Thursday, January 9, 2014

Into the Night

 It is better to be proactive then reactive. This is a good motto to have in any endeavor, especially parenting, and, as a father, I constantly strive to anticipate my children’s needs. But this isn’t always possible, and many times I am reactive parenting instead of proactive parenting.

Most recently, I came home from work and was greeted by the news that Sam couldn’t participate in recess that day because he didn’t have any tennis shoes. He had outgrown all of his other sneakers, and we were still waiting on a new pair of shoes Elise had ordered from the States; Sam had been wearing flip flops to school.

Sam and Peter’s days are much longer and much more exhausting now that they are back in school. The school bus picks up Sam at 7:30, and he isn’t home until 4:30. That would be a long day for me, and I am not six. The past couple evenings, he is already bathed and in his pajamas by the time I get home, shortly after five, with only dinner and brushing teeth between Sam and bed.

But the night I was informed he missed recess, despite the fact that he was all ready for bed, he and I went on a mission to find him a new pair of shoes.

So, Sam changed out of his pajamas, and we left the house in search of an auto. In the States, it would be easy to just run to the mall or Target. That option, too, is available in Chennai, but we don’t yet have a car, and the mall is far. Fortunately, Google had pointed me to both an Adidas and a Nike store in our neighborhood.

In Chennai, unlike in the States, many brands have their own stores. Whereas in the States, you would find a Foot Locker in the mall with all different brands of sneakers, in the mall in Chennai, there is an Adidas store, a Nike store, a Reebok store, and a New Balance store.

I called both the Adidas store and the Nike store before we left the house to make sure they sold children’s shoes. Nike did not, but Adidas did.

We quickly found an auto and went sputtering off into the night, car and scooter horns bleating all around us. We zoomed down T.T.K. Road, past the Nike store, but never saw the Adidas store. After we had puttered about a mile in the wrong direction, I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket and checked Google. We had past the Adidas store. I wasn’t sure how that was possible, but I asked the tuk-tuk driver to turn around, nonetheless.

He pulled a 180 into a tidal wave of oncoming headlights—and I saw Sam’s head as a poofy-topped silhouette in a blinding light like I was looking at an oncoming train—and we were soon zipping back down T.T.K. Road, only now in the opposite direction. I kept one eye on Sam to ensure that he didn’t go tumbling out of the auto and one eye on my iPhone map and watched the pulsating blue dot that indicated our position sneak up on our destination.

I looked up, but there was no Adidas store. I did see a Reebok store and asked the auto driver to swing around. He kindly did so, and Sam and I piled out.

Four eager, mustached, young attendants in tight t-shirts and blue jeans measured Sam’s foot and put socks on his flip-flopped feet. He tried on a pair that he liked and did a couple of test laps around the store in between the cricket bats. We bought them, and left the store, climbing back into our waiting auto, mission accomplished.

The drive home was short. Sam was tired. He yawned mightily, and leaned his head on my shoulder.

“What do you think?” I asked him. “Do you like India?”

He nodded.

“What’s your favorite part?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“Do you like school?”

He nodded emphatically.

“We have a nice house, huh?” I suggested. “It’s nice being so close to the playground and swimming pool.”

I took his silence to be assent.

On New Year’s Day, Elise and I walked a mile with the kids to Sangeetha Fastfoods for a brunch of idlis and vada. We hailed a tuk-tuk to take us home. The five of us were piled into the back of the auto and we blew through the streets, the dirt and grime and wind dusting our smiles. Everyone’s hair blew and everyone laughed, and it struck me that after India, there was nothing these children would not be able to do, and, if we continue to live overseas, there is nothing that they will be afraid to do…except maybe stay still.

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