But Where Were The Parents


“How many times do you think we’ve almost killed our children?”

G looked at me quizzically. “Do you mean wanted to kill them, or really nearly killed them?”

“Really nearly killed them, like that time in Malta, when Lizzie was on the edge of the building and I had no idea.”

G wasn’t there but he remembered it instantly. I’d made the trip from Libya to Malta on my own, it was a visa run, and a trip to the closest embassy was required. As happy as I was to have a couple of days away from Tripoli I felt completely discombobulated having both of the children in another country without G. With a six month old baby strapped to my front and a two year old by my side I’d stood in my perpetually sleep deprived state waiting in line.

The Stivala Brothers had come to my rescue, the Stivala brothers came to many people’s rescue. They were based in Malta but knew the ins and outs of life in Libya. They greeted newcomers at the airport, arranged for deliveries of medical supplies, sent mail, and made multiple trips to various embassies sorting out visa and immigration issues. In our time in Libya Paul from Stivala met my parents, held my children while I folded strollers and unloaded suitcases from carousels, drove me to obgyn appointments, and taught me the occasional Maltese expression. I loved listening to him speak English with his Maltese accent, he sang each sentence slowly, melodically lazy as each syllable almost slipped from his lips.

Paul had waited outside while I’d gone into the embassy and happened to be looking towards the door when he saw our first little traveller exit the building on her own. She was a few months shy of her third birthday. He watched in horror as she made her way to the ledge of the building, a building that housed a deep basement and a drop of about 30 metres between him and her. I stood in the line completely oblivious, I hadn’t seen her go. When he came into the building a minute or two later looking shaken with our first born on his hip I had no idea what had happened.

“She was on the ledge, I was praying to God, oh my oh my, she was on the ledge, please God please God.” He was white and breathless, his hands shaking.

I saw a video yesterday. I have no idea if it was real or not. A small child crawled out onto the ledge of a 8th story apartment building. I began to watch it but found myself leaning into the screen, trying to will the child to safety. I forwarded to the end, happy to see the child being whisked safely back inside. The link in my newsfeed was posted as news, news that had no details, they weren’t sure where it happened, when it happened, perhaps even if it happened. Those in the social media world would call it click bait, a clip that is guaranteed to encourage judgment as it’s shared around the inter-webs. I read the comments. A small group of cynics who were sure the video wasn’t real, a smaller group of mediators who felt we needed to hear both sides of the story, but mostly it was loaded with the outraged who just wanted to know where the parents were.

I wondered if our first little traveller would have gone viral if she’d performed her ledge walking in 2014 rather than 2003. Would my poor parenting have been a web sensation?

Outrage is served in daily doses now. Where were the parents at the park? Where were the parents when Jimmy broke his collarbone at the skate ramp? If you don’t know the people involved it’s so easy to judge. How did they let it happen?

There’s been plenty of times I wasn’t there.

I wasn’t there when the second little traveller put the bead up her nose, and spectacularly wasn’t there again when the third traveller outdid her and put a crayon up his nose a week later. I made G go to the hospital.

I wasn’t there when our neighbour went to reverse his car and saw the full face of my three year old son in his rear view camera. This fact supplies me with nightmares seven years later.

G and I were both in bed when the 4th traveller swung between two couches, lost his balance and landed on his face causing two black eyes and what initially appeared to be a broken nose.

I wasn’t there when 3 out of the 4 little travellers were put in a ski lift without the bar being put down, they were aged 6, 4 and 3 as they made their way up the mountain with nothing between them and a rather large drop.

When I think of the near misses of my friends. The neighbours whose toddler was found outside in the snow wearing only a t-shirt, they had no idea he’d gone out of the front door. Friends whose three year old was found sitting out on the road while a family celebration was being held in the backyard. Stories that were told to me with a nervous oh my god giggle. And yes, it was a giggle, a giggle that any parent knows, because if you don’t giggle you have to face the horrible fact that you were inches away from the biggest tragedy of your life. In the same way a soldier uses black humour, a parent moves on from the unthinkable.

When I think of my childhood, the walks that were made unaccompanied, the help that was required from passers by, and the parties where children were left to their own devices, I wonder if my parents were judged as much as parents are now?

Or have we really become that perfect?

I know I’m not.

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