OK Trekker is sitting in front of the TV. This is not something I planned for my almost 2 year old but he is watching a Dominican station called “Baby TV” which seems to have a never-ending stream of engaging animations with teletubby-esque feel mixed into scenes of real animals in the wild and butterflies emerging from cocoons and such. There are songs and dialogues in Spanish and it all seems fairly educational. He is sits there while I blog I allow this because my parents allowed it yesterday and it kept him busy. TV is not something I ever intended to sit my child in front of (except as a last resort on airplanes), nor was the giant basket full of toys we’ve acquired (mostly as a result of christmas with the grandparents) something I intended to posses or rely on. But somehow I’ve let these things creep into our lives and I suspect they are scheming to take over.
Many years ago, before I became a mother, I attended a concert in the Sahara desert in Mali, about 2 hours north of Timbiktu. The concert was hosted by the Tuaregs, a nomadic people who travel by camel across the desert and who for millennium have gathered annually at this same event to share news and music. One day I was standing in a tightly packed crowd watching a dance performance when I looked down and saw a baby attached to the back of the lady not one millimeter in front of me. I gasped. This was a very dangerous place for a baby to be, I thought. As the youngest of my siblings, I had had limited exposure to babies. The only ones I remember seeing were usually dressed in clean white nightgowns, sleeping peacefully in protected cribs with the lights turned down, soft music playing, and everyone around them was always being told to shush. My first thought at seeing this baby hanging off the back of this woman at this loud, crowded desert festival was that it was highly neglected. The mother looked at me strangely as did everyone else as I pushed against the crowd backwards to create a little space around the baby.
The image of that baby stuck with me for years but changed its meaning over time. I had become exposed to more women in Africa that carried babies on their backs everywhere and had begun to see the scenario as possibly more natural than the way we do it over here in the Western World.
Just a couple of years ago when I was pregnant, a friend lent me a book called The Continuum Concept written by a sociologist who lived with, and studied, the baby rearing techniques of the Yequana people in South America. The author concluded that optimum physical, emotional, and mental health results from babies who are in constant physical contact with a primary care-giver yet are NOT the center of that caregiver’s world. Basically her findings showed that the attach-the-baby-to-your-back-and-go-about-your-business approach yields much better results than the previous Western scenario I had envisioned as correct. Having become nomadic myself by the time I was pregnant it came as a relief to learn that I may not need to furnish my world with strollers, cribs and other cumbersome objects.
The Yaquana technique, also known by the wider western world as “attachment parenting”, seemed to have worked out well for us. I carried Trekker everywhere for the 1st 6 months, we co-slept and nursed, and I generally went about my business while he grew as a happy, healthy baby. By the time he was 6 months and already 28 pounds we took over an abandoned stroller we’d found on the street in Brooklyn, but I still carried him tons and continue to nurse and co-sleep even now. That said, now Trekker is nearly 2 and the “terrible twos” are possibly approaching. He has learned how to say “I want” and the toys have started to pile up and weigh us down. I have found myself relying on these toys and now even on a television. I have even used the toy bribery tactic.
A few years back I built a rooftop garden at a special little arts and music school for under-resourced kids near Varanasi India. Day in and day out I was struck by how simple and pure the children’s lives seemed to be. They had such limited resources but were so happy just playing and singing and seemed to really appreciate every meal and every opportunity to learn. They meditated daily and practiced yoga. They could sit in meditation for 20 minutes straight without even a blink- At 5,6,7,8,9, and 10 years old! They had almost zero toys, and certainly no video games, AND I NEVER ONCE HEARD A WHINE. I vowed that I would someday have a child and raise it at Wichi school or somewhere like it. While poverty does equate with a lack of representation and often a lack of access to basic resources, there is something positive to say for not being spoilt.
But the fact is- I am a freewheeling western woman and single mom. And while I AM comfortable using squatter toilets and/or composting toilets, and with hauling water, and/or with otherwise living completely outdoors, I DON’T want to live in a culture where women are continuously repressed (as they are in India) nor where pretending I have a husband might be necessary for the purpose of respect or safety. While traditional societies may have their merit, but they are not for me. I want to live somewhere where I can blast “dancing in heaven” out the window and dance my head off with my toddler then 5 minutes later sing Indian classical scales and meditate without stirring much interest. I want to live in a society where if my little boy wants to run around naked or wear a pink tutu everyday it just won’t be a problem for anyone.
So how do I reconcile this desire for my kid to be raised like the grateful children in the Indian village with my other desire to live in a liberal walking city surrounded by artists and progressives?
Maybe we will stumble upon a place that embodies all of these possibilities during our travels. The big adventure has already begun, we head to Lisbon tonight.