Are any of you familiar with the blog or book by New York City mom Lenore Skenazy both called Free Range Kids? She caused a huge controversy in 2008 when she wrote a blog entry titled “why I let my 9-year-old ride the subway alone”. If you are not familiar with her writings I recommend you read her blog. Even if you don’t agree with what she says it’s still an incredibly interesting read.
In short, Lenore’s 9-year-old had begged her to leave him somewhere and let him find his own way home. Eventually, she decided to let him do it. She left him in blooming dales NY with 20$ and went home. He made it home a little while later. After that all hell broke loose and was running in the direction of Lenore. People were attacking her on her blog, she was on all the American news channels defending her point of view and then becoming really famous for it.
Little side note for family and friends, no I am not planning to leave S somewhere in Riyadh and have him find his way home (Although I know he would flag down a cab and give him the address just fine or more likely walk up to someone and tell them his life story and mine and his fathers and my mothers and our cats and get them to bring him home lol). My “free range” attitude is limited here unfortunately since life here doesn’t really give us many opportunities to let them go explore. But I try my best.
Lenore’s basic philosophy is that parents in the states are just too afraid of everything right now. And when you read some of the stories she has posted or people have sent her (such as the one about the 4-year-old who is being sued for running her bike into an old woman who broke her hip and consequently died a few weeks later) you can see how insane the situation can be!
It should be said that Saudi children’s life now is very sheltered compared to the older generations. Life was simpler, cities were smaller, and children did a lot of things on their own. Bedouin boys were men from 7 and would go and hunt with their fathers and depend on themselves in many ways we would not imagine our children doing. But Saudi is very young and change came quickly.
We have our own fears here in Saudi. Any child that starts crawling immediately gains another shadow that hovers over the child to a point that they sometimes become indistinguishable from each other and merge into one entity. I remember when my eldest started walking and I employed a lovely Filipino woman who was so afraid of him falling down and bumping anything that she constantly held him up by his arms when he was moving. I swear to God he forgot how to walk! I swear! I had to promise her it was ok if he fell and no I wouldn’t be upset, and yes babies cry it’s no big deal just keep him away from hot, pokey or sharp things.
We have the great fear of the evil eye. There are the extreme cases such as the woman who I met whose answer to the question “how many children do you have?” was “God gave me some and I am grateful”. Then there are the ones who add a few months (or years) to their child’s age so that people think they are small for their age, or slow or something. There are even the ones who, after any kind of gathering, get something called “ghsaal” derived from the word “to wash” which basically is a small amount of the water left over after washing all the tea cups that the guests drank from. They pour this water over the child’s head to ward off the evil eye. How they are not more afraid of viruses is beyond me!
Another popular fear is of the common cold. Oh my God what happens when the child gets a cold! It can go either way; some like the chemical way of treating colds and therefor use antibiotics (no need for prescription is some pharmacies here) like vitamin C. The others go the natural way and a variety of herbal medicines and concoctions are brewed up to combat the sniffles. But I must admit some of these do work like magic. Most use a combination of both. But either way, it’s sometimes over kill.
The latest fear is of learning difficulties. Everyone is getting their children checked for ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and many numbers of alphabet soup letters of disorders. I am not downplaying the importance of being vigilant when it comes to early diagnosis (my brother didn’t get diagnosed till he was in Uni! Could you imagine how helpful that would have been if he had known earlier?) I am talking about teachers blaming the children for their lack of professionalism and ability and sending the poor mothers from one “specialist” to another trying to figure out what’s wrong with their child. Funny enough most of the specialists are close acquaintances of said teacher.
But all that aside, what bugs me is that with all this fear going on around here in Saudi, people are hardly afraid enough to put their kids in proper car seats. Hell they are not afraid enough to stop them sitting on daddy’s lap when he’s driving or sticking their heads out the windows on the highway. The morbid name they call Saudi children here is “Saudi airbags” Yes… I know this is not fun and it just gets less fun from here on.
18 people die a day from traffic accidents in the Kingdom. That’s 1 person every hour and a half almost. Most are between the ages of 16 and 35. The government has taken steps to change this. The biggest so far is installing a network of cameras called “Saher” across Riyadh and eventually all of Saudi. These cameras are there to help police enforce traffic laws and punish the people who violate them. It is actually illegal in Saudi for children not to be in proper car seats (I was happy to find this when I visited the Saher site). Saudi is the first in the region to make this law.
I know there have been a few campaigns but nothing near enough. After living in the UK and seeing the horrific awareness campaigns they run on their TV I am very much afraid and so I should be when I’m in a country with one of the most dangerous roads in the world. But in the UK it has been deeply embedded in their minds. I remember being screamed at by a bus driver who stopped beside our car and saw that S my eldest was in a booster seat and she felt he was too young to be in one and very colorfully told me so. While I didn’t appreciate being screamed at (a quiet word would have been just as effective) I was surprised that she cared enough to stop her huge red bus and scream at me! Most people here are annoyed by the bulkiness of the seats and don’t see the point.
Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is a few bumps on the head and scrapes on the chin don’t scare me. A fever of 39.5 doesn’t scare me. People oohing and aahing over my baby’s chubby thighs doesn’t scare me and the fact that S forgets which way the P goes doesn’t scare me. What frightens the living daylight out of me is the car drive that my children take to and from school every day.