Thoughts on Fate and Parenting

Two stories made headlines this week, one is the horrific crash of Spanair JK5022 from Madrid Barachas to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. The other was the alleged ‘satanic’ killing of a 16-year pupil in a Krugersdorp school. Both incidents came up today during our play group class.

Aviation tragedies were always a source of horror for me. I am a nervous flier at the best of times, and working as a Weight-and-Balance agent for a major European airliner made the admiration and dread of this mode of transport even greater. When you work with these machines you realize that they have tremendous tolerance to human and material faults. The news stories say that the Spanair MD-82 jet had a technical issue with some temperature gauge, which brought it back from a takeoff attempt, yet this fault by itself is not enough to bring the airliner down. Seasoned pilots say that a complete failure of one engine cannot by itself bring the aircraft down, and there are measures to deal with engine fire during takeoff. However, something did happen on that aircraft and the scary thought is that while a major fault like an engine failure cannot by itself cause a crash, sometimes a combination of many minor technical faults and errors do lead to tragedy. 153 people died in the inferno of the doomed plane, among them two infants, and only 19 survived, three of the survivors were children.

There are heart-wrenching survivor stories. A fireman speaks of a boy who thought he was in a movie, and wanted the filming to be over so that he can be with his dad. There was an injured mother who asked rescue workers to pull out her 11-year daughter first. The mother did not make it to the hospital, but the daughter survived along with her father. There was a woman who walked out of the crash and phoned her brother from a fireman’s cell phone; she escaped unscathed from hell. When tragedy hits, who dies and who survives ? there is no logic or mathematics to the outcome. Fate, in this case is the most convincing and comforting answer. It spares people the grief of searching for impossible answers. People who believe tend to accept such calamity. If your loved one died in the crash it is a source of comfort to be able to accept that it was perhaps their time to go. And if you were one of the survivors, the knowledge that “it simply wasn’t your time” is a sufficient explanation and an absolution from guilt towards those who weren’t as lucky. Faith is a great comfort, and it is worth nurturing, even in these jaded and pragmatic times.

Faith is perhaps what will eventually help the parents involved in the South African school killing tragedy. An 18-year-old boy arrived to school on Monday with a samurai sword, which he used to kill another young boy of 16 during school assembly. The perpetrator went on to injure three other people. The killing embodies the nightmare of mothers all over the world. How do you protect your child from evil ? and if you can protect them and prevent them from wielding the sword, will you ever be able to prevent them from getting slain by it?
The discussion went on between the mothers in my moms and tots class, it is not always easy to understand what is going on in the minds of young people. The parents of the alleged attacker came out and spoke about his psychological problems, that he listened to darker heavy-metal music and became involved in Satanism. There were debates on the radio on who is to blame for this tragedy; is it the parents ? the music ? the internet with its unbarred access to all types of information, cults and quirks ? Can parents really stop a child with psychological problems from turning into a psychopath ?

There are no easy answers. The world has become a very small village, and if you want to protect your child from what you consider to be negative influences you have to keep them locked at home, away from television, internet, school and even next door neighbors; it is an impossible task. Mothers of older children in my play group complained about their children’s obsession with collecting monster figures and wondered whether the appreciation of such grotesque toys would twist their sensibilities and judgement. I can think back to many different fads that came and went. A decade ago there were the Tazos, and when we were young there were also pictures of monsters and silly cartoons that we collected from the boxes of cream cheese, or in the wrappers of bubble gum. Most of the cartoons and pictures did not make sense, but the thrill was the collection in itself, and there will always be something like that to catch children’s attention. My parents did not encourage obsession with these silly collections, but they tolerated it, and in time the novelty wore off and died, and we moved on to the next fad. I think I will do the same thing with my own child.

It is however important to keep a finger on the pulse, and be involved in your child’s interests, if possible. As long as these interests are aired out and expressed in the open, they do not get the chance to turn into spores of evil. A parent has also to strike a balance between firm prohibition and gentle disapproval. Limiting the former to acts and behavior that are truly against healthy moral judgement. I would like to think that when the time comes I would be able to perform such a role in my son’s life, but it is a long process, and I have to earn my credibility as a mother with the passage of time. One day my son’s behavior will be the ultimate measure of my success- or failure. Unless we prescribe to the argument that nature rules over nurture, but that is a subject for another day.

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