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Kids’ birthday parties always seem so bittersweet. Most parents will tell you that children’s different stages seem to go by in a flash, but perhaps because I didn’t have kids until I was in my thirties, I feel very conscious of that. A birthday party for these young kids is such a brief, golden moment–they’re all running around and playing and hey, everyone has cake on his or her face. And sure someone might be crying, or feel shy or left out, and you can see how things might get more seriously difficult when they’re older, but at this age most problems can be solved with that piece of cake or a game or a hug.
We were at a birthday enjoying our safe, golden bubble yesterday when I was called to the phone at the play center (naturally I couldn’t hear my cell phone). It was the husband letting me know about the accident on the subway here in which 41 people died. He wanted to let me know because the kids and I had been planning to take the metro home, and also, I think, because his mother had been worriedly trying several times to get through on my too quiet phone to check on us.
So I hung up and learned from the man running the play center how his daughter regularly rode the damaged metro line, and I brought back to the other parents the black pin bursting the bubble, and a couple of the other mothers made some quick phone calls. I had a couple of emails checking on us when we got home, and everyone we know seems to be OK, which is obviously the way the odds go, but when these disasters hit you often forget about the odds.
Being abroad, in an unfamiliar culture, away from family or close friends, can make the accidental seem even scarier, and home much farther away at those times. We were mainly foreigners at the party, and some of the mothers whose Spanish isn’t strong were concerned about how even to figure out what was going on in the news.
But not really understanding what’s going on can also insulate Americans abroad; it makes everything seem like a lovely playground, like our birthday party. (Or just like being on spring break, and we know what trouble happens on spring break.)
Being ignorant, though, can also have the opposite effect, with unfamiliarity making you paranoid. Read the State Department’s warnings on different countries and you’ll definitely lean toward paranoid.
After 9/11, traveling seemed a lot scarier to many Americans, at least for a while. Trips abroad declined, even though the attacks were at home. Valencia’s accident was just that, not a terrorist attack, which was a first question for Spaniards and foreigners (particularly given the 2004 Madrid train bombings). Accidents, by definition, can happen anywhere, but paranoia abroad can make you worry about safety oversight and hospital systems and everything else that you wouldn’t even question at home. And children add an extra layer of worry to situations.
So where do you cross the line from prudence to paranoia? Giving another glance before you cross a London street (no, no, look the other way) is probably prudent; avoiding a Western European subway system simply because you don’t know it would probably be paranoid. When you travel internationally, you have to, again by definition, move out of your comfort level and approach the unfamiliar to learn anything new. (Though that need not be the purpose of travel.)
And yet, logic and odds and approaching the new might have to wait, until Valencia is out of mourning.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:26 PM | Permalink

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