Monday, April 20, 2009

Look Right and Baby Gates

I've been meaning to write since I got here about the experience of driving, or in my case, riding in a car here.  Of course the first issue is that the steering where is on the right hand side of the car--I've finally learned that the passenger side is on the left.  And right turns, not left turns, are the ones made against traffic and are by far the most treacherous.  I have a feeling lots of foreign pedestrians have been hurt here by doing our normal, "left, right, left" look before crossing a street.  On many streets, the cross walks have "Look Right" in painted in huge letters on the pavement.  Look right--that's where you'll get run over if you don't--and apparently pedestrians do not have the right of way.  

OK, streets are narrow.  Two way streets are barely wide enough for two cars to pass by each other, and all the cars are small.  No Texas sized pickups in sight.  On most of these narrow two way residential streets, people must also park in the street.  Remember, they are barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other anyway.  Add cars parked on both sides of the street and try to figure out how two way traffic gets by.   Go ahead, see if you can picture this.

What they do is never part right across the street from each other, so cars just weave in and out of parked/unparked/parked areas, stopping periodically to let opposite flowing traffic get through.  It's an amazing dance and requires expert depth perception (which I do not have, and that is why I find this so terrifying).  There is often just inches of clearance, and all drivers keep a hand on their driver side rear view mirror so they can flatten it against their car when necessary.  Despite this, people seem to drive very, very fast around these streets.  Most intersections are roundabouts, and I still have absolutely no idea how anyone figures out who has the right of way.  When I see a stop light, I'm just grateful.  At least there is some order in the intersection.

This has all brought me to questions of safely and self-regulation and just learning to trust that others will work with you.  In Jonathan's and Adriana's house, there is a very steep set of stair steps to the landing where the study is and then a short flight to the actually second story.  They have installed very, very sturdy baby gates at each end of the staircase.  The baby gates themselves are extremely treacherous--we have to step over an iron bar about four inches above the step to which they are attached, and because the stairs have a narrow tread, it also means that the first step up and the first step down are pretty unusable.  

Now, Joshua has no problem navigating up and down--he's lived too long now in multi-story environments to be bothers by this.  But Samuel, "The rocket," who has no fear, will scamper up them quickly and then just as quickly think he can scamper down them--and has already taken one major tumble.  For his sake, either the top or bottom gate is securely fastened (and I do mean securely--it takes an adult two hands to open the gates) depending on where he is.  At no time is he given free access to the stairs. This is rule number one and there are no exceptions.  

So, naturally, in order to keep Samuel safe, the adults must be put in a precarious position, especially when going down because of the location of the iron bar.  I've almost fallen more than once myself.  Personally, I think this is the right thing to do, and it also means that the children can be left alone either upstairs or downstairs for short periods of time without and adult because of the secure gates.  

But I'm even more fully aware that there is no such thing as a fully safe environment.  We have to accept some risk tolerance or no one can ever move again.  The children pretty well can wander indoors or out, especially with me here, but clearly Adriana can't keep her eye on them every moment.  And there are more steps outside, steep ones leading to the upper part of the back garden.  I remember that I used playpens a lot to corral my children when necessary, but that is not part of the mindset for Adriana as a parent, so these children are having to learn a great deal of self-regulation at an early age in order to stay alive.  I'm actually quite impressed with what they do know for such young children and occasionally wonder if we've so over-protected ours in the USA that we've taken all the adventure out of life.  Truth is, unless these children learn a decent tolerance for risk and risk-taking, they'll ever be able to drive a car over here, and that would be a huge loss to them.  

Just my evening musings.  Dinner is nearly ready and the children, I write hopefully, will be heading for bed shortly.  Otherwise, the witching hour will soon begin!

1 comment:

Angie Hammond said...

I remember London when I was there back in 1975.
I also remember the narrowness of the streets.
It is that way in Spain as well. They had a very unique way of dealing with cars blocking the road. If it was a bus, then all of the people on the bus got off and just picked up the car and moved it. Then another time I was on a bus that made a truck back up until he could turn off on another street. Made me glad I was not driving over there.
I guess now you can appreciate North Central Expressway and the High Five in a totally different way!

Good Luck with navigating the Tube!