An Emotional Response

In the last week, an awful story has been in the Australian news about a little boy left on a mini bus in Cairns for a whole day.  He died.

I find the story so heart-wrenchingly awful that I can’t actually read a whole article about it without feeling sick.  So my facts are sketchy.  My basic understanding is that the bus picks the kids up and takes them to pre-school.  On this particular day, somehow they managed to offload the bus at the preschool without offloading this one kid.

So first of all, how horrible for every single person involved.  There is no hero in this story.  There is only grief and regret and pain and guilt and death.  And always remembering and wishing something different had happened.  I can’t express my absolute pity and grief for all those people strongly enough.

I have lots of questions about how it happened, how there were no head counts all day, how nobody ever missed this kid.

But I think the real question is; when did we start putting three year olds on buses?

What troubles me about our society is the rate of change.  I am terrified of blaming or offending any single person because I don’t think any single person or their decisions are responsible for what troubles me.

Let me take a non-child-related example.  Okay, say a dam is built in a country to supply water to a town.  There are benefits.  The town gets a reliable water source.  There might be a nice swimming hole above the dam for hot summer days.  But there are side effects.  An area of wilderness is drowned.  Downstream, the river is smaller and has less flow.  It effects the wildlife, the insects, the sediment movement, etc.  These days, we are better at understanding all these effects, many of which are initially invisible to anybody except the scientists who carefully monitor it all.  But my point is: that ability of scientists to predict and the realisation that monitoring is important; it’s accumulated knowledge.  We made mistakes and we learned that ecosystems are important and, down the track, will have an impact on human comfort and security for lots of reasons we didn’t foresee 200 years ago.

Another more recent example is the internet.  The internet is fabulous in many ways.  It allows for international communication.  It shares information.  It allows small businesses to thrive in a way they never could before.  But policy can’t keep up with the rapid growth of possibilities and alongside all the positives we have cyber bullying and targeted misinformation and grooming of young people by sexual predators.

Humans are not good at seeing into the future.  We try really hard.  We test drugs.  We test food.  We do feasibility studies.  But generally speaking, there are things that happen which take us entirely by surprise.  And sometimes things evolve without any real controlling body to monitor how it evolves and to judge the effects of new inputs.

Over the centuries, humans have kept having children, obviously. And over the centuries the role of parents has significantly altered, as have the expectations on the children.  Maybe I am stupid to worry about change, given the history.  Maybe change has always been as rapid and as revolutionary as it feels today.

These days (in western society) it is normal to have parents who look totally different to each other.  It is normal to have parents with different philosophical/religious upbringings.  It is becoming normal to have only one (physically present) parent.  Or two parents who are the same sex.  It is normal to have two parents who both work full time.

In a sense, by normal, I mean acceptable.  But I want to use the word normal because I whole-heartedly agree with these norms.  I agree with the rights of gay people to have children. Why shouldn’t they?  I agree that if somebody wants to have a child SO much that they are willing to jump through horrible medical/legal hoops to get one, then they might well be the most excellent parents possible.  I agree that two people who love each other should be allowed to get married, even if they are from different races/religions/cultures.  I agree that men and women should have equal rights to work and to earn equal salaries in equal jobs.  Of course I do.  I’m a woman.  Why would I not?

But in a sense, all these changes are not yet normal.  They are new and evolving.  Our generation of parents is really the first to deal with this tension between family and work responsibilities on such a massive scale.  Our generation is the first to try out same-sex marriages with offspring.   Our generation is the first to try out Mums or Dads doing it alone, completely voluntarily, with the help of science.

I believe that all these new kinds of family units are struggling along as best they can in this changing world.  And the changing world is trying to adapt to meet the new needs.  Language changes.  Child care methods change.  Schools change.  Everything is mutating.

What I think we don’t really know for sure is what effect will it all have on the next generation?  How are the kids of today coping and what will happen tomorrow?

And I think the poor kid on the bus is a symptom of this rapid change.  I don’t think any single person was responsible for what happened on that awful day.  Just like no single person or screw is usually responsible for a plane crash.  It’s a group of circumstances that culminate unforeseeably and horribly into this catastrophic outcome with two well-intentioned citizens facing possible jail time, a child dead, and two parents absolutely bereft.

An older kid would not get left on a bus.  He would yell before they shut the door.  He would be ready and standing the moment the bus stopped.  He would know the drill.

A more evolved pre-school system would not forget to count heads, would check the seats before exiting the bus, would notice a child is absent who they picked up earlier that day.  They would know the drill.

But right now there isn’t a drill to know.  We are evolving.  We are changing our society to meet the needs of our changing society.  The wheel is spinning so fast, we aren’t as in control as we think we are.

Nobody knows when it became okay for three year olds to catch a bus to school.  The wheel spun and it just did.



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