Today in our me orientated society; often no one wants the responsibility of another person either young or old. It is all about me and not about you or others. There have been glaring examples of this failure to take responsibility. For example, in our Glen Eira Council area there are several playgrounds that have had the fences removed from around the children’s playgrounds, because the council wants the parents to ‘take responsibility’ for their children. That is not what you and I mean by responsibility.
As a result the playground at Greenmeadows Park was improved and upgraded in some ways and totally impoverished in others. It used to be a playground that young religious mothers could bring children to play and they gain a much needed breathing space. Often these women have four or five children under five years of age (school age) and it was a welcome relief to come to the park and there was a child proof fence around the play area and they could sit and relax secure in the knowledge that their youngsters could not wander into danger. It kept kids confined and safe as well as added to the security of the mothers and fathers who would bring their children down there. Yes, fathers do bring their children to the park to give the mothers a much deserved break. Judaism is not as patriarchal biased as some would have us believe. Men do share in the caring of children and even the housework to support wives.
When I rang the council to find out why the fence had been removed, I was told it was to force parents to take responsibility for their children. I listened to the tirade from this young woman on the other end at the council and asked the all important question – do you have children? She replied in the negative and there you have it. She knew all about parents who ‘did not take responsibility for their kids though’. It was perhaps more than just mean spirited of the council, but rather dictatorial and judgmental of some councilors connected to the town planning to make that decision and to penalize those who have large families in the Glen Eira community.
For that matter, these people do take responsibility for their children’s spiritual, material and physical welfare to a much greater extent than say those who are into alcohol and drugs or overseas holidays rather than their children’s education and welfare. These people do care what sort of adults their children will become. What a chutzpah to say they we believe you are not taking responsibility for your children and you do not deserve a break occasionally and you must watch your child every minute - you cannot have a break. Many kids are easier to manage, but some kids can suck the energy out of you like vacuum pump on full power.
I was at the pool today getting my child to release his endless reserve of energy racing around the pool for a couple of hours and we take a short walk afterwards. I was told that I should not be reading as my child was my responsibility and that lifeguards are not baby sitters. I was quite taken aback as I was catching up on some writing. I knew where my son was in the pool in front of me. There were some other mothers also reading or text messaging but I was the only one spoken to about my child who was indeed not doing anything the other kids were not doing. The comment about the baby sitter irked me. For to be honest, no one has ever imagined that a lifeguard is a baby sitter. If they were, we would all be at home or in a café having coffee or catching up on the cleaning or house work.
Then there was a young girl with cerebral palsy who was struggling up the stairs out of the pool and the lifeguard went to help her. My son had gone over and was watching fearfully because I think he was worried that she was alright. While I watched her struggle, I was admiring of this young woman’s courage. She, with the lifeguard’s assistance, clambered into her motorized wheelchair and motored off. The lifeguard remarked, ’She should really have a carer with her.’ His remark shocked and saddened me. Here was this young girl striving for independence despite her handicap and he was going to have it curtailed. People who may not be so able to move freely as the majority of us, can cope independently so long as the rest of us are sensitive to their needs and are caring and do not make them feel like cripples or condescending when they proffer help. It might be just to offer an arm to support her out of the pool as I did later when she returned to the pool. All this girl needs is for some sensitive aware human being to reach out an arm or hand and help her stand and then be there to steady her as she makes her way to the motorised wheelchair.
Such a young girl who is a sufferer of a condition that makes life very difficult for her as a young person feels different enough already. She cannot do the things that other young people do with the freedom of movement that they have. Why should she have to have a carer hanging around her every minute of the day. Yes, for a few hours it might be necessary to have someone assist with things where it is needed, but this girl looked like she enjoyed being in the pool by herself and feeling halfway to normal. We, those around her can help if we can see that she needs it but she should not have to have a carer if she can manage with minimal assistance.
I watched her face as she luxuriated in the water at the shallow end of the children's pool and I could see such joy and happiness there. She was relaxing. Often people with a physical challenge like cerebral palsy just want to be like everyone else and feel free to just be. The biggest gift we can give them as one human being to another is to allow them to be free to have a little independence. It means you the other person is aware to help them just enough so they don't feel you are patronising and you acknowledge their abilities and humanity. After you, but for the grace of G-D there go you or I. Think about it because we are our brother or sister's keeper whether we like to acknowledge it or not.