Sunday, May 11, 2014

Responsible parenting

This is my column today, May 11, 2014.



Allow me, first, a little digression.
The maiden is supposed to be very shy, she rarely shows herself in her full glory.  I’ve been coming to Legaspi City for many years for business and some pleasure, and I can count with my fingers the actual number of times that I have seen Magayon fully—with nary a wisp of cloud to obstruct the view.  But last Friday morning seemed like one of those mornings when the Gods woke up in a really good mood and everything was all right with the world.  The whole of Bicolandia was cloudless and Magayon, or Mount Mayon as most people refer to the volcano, seemed like she was silently showing off her full splendour.  And what a breathtaking, majestic sight she was.
Perhaps because Magayon was always shrouded in clouds in my past visits, I didn’t realise then just how pervasive her presence in Legaspi really is.  One could actually see and feel her imposing presence wherever one was in the city.  As we drove to the airport, I felt like she was a powerful presence that played hovered over us.  We would drive through a section of the city with medium rise buildings that would hide her from sight, but we’d turn a corner... and there she would be again, looming before us.  It was also the first time that I appreciated the location of the Legaspi airport; the waiting lounge has a good view of the perfect cone.  In other airports, ground crew would shepherd arriving passengers quickly to the arrival area as soon as they got out of the plane, purportedly for safety reasons.  In Legaspi, it seems the crew have learned their efforts would be futile on days when Magayon was showing off—passengers inevitably turned around and marvelled at the volcano, most of them whipping out cameras and having their pictures taken right there and then at the tarmac, under the punishing heat of the sun, but with one of the world’s majestic views behind them.
I was at the Legaspi airport early for my flight back to Manila last Friday so I was able to get a first row seat at the departure lounge, with an unobstructed view of the tarmac, the runway, and Mayon Volcano.  The TV set was on, of course, and it was showing some travel show that featured the volcano.  Many people were more engrossed on the TV set, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the subject of the show was actually already before them for their appreciation.  
Unfortunately, I was in a very public place, and in this country that means being held captive by all kinds of bizarre, amusing, and sometimes aggravating circumstances caused by others.  In this particular morning, it was courtesy of two kids, obviously siblings who must have been 3 and 4.  They were running around the lounge, squealing and bumping into luggage and people as if the whole place were their personal playpen.  Of course they were just being kids and I am sure there were people who found their behavior quite endearing, the way I did in the first two minutes.  But when they started crashing into my hand-carried baggage which contained my laptop, I started to give them a disapproving look.  The kids moved to an area which had two of those glass-encased scale models of some resort being developed in Legaspi.  In other places, these scale models would be on tables at least three feet high from the ground so mature people can get to appreciate them without stooping down, but at the Legaspi airport, the scale models were barely a foot from the ground.  The two kids started leaning, hugging, and then climbing on the glass-encased tables and my mind started to see imminent disaster.  The glass could shatter and harm the kids so I stood up and told the kids to stay away.  What do you know, the mother of the kids came forward and gave me one of those withering looks as if I just maltreated her kids instead of saving them from an accident that was just waiting to happen.
Incidents like this are quite common in public places such as churches, malls, restaurants, department stores, and groceries.  There are just too many parents out there who do not seem to understand the responsibilities involved in bringing their children to public places.  They allow their children to run around in church even during the consecration and do not even take them out when they start bawling due to hunger, discomfort, or just being scared of being exposed to too many people.  There was an incident in a mall recently where a child broke a glass barrier and fell down several floors below.  Many parents even allow their children to play in escalators or elevators as if these were rollercoasters.  I can understand a hapless parent unable to pacify a child who is screaming inside an airplane – it’s one of those situations where the options are very limited and in those situations, I choose to fully empathize, although I honestly think parents should be prepare for such eventualities and bring on board the stuff that would pacify a child.  But I cannot help but judge parents who allow their kids to run amuck in churches, restaurants, and lounges.
That being said, I do think that there is still space for some empathy when kids are just being kids such as when they fidget, or be extra inquisitive or curious as to ask too many questions that can distract others, or whimper, or even cry a little.  I think everyone understands that disciplining or rearing a child to behave appropriately in public is a process that takes time and practice.  The requirement, however, is that parents must be sensitive to others.  And this means, being prepared, being vigilant, and always being willing to respect other people’s spaces even within communal or public areas.

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