“Mama, wait! Car! No cross the road”
She pointed to the footpath and tugged at my hand. She wanted me step back and wait behind the line. The driver of the car waved at us to go ahead.
“It’s okay baby, the car is not moving. We can cross the road”
“Mama, you have to wait. Car. No cross the road”
So, I waved back to the driver and said, “She is waiting for you to leave. Go on.”
“Okay baby, car’s gone. No car, cross the road. Let’s go”
Yesterday that worked. Today, she pointed at a motorbike and said,
“Motorbike. You have to wait”
“No baby, the motorbike is going to go that way. The motorbike is waiting at the traffic lights. We can go”
“No mama! Motorbike. You have to wait”
So we waited. We waited for all the cars and bikes on the road to clear up at the next green light. Then we crossed the road. I walked as quickly as I could, while holding her hand, before the lights turn red and traffic came to a halt again!
Soon after she started walking, we had found ourselves in a situation. With the ability to walk came a freedom that meant she could decide which way she wanted to go. It was time to lay down some rules and we weren’t even sure how much she would understand. We started with “No kai (hand), no walk” for holding our hand and “No shoes, no walk” so she wouldn’t take off her shoes.
It wasn’t as simple as that. She didn’t stop at crossroads and didn’t know the concept of looking out for vehicles before crossing a road. Unsure whether she would understand but trying to explain anyway, I told her that she couldn’t just walk across the road. I came up with a simple equation for her to remember.
“No car, cross the road”
We repeated this every time we arrived at a crossroad. I wasn’t really sure how much she understood at the time but she stopped. If she took a step, I repeated it and she waited.
“You have to wait. No car, cross the road“.
Then I updated the mantra, to clarify things further.
“No car, cross the road. Car, no cross the road”
Initially she would just repeat after me. Soon, she she had learnt how to cross roads. Sometimes her dad would begin to cross the road but she would see a car, still a fair distance away.
“Dada, you have to wait! Car!”, she would call him back
“No car, cross the road. Car, no cross the road”, I explained to him.
I was very proud of her for learning it so well. She taught her dolls at home and the dogs on the street (during our India holidays). At times, we waited for a car that I knew would take a turn before it reached us or it was quite a distance away. That was alright. I’d feared that it would be hard to teach her that it wasn’t just cars but all traffic we had to wait for. As it turns out, it wasn’t. I only had to mention once that it was also buses, bikes and cycles we wait for. She got it. Just like that!
That was 6 months ago. Now she walks all the way from the train station back home. When she started being able to walk the whole route, I was faced with having to teach her how traffic lights worked. I couldn’t change the no-car mantra for that would confuse her. How do you tell a child that it was okay to cross the road even when there were cars on the road, some moving and some stopped? How do you tell her without changing the original rule which, by the way, still holds true?
“Red light. Button. You have to wait”
“Green light, cross the road. Car has to wait”
It took us a few attempts but 2 weeks later, we are doing very well. We hit the button and wait at traffic lights. We can cross the roads even when there are cars, if the pedestrian light is green because it’s the car’s turn to wait.
The biggest obstacle we’re facing now is explaining the concept of parked cars on either side of the road. There’s no green light and there are cars on the road, so we can’t cross. A couple of days ago, we waited nearly 20 minutes. When I ran out of patience, I picked her up and crossed the road. She was kicking and screaming all the way across the road. I am yet to come up with a simple line to explain the concept of parked cars to her. It is a bit trickier than the other rules as these parked cars sometimes also move and we have to keep our eyes out for that. Any ideas?
Who knew that crossing a road was so complicated?