A close shave

‘Are you home?’ she screamed, her voice barely audible above the shrieking and shouting in the background.

No I’m not, I said, ‘what’s wrong?’

Are you home, she shouted again. No, I repeated, what is wrong?

By now the shrieks in the background were getting louder and I began to feel my heart sink. A child was screaming in pain. There were loud voices. She was distracted while trying to talk to me. ‘I need your help’ she said before cutting the line. I called back, my fingers unsteady – WHAT did she need my help for?

The OA and I were on our way to the railyway station to drop Chhota Nana and Chhoti Nani and Cousin J. And the Brat and Bean were playing in the apartment complex play area with the maid overseeing them.

The more I asked, the more hysterical she sounded and I could get no sense out of her. The OA jammed brakes, unsure of what was wrong and whether we’d have to turn and rush home. Finally she managed to get it out – Her 4-year-old son had fallen from his cycle and was hurt and she needed help. I told her not to panic and that I’d do something.

I called Cousin K who is staying with me during his summer internship and told him to wear a pair of jeans, grab the other set of car keys and rush down to the park and look for a spot where there was sure to be a crowd and a bleeding child. I messaged them each other’s numbers and we went on to the railway station because now we were too far from Gurgaon to be of any use to them.

Cousin K drove her to the emergency ward of a nearby hospital where they stitched up the little boy whose head had split open. And for the rest of the evening I couldn’t do anything about the knot in my stomach. That could have been my child. For the few awful minutes until she could bring herself to tell me what was wrong the worst had passed before my eyes.

The OA and I rush to her home after we finish with the railway station where we hurriedly dump Chhota Nani, Nani and Cousin J in a heap with their luggage, even while they urge us to rush back and help. Cousin K was there and had been of a lot of help. Driving them to hospital, being there with her, and now going to collect their elder son from the neighbour’s place where he’d been left. Cousin K is a gem. Being a local guardian has never been so easy and he’s done more for us in the last 2 years than we have for him.

The little boy is quiet and pale, his head entirely bandaged up like a cap. He put up a fight when they gave him a shot in the head before they could stitch it up. Cousin K quietly tells me he’s never seen so much blood and was close to throwing up. The OA and I  exchange glances – it was more than most college boys would do for strangers. I offer to send them dinner, keep their elder son for the night, send them lunch, anything else they need. But for the grace of God, that could have been my child, both had been downstairs on their new cycles too, cycling around with them.

And it is for reasons like this that neither she nor I can go back to full-time work.  Not right now at any rate. Because of the maid who burnt my 7 month old son. The burn scar is fading as his stomach goes from round baby tummy to a flat, little man belly. But I carry the scars in my heart and they will stay a lifetime along with the stretchmarks and the cesarean scar.  I’ll never forgive myself that 45 minute grocery run and trusting someone else with a piece of my life. Because my child will never mean as much to anyone else as he does to me. No one else will peel their eyes and watch out for him as he turns the corner on the bike and skids. No one else will notice him shiver as he passes the AC. No one else knows the difference between him being sleepy and angry. Which is not to say that no harm will come to him on my watch, but to say that I’d rather be the person on watch than anyone else.

I wonder what my maid would have done if it were one of mine who had been hurt so badly and I draw a blank. She’s uneducated, cannot dial my number and so I have it on redial  – but she’d not be able to get someone else to make that call down in the park. After a particularly bad delivery herself, she’s lost full use of one arm and walks with a limp. But she’s  gentle and kind and loves the kids. None of those qualities are of any use in an emergency.

I recall a post some years ago when I’d poked gentle fun at the kids who wear helmets when they cycle. We all learnt to cycle without helmets. And we all fell and got scraped and bruised. But it’s not everyday that I am in my home and can be called immediately. Like this – on my way to the railway station or to office for my weekly meetings or out for an interview or a shoot. I am not always available. And it is this that makes the huge difference.

When we were kids, Mama was always home and help was within earshot. Today no one has time for anyone else, parents are at work and neighbours won’t bother unless they see blood seeping out from below your door. Even if my maid could dial, I’d probably be two hours away from home. Two hours too late to be of any earthly use to my child.

At my last job, I’d blanch each time my home number flashed on my mobile screen. Sometimes it was a simple request – Mama, can we watch TV now instead of the night? Mama can we have Maggi? At other times it was worse -He has a fever or, she’s broken out in a rash. But it was all within control. I’d be home in 30 minutes and most days nothing happened in that 1.5 hours between their and my getting home. But from Gurgaon I don’t have the heart to do more than short quick trips out and I am most at peace when I know there is a family member home with the kids.

And the truth is that crash helmets can only protect you on cycles – what about the rest of the day? The OA carries a scar (very Harry Potter-esque) on his forehead from falling down a flight of stairs in school. I look at the mother’s tired face and see that she’s aged in those few hours since her son fell. I know this is one more nail in the coffin of her career. Only a few days ago she spoke to me about how she was wondering if it was too late to go back to work after her ten year break. Only a few days ago she took on a short assignment and was thrilled to be back in the work force.

And then I notice her arms. They’re covered in his blood. Dried blood doesn’t look as scary as angry, red, flowing blood. It looks brown, paint like and deceptively tame. In fact you will never know that it is blood unless you’ve been told it is. And yet it tells a tale if you care to listen. She follows my gaze and shrugs in embarrassment – I haven’t had a chance to wash up yet. I nod in understanding. It’s an image I’m not going to forget in a hurry. I mentally write off the call I got in the morning, again checking on whether I was interested in a certain job – a rather tempting offer. And I tell myself that maybe it is time I finally learnt to drive.

45 thoughts on “A close shave

  1. *shivers* Just so glad the child’s home, safe and getting better – i hope. lost for words… scary…

  2. I totally identify with this. For nearly 2 1/2 years after my second one was born, I stayed home to take care of the kids. It was frustrating at times, but I had the satisfaction of being near the kids when they wanted me. Now, I started work and I can already see the difference. I mean, my in-laws and parents (they stay very close by) dote on the kids and are extremely cautious when letting them play and all that, but I already miss raising them my way. Sometimes I just feel that I should chcuk it all and just go back to being a stay-at-home-Mom. Especially yesterday, after the Parent-teacher-meeting at the school, when my husband observed that my firstborn had the advantage of my companionship when he started school – for almost 3 years, while my daughter does not. When he said that, it was like somebody was turning a knife in my stomach.
    How is the child now? Hope he is doing fine.

  3. Pls pls do learn to drive. This coming from someone who ditched driving after banging the new car against the gate!

    But now that I have my son, I really feel the need to know to drive. I dont like that I have to depend on the public transport when my son is sick. I am surely gona go back to driving. *ahem*.

    And hope the kid is better now. How we wish we were living in the old days. We did not get so hurt when we fell of the bicycle, may be because the roads were of mud. The concrete roads these days are not “human friendly”

  4. There is no guarantee that a SAHM child will always be safe. We lived in an apartment complex where the SAHM was feeding her child dinner and she went inside to fetch some more rice for the child asking the maid to take care of the child who was enjoying the view from the balcony. By the time she came back. she saw her three year old with a smashed skull four floors below. Then there are full time working moms in the US who see their kids for less than two hours a day and have nannies handle the parenting bit and these kids turn out safe, sound and having fun all the time. There is no foolproof way to completely ensure nothing happens. You could be at home making lunch and the child at school is always exposed to various dangers. Sorry to sound fatalistic but what will happen will happen. We can only ensure they are in a safe environment, with safe people and trust in God for their safety. Do your best, leave the rest to HIM.

    • 1. Let’s not turn this into a debate on who can keep a child safer.
      2. I don’t know any parents who believe that others will keep a better eye on their kids. But we have to make our choices and live with them.
      3. Definitely no fool proof way for us to ensure that kids are safe at all times as I already pointed out.
      4. The US is very different to India and the way a daycare is equipped to handle a child’s injuries is very different from the way an uneducated maid from a tribal region and no experience.

  5. there is a lot that I would like to write but I wont. However, will certainly urge you to learn driving. I believe that the skill is a must and darn important. I realised it when I was able to help my neighbor last year. At that moment the horrors of “driving past midnight” did not hit me even once. I was glad I could be of help to an old couple – the man needed immediate medical assistance.
    The freedom,ease and confidence in driving at any time of the day came in useful more recently for my brother who stays alone in gurgaon. He was deeply disturbed (dont want to use the word depressed here) after our grandmother passed away in December. He was runing high fever, mumbling all stupid stuff about death and was very emotional. One call from him and I was there with him in 40 min flat.Thank god it was a sunday and lesser traffic at the toll than week days at 10pm.

    I know I am rambling here…but the point I am trying to make is that its important that we know how to drive. Not only for times such as mentioned above but also for regular days.

  6. What do I say to this post MM? I go to work leaving my 2yr old with a maid and there is never a single day that I dont feel guilty. Everytime I see the home number flashing on my screen, my heart starts beating faster. Sometimes when I see that my maid is not very cheerful, I dont know if I can still take the risk and go to office. We are planning to install a camera at home(we can view it on our mobiles and pc) but it is impossible to cover each and every section.

    I keep wondering if there would be any scars(mentally)…I am not always there for him to give a comfort hug when he gets up from his afternoon nap, neither am I aware of his each and every act. But then, I get assured from friends who say its completely fine as they themselves had working moms.
    My husband has a very stressful job and I want mine to be a backup, incase he cant handle pressure anymore. I want to give him that flexibility…but at the end of the day, we always wonder if we are doing the right thing or not…sigh.

    • We all react differently to the same thing. My husband is an I-banker and very stressed out. It’s the reason I work from home so that we don’t end up being two stressed out full time working adults coming home to further household chores, homework, sick kids.. the usual. It’s just not worth the stress.

  7. hugs! to the mom and you!
    i was nodding away as i read : Because my child will never mean as much to anyone else as he does to me. so true, and i guess thats why when i am away, a part of me is uneasy. lesser so now when they are older. but now the concerns are different. not physical harm, but what they could be watching on tv/playing on the comp/are they safe w/ cousins (i know i must be crazy.. but u read so much about child abuse that it screws ur logic).
    my son turned 13 and he is “paavam” when i compare him w/ others of his age. did i protect him too much? but one look in his big brown eyes and i want him to stay that way. siggghhh i wont be there for him forever. how does one teach such trusting kids to be safe, stand up for themselves??? when do we know that we can claim back that piece of our mind…?
    sorry this is garbled, i meandered!
    feel free to keep this offline!

  8. Fuck Fuck Fuck… this has to be your best post…

    And yes.. there are poeple who make sacrifices… I can easily get 20% more than what I earn if I start going to NewYork city.. but that’d mean 3 hours of commute and extra working hours…. for past 10 years (ever since my son was born) I have sticked to the same company where I hardly have any growth potential… but .. I am only 35 miutes away from my kids (be it home or school)… and God knows… how it has helped me. I am thankfull to the company also.. for allowing me to leave work without a notice… but then I try my best to compensate by working extra hours and not asking for time off.

    P.S.: somehow blood does not bother me.. my kids have had their share of bleeding.. wify, despite from a medical background, always goes nuts in these situations… but for me what bothers me or hurts me is the pain… I keep on looking at kid’s eye and try to see if he/she is having pain.. if they are.. then that is what kills me.

    P.S. 2: I also have a scar on my forehead… when I falled from an under construction house’s stairs… my mother still feels guilty… despite the fact that this happened 36 years ago

  9. But isn’t this something that could happen to a kid anywhere? Can we really be there all the time to keep a watch? Even if we were 30 min away – a really bad accident could mean that those 30min were critical right?

    Helmets on cyclists – I’ve been reading of enough deaths of cyclists to be paranoid. I am not sure I am even satisfied with the cycle helmets they sell here. Doesn’t seem adequate! Limbs that break can be fused/bolted. But a head injury is so so scary!

    • Sure – but it depends on who your child is with during those 30 minutes. Here in India our kids are with maids. I don’t think I am comfortable with that for such young children as mine. I don’t blame the maids – they do the best they can. It’s just not good enough for me.

  10. Hi MM,

    I agree that children really remind you of the fragility of life. It makes you think more about how important they are and also how important you are-without you, what would they do?

    I am with you in giving the gift of time spent with kids outside school time. Whilst maids and relatives are often fantastic at looking after kids, a mother always knows best and at least there is no one else to blame when the inevitable blood is spilt!

    It is funny how much we wrap up our kids in cottonwool these days. I recently posted on resilience but we do have to remember to let them live a little. In my days, running around fields and climbing trees was the norm, now being taken to soccer, dance or another activity or simply running around the garden is often as far as the kids stray.

    Is this the same in India or do you still let the kids run around in the streets and have the freedom of the neighbourhood? For me it is the rose tinted spectacles that come out when I think of my childhood.

    Do you look back at the goodold days or embrace the present?

    I am putting my post link- it is funny that it sends me to your junk email!! Please keep fishing me out!!! Your old blog didn’t do that!!


    • Yes. You said it, as did Chox. I’d rather be the one to blame for the blood spilt than murder some careless maid for it. Nothing is the same in India. We don’t run around on the streets and play hide and seek across 8 houses anymore. Neither do we let our kids cycle around without an adult in charge 😦

      PS: You don’t need to put your blog link because it’s already in your name. Anyone who clicks on the link will be lead back to you.

  11. Oh my god how awful 😦 I hope both that little boy and his mum feel better soon. And I couldn’t agree with you more. I would much rather be the one on the watch with my child, rather than entrusting it to a maid. Have seen too many careless maids around to be able to leave Nikki alone with one.

    • Exactly. It’s because I am home, watching maids eat the kid’s sandwich, yelling at them for something, carelessly leaving them in the swimming pool and going off to talk on their mobile phones – that I am in a constant state of terror.

  12. If any one knows me, they know how paranoid I am about things like this. I would make deals with God when I was younger to keep my mom well just incase she was 1/2 late. Then later it became my husband! So you can imagine how it is with the little one!
    The only thing that has calmed me and given me the courage to go back to work is knowing that my husband is 5 mins away from home. One of the reasons why we haven’t bought a house yet! I hope the boy is doing well now. God protect him.

  13. please do learn to drive. in this era thats the best thing u could do for family. after hestitating for long time two months back i started driving now i can take my kids for extra classes and park. please do learn to drive.

    *and MM prayers thats the only solace we have.

    • No, no! that is the one thing I refuse to do. Become a mom on wheels driving kids to endless classes. If I do learn to drive – and that is a BIG IF – then it will be for emergencies.

  14. Thank heavens the boy is OK. And thank heavens your kids were safe. It is all too scary. On June 17, KG’s birthday – she had to go and get hurt – just an hour before the cake cutting I had planned. Will post about it. She is OK now – but it is a heart ache each time. Work or not – these things will happen – nothing you can do to prevent/protect them beyond a point. The other day one kid pushed another kid from the top of the slide – thank God someone was there to catch the child mid way and buffer the fall. Things like that…

  15. I work and everytime I see my home number flash on my cell phone, my heart skips a beat. Mostly its my son asking for “permission” for something. And sometimes just fun. But this is one call that I have to pick even in the most imp meetings.

  16. hi mm sorry to hear abt the accident. can imagine how terrifying it will be for the mother.thank god nothing serious resulted.
    but dont think it shld be connected to the decision of being SAHM. these kind of accidents can happen to anyone anytime n we cant protect our kids 24*7 neither we can be more prepared to face consequences if we stay back home. yes it’s imp tht atleast one parent shld working within 15-20 mts of travelling distance fr home but other than that i wont advocate being a SAHM once babies reach an age where they can communicate. u know it often happens compromises on one’s financial independence do not get rewarded in the manner u would expect fr the same family for whom such compromises were made. may b am cynical but ur earning capacity safeguards ur interests n gets u respect in the long run from all quarters.

    • It is definitely connected with my decision – I cannot speak for others. Physical and mental safety is a huge fear. And I am constantly on guard. I had a maid who kept telling the brat that a crow would take him away if he didn’t eat his meals. And this while I was in the house. Thankfully I was around to hear it and sack her.

      I honestly don’t believe respect comes from money earned. It would be a sad day if I supported that. There are plenty of older people in our homes who don’t work – do we not respect them? What about all those who grew up with SAHMs? Don’t they respect their mothers? Respect comes for the person you are, not for what you earn. I know too many high income women who are victims of domestic abuse and too many maids who are earning and getting beaten up by their husbands to agree with that, I am afraid.

      Earning a living is not equal to earning respect. Unless you mean buying your place in society or your home, which again, i don’t agree with.

      • Unless one has a family backup system, it is tough to go to fulltime work 40 km away from home and be cool about it esp when a maid is looking after the kid. One is lucky if they have grandparents or own folks looking after kids. Some people actually make a sacrifice and a compromise of a different kind – to stay in the same city as their parents or inlaws and stay close by (and be prepared to commute) or give up on promotions to other cities where they have to rely on maids – to be able to work fulltime and still have a safe place to keep their kids. Somewhere someone’s gotta give.

        • Totally. i know people who live with inlaws, kids are taken care of, they have a great career and they whine about it. and all i can think is, dude, you have no idea how grateful you should be that your kids are with people who love them because they are their own.

  17. Very touching post. It is the hardest thing to do… leaving your child in the care of anyone else. Ever since I returned to work, I’ve been see-sawing between pride at having returned to the workforce and massive sadness at not being able to spend time with my son. In fact, guilt can be overcome, but the sadness lingers on… and in times of an accident like the one you’ve described, I shudder to think what impact it could have on a mother’s phyche. May the kid recover well… and soon.

  18. Hi,
    I hope the kid is doing better now and wish him speedy recovery. However I do want to object to the statement you have made in your blog about “And it is for reasons like this that neither she nor I can go back to full-time work. Not right now at any rate”. It reads to me (disclaimer here , reads to me maybe not your intension) that mothers who goto work are somehow ok or have made peace that we are ok with kids getting hurt or we dont care. I dont understand the connection here of being working (I mean going out to earn money) or stay at home mom would make in this situation. To your own admission your kid got a burn mark when you had gone out for grocery or the fact that when you received a call you it would have taken quite sometime for you to reach home. I work and my daughter goes to a creche which is 5 mins (I mean 5 mins from my parking lot to her playarea…yes I timed it) so I am always available for her, my team and manager are quite understanding and no one will stop me incase of emergency.
    I am just a little disturbed by the statement you have made about not going back to work because that way you are saying that you will somehow not be available incase of emergency and I totally disagree with you at this point.Working or Stay At home mom, accidents can happen anywhere, anytime ..the question is how good is your support system and how fast can you reach you child incase of emergency.Sometime even 5 mins are not good enough……
    It breaks my heart everyday when I leave my daughter in the creche and she cries but I rather let me child see me for 5 hours in which I am happy and content rather than see me the full day grumpy and sad. Yes, I need to work to be happy because that gives me a sense of achievement and to someone else being stay at home mom might give that happiness.Each one of us is different and need to take our own decision of working after having a kid/taking a break/not working and I think its unfair to justify one own’s decision of working/not working assuming that somehow now we are better that the one’s who have taken the other path.
    Just my thoughts…..

    • No, not my intention – entirely your own reading as you’ve said! I speak for myself and what colours my choices and decisions. I have no idea who you are or what your compulsions and pressures in life are so I cannot speak for you. Ideally all of us would like to work and earn pots of money and accolades. I have no idea what is bothering you because I see no reason why on my own blog I should not talk about what guides MY choices. Surely one has a right to talk about what they choose to do and why. I have not said I am better than you. Maybe you need to sit back and think through what is bothering you – you probably have the better answer to it. I only said I understand why THAT mother and I have made the choices we have. And how this particular incident has only bolstered my choice.

      For example, as I said, my choices are coloured by the fact that my child got burnt in someone else’s care and so I will never again leave my children with strangers for extended periods of time until they are old enough to take care of themselves. The point in this case being that I was close enough to not just come home soon but also administer medication since the maid herself hid it from me.

      No, there is no guarantee that kids won’t get hurt in school but schools are prepared for emergencies with lists of allergies, family doctors, and first aid kits. Unless I’m preparing to shell out half my salary for some nurse to take care of my kids, that is not happening.

      If you’ve found a creche that suits you and a team that is understanding then you are obviously at peace with your choices. If I left my kids, I would not be at peace with that choice because I don’t trust a daycare or anyone else. I already mentioned that I did go to work when it was 30 minutes away because I had excellent support in those days. I don’t anymore and I cannot make my peace with anything less than the best. Particularly since even when I had that ‘best’ I was still rather panicky.

      I don’t see what you have to be disturbed about because you’re agreeing with me – the support needs to be good and you need to be close. I have crappy support and if I worked from my publication’s main office I’d be too far from the kids for my peace of mind. I don’t think you noticed, but we’re in agreement!

      Also, the point of the post was the sheer terror. That’s all. Let’s not lose that and take umbrage by pulling a single line out and reading what we want to.

  19. Unless you have a very strong and reliable (even in case of emergencies) support system it is scary – could be young and willing grandparents coupled with a help to do the running around. Or a very good quality daycare that has trained staff to deal with this kind of stuff.

    But agree with all of what you say MM – me, I’d rather make the goofs myself.

  20. Hey MM, the bike helmet thing? Guess we are all a product of our experiences because I never let my kids on a bike without their helmets – one of my class mates died when he was 14 from falling down on the wrong side of the street and having a truck run over his head. His mom visited the school and couldn’t tell the kids enough number of times to always wear a helmet from then on as that would have possibly saved him.
    As for the rest of the post, oh yeah, when I saw the pictures from the Japan earthquake, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the kids were in one place and me in another and husband in yet another. Scary especially if it takes a good half hour to get to your kids on even a good day.

  21. Very very scary! I hope the little boy recuperates really really soon. Totally with u on what u r saying. Just a little slip can prove to be such a big one at times. 😦

  22. God this is so awful and so very scary, not to mention how fraught with worry the parent will be if not present with the child. You also tend to imagine the worst when your baby is sick or hurt and hearing it from someone else is the most distressing thing. So glad to know that the boy is better.

  23. Jee! Glad to hear that the mother and son are doing better. U know that void , empty feeling? That’s what this post left me with. It added to the confusion of what is right and wrong…and well, if there is a right or wrong. How much is too much? And How much is too less?

    And I see many commenters getting defensive about SAHM Vs Working-moms. Seems like you have addressed this debate endlessly in ur blog and from reading all that u’ve written about it as well as thinking for myself…I think each has their pros n cons. Not sure why people take every line u write as if u were saying it to them. I guess they don’t u’stand that your simply thinking aloud/ talking to yourself….atleast in this post.

    On a diff note : Can’t wait for you to be back and sure ur vacation stories! Hope your having fun.

    • Thank you. I was. I was just thinking aloud that this is one more reason to keep me pinned to the house. You need to see something like this with your own eyes for it to change you forever.

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