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‘The times they are a-changing’, sang Bob Dylan in 1964, and youngsters of that generation sang along with him. It was easy to sing with Dylan and not feel terribly inferior because it’s widely acknowledged that he mightn’t have the greatest singing voice. But when it comes to writing like Dylan ... that’s another matter altogether.

That song, however, was far-seeing. Although the lyrics may have been directed at politicians and challenged conservative social constructs, in the field of technology change was rife, too. We went swiftly from vinyl, record changers and large radios to transistors, audio cassettes, the Walkman and the compact disc — all in the blink of an eye. And to even consider where we are now, in the post-CD era, all in less than half an eye-blink, it’s mind boggling. Change is inevitable, but it’s the pace of change that leaves one staggered. However, as Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders sings in Hymn to Her, some things change, some stay the same. And that is true of toddlers. All of them, over the centuries, still go through the same developmental phases. That is, once toddlers find their feet they can’t wait to demonstrate how adept they are at covering distance. This usually involves moving further and further away from their parents. The other thing that hasn’t changed: The tired parent, exhausted from watching over said toddler.

As much as we love our children, sometimes we are just momentarily-relieved to hand the vigilance over to someone else, a sister, a brother, uncle, aunt; and take our eyes off the little tearaway who insists on giving everybody the runaround.

And so, there I am seated at my favourite spot in the corner of the cafe sipping coffee flavoured with almond milk because it’s the latest health recommendation, but also because it sits more comfortably on my lactose intolerant tummy. I am trying to read Kunal Nayyar’s (from the Big Bang Theory) book, Yes, My Accent is Real. But try doing that with a toddler running rings around the tables, chairs and pillars. The four adults who’ve entered the cafe (with the toddler) have evidently come for a bit of a break and, while about it, a caffeine hit. The three young girls, the toddler’s older sisters maybe, ranging from ages five to eight, are taking turns minding the child.

De facto babysitter

But everyone knows how it is with collective minding: Everybody thinks the others are the main minders so they can let their attention wander. Plus, their coffees and milkshakes arrive so they all suddenly have something else to concentrate on.

It is in this way that I, a total stranger, become the de facto babysitter, if you will. Also, I’m thinking that’s exactly what I’d be doing if I was the child’s age — a Freudian longing, I know, for turning back the impossible clock! Anyhow, seeing as I cannot concentrate on Kunal’s badminton prowess in Delhi before he became a US TV star, I watch the toddler with detached amusement.

And with a toddler’s instinct, he sees the door open — the door opening onto a small pavement that leads to a reasonably busy street with cars and buses, and he sets off for it, heading out with little bounding skips. By the time I alert the cappuccino-soaked parents, and the dad does a Usain Bolt out of the door, he’s not in time to stop the child running across the road. Fortunately, not a car is in sight. The toddler sees his dad, stops dead and smiles as if to ask, ‘You joining me, too?’ What also hasn’t changed, I think, is how grateful parents can be when a total stranger steps into their midst and helps avert what may have been a decidedly grievous situation.

Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.