Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mom from Africa

I watched the documentary Babies recently. It was very cute, but it made me think a lot about what people really need and what's important.

The baby from San Francisco had the sort of upbringing that most babies in this hemisphere get: attentive, hygienic, and safe, almost excessively so. Actually, when you compared that baby's life to the Namibian baby, you started to realize how resilient babies really are.

The Namibian mother, quite honestly, seemed the happiest. The American, Japanese and Mongolian mothers seemed... less so, particularly the American. I watched as the African baby girl crawled around, got dirty, suckled when she wanted, put everything in her mouth and interacted with her family, generally left to her own devices to explore the world as her mother stayed nearby doing her own thing.

This baby had no toys, no diaper, no bottle, no high chair, no bib, no anything that we have come to consider as necessary. And yet she was constantly smiling, discovering and laughing. This was one happy kid.

Juxtaposed was the Japanese baby being wheeled through toy stores, napping in her stroller, taken to baby sing-a-longs, and absently entertained by distracted parents. The Mongolian baby's life was full of peril, with the free-roaming farm life and a jealous older brother, but his story was incredible. Overly coddled, this kid is not. The American baby literally tried to escape the pretentious Earth mother group singalong her father was trying to make her do. Made me wonder how how many real experiences kids miss out on in Western culture when their parents are trying to orchestrate all aspects of their lives.

I love the concept of keeping things simple. I really do. The idea of parenthood quite literally used to creep the hell out of me. Why? Because it all looked so damn complicated. From giving birth in this traumatic hospital setting with needles and bags and IVs (The American birth scene compared to the Namibian birth scene was intense) to all the shit everyone thinks they need and the "must-haves" and the so-called experts all promoting their one perfect way to rear children, it all looks like such a weary beginning filled with anxiety and materialism that it's a wonder anyone wants to bother.

Same with weddings, for that matter. Even without useless favours that no one keeps, flowers that wilt, 5 bridesmaids and a $2,000 dress with a wedding to the tune of $40,000, you're still just as married as anyone else who got it done on the cheap.

But back to parenting, it gave me a lot of thought of all the things I don't want to be part of my life should I mother children:

- A hospital birth
- Logo paraphernalia (Think Disney or other over-priced commercialized things)
- Toys which require batteries
- More than a small selection of toys at any given time
- Mega-sized stroller
- Sing-a-longs
- Hand sanitizer

Everyone goes on and on about how hard it is to parent. I don't doubt it. But I also think parents do a lot of it to themselves, by ignoring their own instincts and listening to parenting fads, by over-stimulating their kids at all times instead of letting them play on their own, by over-scheduling their children, by over-sanitizing their children.

If all these things were so necessary for good childhood development, our species would have died out a long time ago. I don't want to live just like the Namibian mother (for example, I'd want more bathing and I'd use diapers and there would be some toys), but seeing her take more joy in her children, when the more affluent mothers seemed more tired and over worked, it made me think about what being a mother is actually about, or really, what it's not about. It's not about the stuff.

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