Before the street lights come on

It’s dark and I’m running down the little path, my heart palpitating, my palms clammy, my eyes seeking, seeking. I pass adults on cycles, dog and their walkers, guards slouched over lathis, and then in the distance, floating through the dark I hear two crystal clear voices. Mine, my heart sings out. They are. Mine, that is.

It is the first time I’ve let the kids go to the park alone, no shepherding and chaperoning them. And this doesn’t come easy to a victim of much, much child abuse. In my mind, a predator lurks in every corner. And yet, at 5 and 7 my brother and I were playing hide and seek across 10 houses and two streets. Yes, that was 25 years ago and in another time and place. But my children have a right to that freedom, that independence and that time away from mama.

I spent a couple of days agonising over it. Maybe I should give them a mobile phone so that I can stay in touch, I think to myself. But the very core of me rebels against that idea – either I let them go without that dog’s leash or I continue to guard them. The Β free spirit won and I chose to let them live a little.

The start was inauspicious. They wanted to take their cycles but the OA’s fancy geared cycle was parked in front of theirs and they ended up buried under a pile of metal. I dug them out and threw them out of the house unceremoniously. Only to realise they were still in their flipflops. Get back in and wear your shoes, I called out and disappeared to get them a bottle of water.

I came back to find them gone. Had they worn their sneakers? Wouldn’t they need water? Who would keep an eye on the bottle as they played? Ours is not the safe environment of a high rise. It’s an open but gated community of sorts with many an opportunity for strangers to slip in and out.

I decided to get some work done since they’d gone and sat down in front of my laptop. It was dark when I looked up and my page was still blank. Where were my babies? And then because sunset wasn’t enough, there was a power failure.

I dashed out of the house into the pitch black, leaving the door wide open in case they came back while I was out hunting for them. And then I began to run to the park, gimpy knee forgotten. Which is when I saw the two figures come floating through the darkness. Blurred at the edges, chatting away in the clearest, dearest little voices. What struck me before all else was that they’d managed to come to a consensus as to when it was time to come home and were sweetly and carefully skirting the edges and heading back together.

I called out and they started. Then a squeal of delight and two sweaty, dirty little bodies flung themselves at me. Mama was here and now it was her job to look out for traffic; they could throw caution to the winds. I felt a surge of pride and satisfaction.

So I put all misgivings aside and gave them the line my mother was given before me, and her mother before her, ‘Next time, be home before the street lights come on.’

A generator roared to life and the street lights came on. We walked home hand in hand.

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62 thoughts on “Before the street lights come on

  1. Wow MM, to me that is a big big milestone. So glad that you are in an area where the kids can walk to the park. And kudos to you for encouraging them to do that. First step for them to learn to be a little independent and be aware of the sorroundings.

    And belated Happy Birtday to you……hope you have aother awesome year…..take care of your knee…

    -Bhavani

    • It’s not really the safest area, but you know a little girl got shot in Gurgaon recently. She picked up the guard’s gun and was playing with it at her own front door. So how much can one protect their kids? 😦

  2. Ah such a sweet story πŸ™‚ Reminds me so much of the children of our family friends.. a girl and boy, the exact same ages as yours πŸ™‚ I’d gone for a walk with the girl around their colony in Pune. We were holding hands and playing a skipping game. A car drove by slowly and she immediately dramatically flattened herself against the compound wall and told me to do the same. And then after the car drove past she said, ‘Didi, Mamma has told us to stand against the wall and away from the road when cars come.’
    Love your writing, MM! πŸ™‚

  3. Your writing has immense beauty. It borders on being poetic. It’s like a feather gently floating and caressing your cheek for a little while on its way down.

  4. oh MM! can I trade my knee for your spine? I was going to say, “What lucky children!” and then I thought, “What a lucky mother!”. But then again, faith and trust have nothing to do with luck. So much to learn and unlearn *sigh*

  5. MM, what beautiful writing!!!
    when you write a book, I will be the first one, no no make it one of the first ones to buy it and the book will be there at the top shelf along with my favorite Rebecca!!

  6. Yes… You let them live a little and learn a little too πŸ™‚ and they made you proud!
    This is a huge milestone and am just beg to learn what tough love is… We are trying to sleep train(whatever that means) my son and it’s making me ore tearyeyed than him 😦 imagine what a whimper I would be when I get to where you are(if I ever get there)

  7. This is such a crazy co-incidence. Just today I was thinking that I have read so many posts where you mention you taking the bachas to the park and was wondering how do you manage to do that assuming that the kids would like to go out every single day πŸ™‚ Now I wonder why I was thinking of that! and as happy as I am, is it crazy that I was also a little worried suddenly, I am just an goof on the internet who loves bean and brat because of your blog and if I felt a twinge of worry, I can only imagine as a mother how tough this must have been for you, so brave too πŸ™‚

      • don’t jest MM. it scared me too. obviously I know you are being careful and I often lament the curated lives our children lead compared to me who disappeared for hours until my mom screamed my name from the balcony. But I also got molested at age 5, groped at ages 12-21 and I fear romanticizing this freedom. You are a way more seasoned mom than most of us so apologies for the unsolicited concern but thinking of your babies alone somewhere only scared me – no pride, no satisfaction 😦

        • Yes, GOTB.. no one got molested more than me through the growing years. And I’ve blogged about it often. But how much longer can we let fear guide our lives? We pray to God – so why don’t we put our trust in Him?

  8. You write so beautifully and your kids are so lucky to have such a loving mother. Your post has also reminded me of my childhood. I was brought up in the safe environments of a tiny township in a small town in India and never had to worry about being out and about. In fact, parents were relieved to get the kids out of their hair for good few hours every evening. I hardly remember any evening or weekend spent at home. In the summer, we would all be thrown in the pool (there was a gang of about 20 of us) and in winter we would play all sorts of games under street lights. I can now see what a luxury that was especially in India with lack of public facilities. I feel, growing up, we took so many things for granted not realizing what the rest of the country was like.

  9. It’s a heart-in-mouth feeling isn’t it? I remember when my mum let me walk to school for the first time alone – I had my sister yes, but the the feeling I think from both sides remained. I actually look back and think we were given a lot more space to run around – she is, for some reason, a lot more cautious with my little brother. And he’s 17 haha. Her justification – I had my sis to look our for me, and I her.

  10. ‘Which is when I saw the two figures come floating through the darkness. Blurred at the edges, chatting away in the clearest, dearest little voices’ – imagining this scene makes me go all teary- eyed. Ever since I moved back home, the sister has become such a lazy- ass, expecting me to take care of all the smaller things (fix me dinner, make weekend plans with me, tell me if these shoes go with this dress). Most times, it bugs me, but the other day, she nonchalantly mentioned that now that big sis is here, she can throw caution to the wind because now, it’s my job to watch out for her. I am rambling, but being siblings must rank right up there as one of the most awesome things in the world and the Brat and Bean seem to be doing a fine job of it. God bless your babies and the wonderful bond they share.

  11. It had to happen sooner or later, and I think its awesome they have each other πŸ˜› one to remind the other to get back in before the lights come on..

  12. MM,

    Very well written and kudos to you for letting them go on their own! My son is three years old, and ever since he’s been old enough to enjoy the park, I’ve been taking him to various parks (we’ve moved three cities since he’s been born) Every park that I’ve taken him to, I find that Im one of maybe two or three parents amongst a gaggle of maids, who are supposed to be looking out for the kids they’ve brought to the park, but are too busy catching up on the gossip with each other. That is why Im slowly working up the courage to do what you did, maybe another three years from now….

  13. I’m a litttle wary of sending kids alone to the park. I tried it once with my 8 year old son and 5 year old daughter and the park is just next to our building, but they came back in a hurry because apparently a man was standing next to the playground and taking pictures of my daughter on his cellphone.

    • I know that. That is a risk we live with. Will I guard them against pictures and hamper their childhood? About a year ago we were in Goa and some asshole kept clicking pics of me in the pool, pretending he was taking pics of his son. What does one do? You can stand up to them, but they will show you their kid in the frame and insist that they were taking pics of their kid. One has to get on with the business of living 😦

  14. Your kids will thank you for being brave.

    I think its all a part of the process of *me* growing up every time my kids get that much more independent. They are forever straining to do stuff themselves – it is always me who has to tell her heart to be strong and let go.

  15. Did you take any course in communications? πŸ˜›
    Awesome writing… πŸ™‚
    I can very well imagine you being at crossroads, with your kid’s safety at one side and their freedom to play on their own on the other…
    You did the right thing. Sometimes we just HAVE to stop being overly paranoid.

  16. You are a brave Mom.
    Letting go is very tough… and good thing is that you have started.
    Don’t laught at me, but I go out every 10 minutes, just to check, when the kids are playing outside. I don’t talk or make myself visible in any kind of way… but I do keep an eye on them… and the other kids too. I guess I am stupid… but then I already know that.

  17. I stay in a very protected environment and all the children come out and call for each other in the evening and generally play alone.I let my 2 year old also accompany my 8 yr old.Sometimes I feel whether they will be able to manage and know anything of the world outside the safe confines of our community?

  18. You should do this more often, MM πŸ™‚
    And damn, I feel old when I say that when I was a kid, the streets were a lot safer than now 😦
    this reminds me of a little incident..once me and my little gang were playing hide-and-seek till 10, and our parents got so tensed they went to the police station with our photos, and there were like 3 constables who came to search for us..and as soon as we were found, we were given a good talking-to.. πŸ˜›

    • Post, you mean?
      Sigh. I’d love to. Someone get me some form of househelp so that I have a moment to breathe between work and home 😦

      and haha! Funny story. bet your parents didnt think of it as funny!

  19. This is such a sweet post MM…so nicely portrays how a mother constantly looks out for her children. Children, their sphere of independence expands little by little, they grow up into the individuals they are meant to be, mothers still “look” out for them when they are in faraway lands. Oh my God, how tough it is to be a mother, no? And yet here I am, hoping to have a child someday. πŸ™‚

  20. we still struggle with this-hubby usually is the one watching over them outside while i get dinner organized.
    kudos to you- it really is a tricky balance. we are inundated with horror stories about kidnapping and trafficking. but i am constantly questioning myself-are we holding them back-depriving them of their freedom to explore the world around? are we being overly protective? helicoptering yet again? i have to say, sometimes the line does get blurry!

    • It’s a tough one Suk. I know we have friends around the park. All the kids know each other. most of the mothers take an evening stroll, stop by for a cup of coffee… so you count on someone noticing something going wrong. I could wait another year. Or two. Or three. But I know that every year I’ll wonder if I should have waited another.

      I’ve taught them not to go with strangers, I’ve taught them not to eat food offered by strangers. Is this a guarantee they will be safe? No, even adult women are kidnapped and raped. So I just send them out with a prayer and tell myself there is no use claiming to believe in God if I don’t really believe.

  21. Ohh, i so.. identify with this post, MM. The last 30 seconds, when her bus stops at our gate, and she gets out safely.. they are the most torturous… is she safe, did she sit in the bus or stand and hurt herself, did the bus driver touch her….

    and yet, when she gets down and shouts ‘mama’ with a huge smile.. i move on and do the same the next day ..
    .

  22. Maddy, I was telling R yesterday about this post of yours, and he nonchalantly replied
    “Er, but lot of street lights don’t work so the babies might end up playing for days!!”

    Yes, don’t worry I smacked him alright.

  23. Lovely post! I hear you and completely agree with how you felt. I had a similar experience yesterday…letting my 5 year old daughter go off to spend the day at a friend’s place with another friend of ours who was visiting said friend. Needless to say I kept wondering what she was upto, is she ok, will she come back without a scratch on her body…etc. All this knowing that she was in safe and trusted hands…so your nervousness will be 100 times more than mine I can imagine!

  24. BAH, do you have to twist my lil heart like that, woman? πŸ™‚ I come back ever so often looking for a post and each time you manage to make me want more…

    God bless you and your lil puppies.. πŸ™‚

  25. Another heart-melting post that made my day. And another milestone – Yay! I’m sure the Bean n Brat are going to grow up into beautiful persons just like their Mommy. πŸ™‚

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