A few months ago, I was getting off the train after work. Walking next to me were a young couple (maximum age maybe 19/20?) with a newborn baby. Tiny, brand new newborn. Mom was wearing pyjama pants and slippers, carrying baby in a bundle of blankets. Dad was carrying a nappy bag (brand new! with bunnies!) and holding on to mom’s arm like she was made of glass. As they went down the steps, he walked slightly ahead of her clearing the way so she didn’t trip with the precious bundle. I caught a glimpse of her train ticket (single, one-way). Mowbray to Fish Hoek. I was sure she’d just given birth at Mowbray Maternity (probably that same day) and they were now on their way home.
As I watched them get on the taxi, I thought – dudes, you’ve got a heck of a road ahead of you. But from I’ve just seen (in the space of 3 minutes) – you and baby will be okay. The care, the connection between the three of them and the notion that this was just a MOMENTOUS occasion – well, you could feel it. They will be okay.
5 minutes later, I see a toddler (2/3) running alone in the parking area. Across the thoroughfare where the cars screech past. Shouting and crying. Couldn’t see anyone with him. Then I heard her.
From the opposite side of the adjacent petrol station, mother was standing at the open door of her fancy Mercedes, on her phone, then screaming at him that she’s going to leave without him if he didn’t hurry up.
Now – I get that sometimes tough love or firmness or whatever is called for. But that does not mean letting a 3 year old run around alone in front of cars because you are too lazy to walk 20 metres to pick him up and PUT him in the car if necessary. Doesn’t mean screaming at your child like a dog in public. If something had happened to that boy, if he’d been knocked down (as he so easily could have been) – that mother would have been the first to cry Tragedy.
The contrast between the two families was stark.
One family, young, vulnerable and definitely NOT rich – scared as all hell, probably. But yet still managing to emit a tangible air of LOVE out into the world, and into their baby’s life.
The other family, well-off, probably has done everything “right” that society recommends. Toddler boy probably has medical aid and the beginnings of an education plan. He’s not going to be short on anything material in his life. But does he really have what he needs? People who pay attention, people who WANT to be around him, people who will inconvenience themselves to make sure he’s safe, happy and feels loved?
I don’t think he has that. What does this lack mean for him as he grows older? He could turn out exactly like his mother (most of us do!), or he could retreat into himself and become something he never should have been.
So which child is better off?