On a spectrum of paranoia and disregard, I’d like to think our approach to safety teeters somewhere in the middle. Sandeep started fatherhood with immense paranoia and I was irresponsibly carefree, but we’ve managed to meet each other somewhere in between. Our New York home had child locks on kitchen cabinets and finger guards on doors. We didn’t go all out with the toilet seat locks and oven knob protectors, but we did have electric socket guards on about a third of our outlets.
The most debated decision we had when packing for our trip was about car seats. In New York we wouldn’t think about getting into a car without making sure the kids were appropriately straight-jacketed into them. However, the last thing we wanted to do was schlep two bulky car seats around the world. In the end, we left home without car seats. We figured that we’d be taking tuk tuks and cabs in Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia and wouldn’t need them before our arrival in India.
During our first month of travel, we felt like paranoid Western parents. We only took tuk tuks when both of us could sandwich the kids. We didn’t take taxis without seat belts. We made sure the strap was always on the stroller. I can’t pin point if it was practicality or a casual traveler’s mindset that caused us to relax our requirements. A couple of weeks into Chiang Mai, I was taking the kids alone on tuk tuks – Kayan on my lap and Ava tucked under an arm. We jumped into cabs without regard for safety measures. The stroller, on the rare occasion we used it, was more like a musical chair that Ava and Kayan bounced on and off freely.
So, what’s happening in India? We thought we would use car seats for the kids since we are spending a lot of time in our parents’ private cars. Both sets of parents tried to convince us otherwise, saying that we don’t “need” car seats here. It may not the law, but we reasoned that the chaotic Indian traffic makes a stronger case for car seats. We bought an inflatable booster seat for Ava and coerced my father into buying a car seat for Kayan.
One month into our India travels, the booster seat sits warmly in its original wrapping and the car seat is gathering dust in Goa. One reason we haven’t used them is practicality. We often drive in one sedan, and between the driver and the extended family, there is no room for car seats. Also, with bumpy roads, windy hills and stop-and-go traffic, one kid is always getting sick. It’s much easier to deal with the consequences free of a car seat’s grasp. On our eight-hour 170 mile drive to Kodaikanal, we went through 19 plastic bags and two changes of clothing each. Practicality may be a justifiable reason, but a more honest reflection is that both Sandeep and I have adjusted our outlook on safety.
The concept of safety is vastly different around the world and, for better or worse, we’re adjusting to local norms. In New York, parents strap helmets onto kids riding kick scooters. These toys are about two inches off the ground, and powered by people about three feet tall. Yet in India, kids (and many adults) don’t even wear helmets on motorbikes.
Some kids are tucked between their parents, and some mothers attempt to protect heads with a free hand.
Three months ago we never would have thought our kids would be bouncing around in the back seats of Indian cars. The likely truth is that any of the parents in the above pictures care about their kids as much as we care about ours. But when there are no laws dictating safety, people default to the practical route. Despite the seeming chaos on Indian roads, at speeds of 20 miles and hour we’re not in any greater danger of getting into an accident here than we would be at the back seat of a taxi in New York, where we don’t use car seats.
There is a balance between safety and adjusting. We’re still trying to figure out how to safely adjust.