anthropology, babies, babywearing, child rearing, culture, ethnopediatrics, feminism, modernity, motherhood, mothers, nature, parenting, simplicity, society, village life
In my heart and bones, there is a village.
The smells of wood smoke and cooking fill the air as a new day begins. The women of the village join each other in the morning sun and start their work, all the while breastfeeding, chatting, laughing, arguing. Their children play around them as they grind grain, weave baskets, and stretch leather. They chat about their work, the weather, their men, their children. They gossip and scold and sing as their breasts swing and sway to the rhythm of their toils.
The one thing they don’t talk about, however, is how to parent their children. They don’t discuss the pros and cons of breast vs bottle feeding. They don’t fret over co-sleeping or how to stimulate their children’s cognitive development. They don’t dicker over methods of discipline, or the latest research on child psychology, because here in this place, they do as they have always done.
We have children. We raise them. We bring them up to share our values. When a child misbehaves away from his mother, his aunt or his grandmother or his neighbour will step in, because the rules are the same for everyone.
Parenting, here, is just an organic part of what is.
Here, women don’t wonder how to divide themselves between their roles as parents and their roles as members of the community. There is no need to choose between motherhood and productivity. Your children go with you, because they are a part of you. Motherhood is not a sideline, or an interruption of one’s career. Nor does motherhood define you. Motherhood is blessed, and womanly. Motherhood is life.
The village is filled with helping hands who will hold your baby, teach your toddler, and chide your cheeky child. There are no play groups: just step outside and your child’s siblings, cousins, and friends will go running by. There are no “Mommy and Me” classes. Every woman is a mother, here.
In the village, children are valuable resources, not expenditures. There are no diapers to buy, no bottles to fill. There are no strollers, no toys, no music lessons, no college funds. Children cost next to nothing, and they can herd the cattle, sweep the hut, and watch the younger children. When they are grown, they will provide for their ageing parents. Children are a retirement fund. Children are gifts, never burdens, even as they ride on your back, or hang on your hip, or lag behind and try to snare your shadow with stomping feet.
Here, babies curl into their mother’s bodies at night, nursing as needed all night long. Sleeping through the night is not discussed or thought of. If he wakes in the night, you can sleep longer, or go to bed earlier, because here there are no alarm clocks. In fact, there are no clocks at all.
…Now, I know, intellectually, that this village comes with a price. There is no medicine, no clean water, and no birth control beyond breastfeeding. There is sometimes famine and hardship, and often babies die. There are no books, no movies, no video games. There is no take-out for when you are too tired to cook. There is no warm bath to soak in after a long day. There is no room for people who are different.
I believe in medicine for the sick and that everyone has the right to clean water. I am grateful for antibiotics, and epidurals, and sterile suture stitches. I revel in science, and children’s literature, and Nanaimo bars and diet Pepsi. I believe in women’s rights, and children’s rights, and marriage for homosexuals. I believe transsexuals deserve sex reassignment surgery, and that religion is a personal matter that has no place in government policy. I believe in multiculturalism, and social programs, and anything starring Hugh Laurie or Colin Firth.
But my bones believe in more ancient things. They don’t understand about science, or social freedoms, or new episodes of Glee. I am controlled by genes that evolved over hundreds of thousands of years; antibiotics and astronomy and A.A. Milne are but tiny blips in the time line of my ancestry, and my DNA knows them not.
I believe in vaccinating my baby, and baby-proofing my house. I read him books and give him toys that beep and dress him in cute outfits. I will put him in daycare and go back to work when he is a year old. I own a crib, and a stroller, but neither of them gets much use. I prefer to carry him on my hip in a wrap, and I fall asleep with his head pillowed on my breast in the middle of the night. I don’t want to leave him with a stranger. I want him by my side.
My brain is at odds with my body. I know I am fortunate to have clean water, and low infant mortality rates, and electricity and indoor plumbing and chocolate. I know that day care and milk pumps and traffic jams are a small price to pay for a life of such immeasurable luxury.
But my heart and bones remember a village, and that part of me will always be homesick for somewhere I have never been.