Monday, November 8, 2010


Over the weekend I finally got the chance to see the movie Babies, which follows the first year of life of one baby in each of four countries – Namibia, Mongolia, Japan and the U.S.

Most surprising to me was the Mongolian mother who squirted breast milk across her child’s face in order to wash it. It wasn’t surprising that the Namibian and Mongolian mothers
didn’t use diapers, and the Japanese and American parents did. But I was surprised and admittedly, a bit grossed out, by the Namibian mother wiping her son’s poopy butt along her knee, then scraping it off with a corn cob. It was interesting to see the noticeably greater
involvement of the father in Japan and the U.S., as well as the (over)emphasis on stimulation in those countries. It was also interesting to see that despite the risks some of the kids encountered – flies, drinking untreated water, poor hygienic conditions, being potentially stepped on by a cow or goat, they all grew into seemingly happy toddlers. As I flinched at the potential safety or health risks, I tried to keep in mind the positive benefits of bacteria, independence
and strength.

I identified most with the Mongolian family. Having spent time in the region and slept in many yurts (the one in the movie seemed exceptionally clean to me) I could feel the life the child was living as he grew up. I knew exactly what it felt like to sit within the darkness of the yurt and look out at the bright mountains and steppe, illuminated by the sun, as the sounds of livestock and cocks create a symphony nearby. The baby’s personality, so calm and happy and able
to find interest in whatever surrounded him – from a herd of cattle to a bucket of water to a cock jumping onto his bed – reminded me of River’s. And there is something about the landscape that calls to me. I had a strong urge to grab River and jump on an airplane and go live
on the steppe for a while. I think there is something in that landscape that is a part of me. And I feel it would speak to River as well. Mark thinks it’s due to my influence, but when River sees
interesting lands and places, in books or in videos, he asks if he can go there with me.

“Quiero ir alli, mama,” he says. He has asked to go to Iceland, to Namibia, to a remote cave in South America, to Egypt and to Mexico. I always tell him yes, we’ll try to make it.

If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth watching. I’m planning to rent it and watch it together with River. He is very interested in babies right now. I think he’d enjoy seeing the different lives babies lead. I imagine it would stimulate a lot of discussion about what is happening to each baby and why. In the course of that discussion, I could teach him that various cultures have different ways of raising babies and one is not necessarily any better than another. I want to inculcate in him a desire to learn from other cultures and not just limit his imitations to his neighbors or classmates.

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