A Cultural Divide
A Cultural Divide
The other day, we were eating lunch at a restaurant with friends and Jackson was his usual high energy self, discontent to sit still for more than 5 minute increments. So, Trav and I took turns, as we typically do, eating and playing with Jackson. He’s high maintenance, everyone who knows him would agree. He loves to crawl at lightening speed and hold your fingers and walk faster than it would seem possible, given his tiny legs. At one point, our friend, Klever, leaned over and said “everyone here thinks you are a little strange.” As if that’s some revolutionary thought;) Seriously though, he told us that babies Jackson’s age in Peru are not active like he is, something that we had also noted. Most people here are shocked to see him move the way he does. We have noticed that babies here are very late to develop gross motor skills, and at Jackson’s age, are not very interactive at all. Klever pointed out that most are just sleeping, eating, and content to watch the world from inside their moms’ slings (if you will). He said people do not interact with their babies like we “gringos” do, and their babies are not demanding of attention the way our baby is. He also added that people find it odd that Travis shares my responsibility in caring for our baby. They had never seen a man change a baby’s diaper, feed a baby, or even spend much time holding a baby…so of course they probably think Travis is a total freak for WEARING his baby (yes, he has 2 different patterned Hotslings, in addition to our hiking pack that holds Jax).
The way we (Americans) rear our babies versus the way most Peruvians in Cusco do has made us think and discuss a lot lately. There are so many things I think our culture has wrong, and one of those is the obsession with pushing our kids to do everything early, fixating on where our child is developmentally compared to his peers, and creating very rigid guidelines with finite goals our children should meet at ages x, y, and z. Certainly there is a place for screening and identifying abnormalities early so that interventions can be made. But I’m talking about things like throwing our kids in the pool at 5 months old so they figure out how to swim at that age. Sure, maybe it’s a safety thing in some instances, but that’s a popular course in Colorado, and not very many people have pools or live near the water out there! Or being in a hurry to feed our kid solids because some moronic pediatricians are encouraging breastfeeding moms to start solids younger than 6 months (which already seems too early to me). Or being disappointed that your kid doesn’t crawl at 6 months old. Most of us fall into these traps to some degree, but it’s a cultural thing. No one here gives a crap or thinks your kid is superior if they can talk at 10 months, walk at 9, or crawl at 6. It’s just not important. But babies here are so attached to their moms. They are with them 24 hours a day. They co-sleep, breastfeed, spend every hour of the day inside their mom’s sling, and this goes on well into toddlerhood.
On the flip-side, they are not interacted with much at all in the first 2 years. Of course breastfeeding is interactive, but I mean in a verbal or playful sort of way. Kids are not given Baby Einstein toys to stimulate their minds, or taught to be monkeys (ie: “How big is Jackson? So big”). I can step back and see that we do so many dumb things to help promote brain development, like over rely on toys, stick our kids in exersaucers, bouncy chairs, swings, in front of the TV and interactive games, and other crap that really just allows us to be lazy in our parenting. We plug our kids into things with voices so that we end up having to do less interacting and less teaching. Nicki had a GREAT post on this topic. That said, I do think there’s something to stimulating our babies’ cognition and encouraging them to interact with the world early on. And 0-12months is an important time for brain development, for sure. There are better ways to promote that than the ways toy companies and television encourage us to, and I think in the US we overvalue independence and over encourage independent play. The hard part is achieving a balance - the perfect mix of Quechua parenting style meshed with the way we Americans typically do it. Attachment + independence + brain development + play = perfect.
Not for the Squeamish!
I know this is liking telling people not to slow down to gawk at the train wreck, but I’m warning those of you who do not like potty topics to avoid reading this post. And if you just can’t help yourself, but feel disgusted at the end nonetheless, I apologize ahead of time…
Well, I am no longer afraid of ANYTHING. I pretty much experienced my worst nightmare the other day. We ate lunch with a group of friends at a seriously locals’ restaurant, then went to the most crowded locals’ street market I’ve ever seen. Then, all-of-a-sudden, I became faintly ill, began sweating profusely, got the chills and goosebumps, and had to face my worst fear…dun dun dun…a 3rd world “toilet” with explosive diarrhea. Yup, I got my treinte centamos worth from that bathroom. I gave ‘em fifty centamos and told ‘em to keep the change - they might’ve needed it to keep the janitor from quitting. Let me just tell you how not fun it is to hover over a hole in the floor, with flies swarming, clutching 1 very transparent shred of a napkin, understanding why the wall behind the hole is the only non-white one in the stall. Thank God that’s over, for now anyway.
I stood there, bent at the knees, pants rolled as high as they go, thinking to myself “well, at least this’ll make a great blog post,” and realized that somewhere along the way, in the last 6 months away from medicine, I have made the miraculous comeback to optimism. Ahh, my estranged friend whom I haven’t known since my 1st year of medical school. I was, however, in no mindset to capture the scene of the crime, and realize that somethings in life are better left to the imagination. Just know that your imagination could NEVER in a million years do my nightmare justice.