes offering them as “presents” to us. Their senses worked more quickly than mine did. They ALL knew what to do immediately and several of them worked together solving a problem before I ever could’ve…unless I lived on the water, of course.

Is it better to try preventing the inevitable in vain, or is it better to teach limits and how to deal with those hurts?

After all, everyone gets hurt.  We fall down.  Get scraped up. Have broken bones.  Broken hearts.  We all get hurt.  


24 comments:

  1. Oh so true! I love this. Safety is relative. I always stretched my children's abilities and encouraged them to have confidence in their limits. My son used to climb a lot when he was little and I always said you have good balance. Now he's 19 and telling me he kept climbing because he was scared of heights. This is a great post! :)

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    1. That's so cool! I think your son is super brave that he kept climbing, despite (or in spite of) being scared! (Totally relate to his fear of heights.) He must've felt safe to do so, knowing you'd be there. And probably also knowing you saw that he was good at balancing.

      I think it's great you stretched your children's abilities. I think that testing those limits is the only way we learn. Even as adults, we still have to do this. As hard as it is.

      Thanks for stopping by! <3

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  2. This post is spot on...nice everything. I love the way you observe the differences in parenting but really it all comes full circle as you point out. We all love our children and will protect them no matter what. Your pics are great. Becky, I really enjoyed this and how it all came together. June Maddox

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    1. Thank you, June!!! I really appreciate it. :)

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  3. Lovely post Becky... and I loved the progression of the stories. Have a lovely day! x

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    1. Cheers, Caroline. :-) Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. ;)

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  4. This is so interesting to me right now. I have just read "Drop the Worry Ball" and will be starting "Free Range Children" soon. I cling to my worry ball so afraid of tragedy. I'm really working on it right now and it is so interesting to me how people around the world raise their children. B & S will be fine. I just need to let go. Wonderful post.

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    1. B + S will be fine because you are an amazing mom, Amy. They are so, so lucky to have you.

      It's scary raising kids and I think your worry ball is also indicative of how much you love them. That's not to say people with different sized worry balls love their kids less or more. "Drop the Worry Ball" and "Free Range Children" sound interesting.

      I'm working on trying to better balance telling F how sometimes life is hard with how it's equally beautiful. I want her to know how to deal with disappointments and expect them to happen, but I also want her to know that so much of her own happiness is dependent upon her own thoughts. Her own POV.

      Still - this is something I have to do for myself, too. I'm old + still shit at disappointment!

      We're all learning.

      Love you!

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    2. Oh gosh. Thank you. Your girl is getting so many wonderful experiences. I'm not sure I would recommend "Drop The Worry Ball" but it gave me some encouragement. One of those books where you learn a few things and disregard the parts that don't fit.. Being a parent is a constant work in progress. I always hope I get more right than wrong but I imagine their future therapist will be the deciding factor on that.

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    3. I agree that it's a constant work in progress.

      I can't imagine B + S needing a therapist when they get older! Crazy, you!

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  5. Nice :).. Glad everyone is safe and sound.. Big Hugs to you!!

    Love ya

    Dad...

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    1. Thanks, Dad!! And thanks for letting us kids roam around and have the freedom we did when we were kids! :-)

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  6. becky, i LOVE this post. i think about this sort of thing a lot because i am a complete basket case paranoid mom but as i learn to let go (and "let love" - ha! or, rather, trust more) i am more self-conscious and realize that what i'm doing is trying to create a safety net of illusion in order to protect *and control* things that are really not under my control. i often do think of people living in villages, or more native lifestyles, and how their enviroment could seem nerve-wracking - but truth is, i feel ours is, too, with different, but no less severe, dangers. in essence it all boils down to giving our children the proper skills to navigate their world and it seems so tricky to some, so effortless for others. i saw comment on my most recent blog (haven't replied yet) but thank you - we both gave one another a reminder of balance to carry us throughout the day <3

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    1. Hi Valeri -
      Yes, I think it does come down to giving our kids the skills they need. I had a very interesting conversation with a woman from New Deli, India who is also living in Yangon.

      Before moving to Yangon, she and her family lived in Lagos, Nigeria. Despite finding some comfort in connecting with other people from her culture and easily accessing ingredients to make the food she likes, she was put-off by the high crime rate.

      One thing she said really stuck out. She basically explained that they were not able to walk in the streets, so her daughter wouldn't have been able to learn to even cross the road. She couldn't imagine her young girl not being taught this basic life skill.

      I hadn't thought of that. She was relieved that in Yangon, it's safe to walk about and her daughter will - at minimum - know how to cross a busy road. (Obviously, a necessary skill in Deli!)

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  7. Once I was in Japan visiting my brother who lived there, and there was a camp in the park where you could drop the kids off for the day. There were different areas of play, one was a fire pit, one was with saws and axes, there were fireworks, a very precarious rope hanging from a tree... (there was also a huge mud puddle that was really fun) I was shocked, The kids survived a week of it and had the best time. They learn their limits. Still when I got home, we set much much stricter boundaries......

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    1. What an incredible story! It is amazing the differences that exist. Glad the kids survived, but I don't blame you for setting stricter boundaries when you got home. lol

      Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!

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  8. Becky, I, too have often marveled at the way children are taken care of in many places around the world. Yet, there is a constant, we all love our children, want the best for them, and want them to live long and healthy. It's an amazing lesson for our children to see how other children live, and to realize there are different ways of living in different cultures. I know I've taught my adult children this! What I find most amusing about them is that they are cautious and I'm the rock-climbing, helicopter riding, motorcyle queen! LOL! Hmmm...maybe too much adventure?! LOL Thank you for sharing these wonderful experiences and bringing back some very vivid memories for me, too! :) P.S. I've always had a big bum, it's never stopped me! :) :) :) :)

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    1. Indigene -
      Yay! A big-bum comrade! :) :-)

      I totally agree: there is a complete constant in that we all love our kids and want the best for them. I enjoy seeing the differences and marveling at how it gets done. There's a lovely film and I wish now I could remember the name of it. I saw it on Netflix before we moved. Something about Babies. It's a documentary showcasing about five different children from infancy to about age two or so. Each of the children are from different parts of the world. If I remember right: Nigeria, Mongolia, Japan, the USA...somewhere else, too, I think.

      The film first showed the pregnant moms and the birth. Of course, each experience and type of birth was different. The children, too, were obviously raised very differently. I remember watching the little boy in Nigeria walking barefoot near broken pieces of pottery. He was totally fine. Again, lots of women around, all helping out with all the children.

      There is no talking in the film. It's fascinating and a beautiful reminder of universal love and that our children will be OK. :-)

      Love that you're a rock-climbing, helicopter riding, motorcycle queen. You're much braver than me! :-)

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment.

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  9. I have thought about this through the years. As a kid, I played in a creek in the woods all by myself most days. I would be gone all day long. I saw rattlesnakes and water moccasins while I was out there. We rode in the back of pick up trucks. Now we don't even put dogs in the back of pick up trucks! We went to neighbor's houses and they fed us. Things are so different now, even just here in the U.S.. I like knowing that people live in extended families and help each other out in other places. What a nice post. It made me think...and that's always a good thing! :)

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    1. Hi Shelly,
      Our childhoods don't sound too dissimilar! There was a creek just behind my house, also. I would sit on a broken moss-laden log for what seemed like hours. I'd pretend to fish. I'd talk to the trees and the creek and my imaginary friend. I'd tromp all over the place. We had horses and sometimes I would sneak and ride mine without my parents being home. I remember grabbing a big plastic bucket, getting on Snap (my horse), and riding him with just twine around his neck.

      Sometimes I wonder if I'd let my daughter to the things I did. I do catch myself saying to her ALL the time, "mind your step," "be careful," "watch out." This is in part to help her five year old self become aware of her surroundings, but sometimes I'm concerned I say these words too much. Do I send a message, inadvertently, that the world is not a safe place? (But is it?)

      Thanks very much for stopping by + leaving a message, Shelly! <3

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  10. I love this post Becky! It's very thought provoking, vivid and visual. Living in Australian Indigenous communities for years, I always felt shocked upon returning to the cities to see parents constantly wiping their children clean, holding their hand, stopping them from exploring. It all seemed so disempowering. When you realise that Indigenous Australians have been on their land maintaining a 'balance' for 60,000 years I think it says something about safety!

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    1. Hi Lolla!
      I'm so sorry it has taken me all these weeks to reply. I finally found your comment in my spam box! BAD BLOGGER! :)

      I can only imagine the culture shock that waited for you when you returned to cities after leaving the aboriginal areas. I completely agree with what you say...I think we all go a bit too far with the safety thing sometimes!

      :) I'm very happy to have met you here in Yangon. ;)

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  11. Hi Becky. Nice article!!! It reminds me so much of Vietnam when I was growing up. We kids just survived on our own those days. I've been to US for over 30 years now and it was kinda a shame that I couldn't teach my kids these skills. My kids were over-protected just like many other American kids :)

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    1. Hi Tony! Welcome and thank you for your comment. :) It's funny how we adapt to our environment, isn't it? We're greatly influenced by it. It's normal in the US to be super protective of our kids. Of course, some of that is very important; but it has to be balanced so that we're also ensuring our kids learn how to take care of themselves and react to certain circumstances, especially if dangerous.

      Had you noticed that some years ago they lowered all the jungle gym equipment? Made it shorter so that a fall wouldn't hurt as much? I heard (can't quote) that studies were conducted showing that kids actually had more accidents and falls from those shorter/"safer" jungle gyms! Interesting, right? :)

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