I have been following this exciting new blog by a mom who does a lot of outdoor play with her son and has some great tips for places to visit in the Bay area. I have already been inspired to visit the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate park while the cherry blossoms are in season (which I have not yet done, as I want to wake up early to make the free first hour between 9 – 10 am on Mo, We and Fr, but that still has not occurred), also have found out about letter-boxing (that is looking for clues hidden everywhere), which sounds like a great adventure to take Oliver one, considering his birthday treasure hunt success (he still wants to look for clues in the Sutro park). So, here is the link to the blog. Enjoy!
The full title of the book is “Our Babies, Ourselves. How Biology and Culture shape the way we parent” by Meredith F. Small, Anchor Books, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland, 1998
I have to return this book to the public library today, which explains why I am braving a second book review in less than two days. That this book is available from the publick library here in the US, points to the fact that it is a kind of “science” (both social and biological) book written for popular audiences. And it has been quite well received too.
Written by a biological anthropologist Meredith Small who teaches at Cornell University and is interested in the way biology intersect with culture, “Our Babies, Ourselves” is about the way evolution has shaped human infant and parent relationship, but also about the part culture plays in it. Dr. Small introduces in her book the new field of Ethnopediatrics, which aims to understand child rearing as a cross-cultural and constantly evolving practice.
Essentially, the premise of the book is that human infants developed the skills necessary for survival because their large brains that got their present shape about 50 thousand years ago were too big to fit into the pelvises squeezed when human ancestors developed bipedalism 4 million years ago, so they had to finish developing outside the womb, rendering the new-born fairly helpless in comparison with other animals. Dr. Small then goes into the different cultural responses to this phenomena, starting with cultures that still practice hunter-gatherer life-style such as !Kung San of Botswana, Africa and Ache of Paraguay, South America to different “industrialized” societies such as Japan and the USA.
Dr. Small shows that every culture has its ideal of a “smart, well-functioning” child, that grows from historic, social and political roots. Moreover, she provides great examples of how these ideas are among the least questioned in the particular society, accepted by those with children and without. She also goes on to argue that some of the aspects of the “Western” parenting style (such as separate bedrooms for newborns and being left for a long time in car-seats, baby bouncers or similar places, that are not in a close proximity to the adult, and even sleeping through the night) are contrary to the way infants were designed by evolution.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to parents and non-parents alike, but I most certainly recommend it to the medical professionals, who work with children and their parents.
While I am still in the process of writing about my postpartum doula training (and it is coming along), I have to tell about a more recent experience. Since Oliver is going to be four in February, we have to start looking into schools for him. A NOTE FOR MY LATVIAN READERS: For reasons that would take too long to analyze (but I am guessing have a lot to do with the fact that the pre-school education is getting more and more learning oriented thus more like school), most parents in the US refer to the place where their children (as young as two years old sometimes) go as school. In any case, we feel that he will be ready for some kind of supervised regular social and creative involvement with other children next fall, and have started to research it, as the process in the US resembles that of a college application. There are forms to be filled, kids get interviewed, tested and both. And some even take preparation classes to do better on the assessment tests. It is wild…. And you can probably kind of guess where I would stand on all this.
My line has always been – I grew up in a public school, in fact, most schools are still public in Latvia, and got pretty good education (my grandmother did have to use her chemistry teaching connections to get me into a non-neighborhood school though) and if parents are involved in their kids educational journey, one does not have to pay almost 20 thousand USD per year to ensure that their kid would be educated. And it is probably true, if they are lucky to meet inspirational teachers along the way. The problem is, however, that I don’t want my children just to be educated. I want them to enjoy learning as a creative process. Something that was probably lacking in my schooling years (I did grow up under communism, you know). So…. This is where Waldorf comes in.
There is a public school in Latvia operating on Waldorfian principles, and there are pre-schools (we call all education before first grade kindergarten, but that could be confusing for American parents) that operate on these principles (private and public). My sister who has a five year old daughter and I have discussed the benefits and drawbacks of this education, because she knows a fair number of young adults who have completed it. So, I was familiar with the practice if not so much with the principles. But it would have never entered my mind to even think of sending Oliver to the one in San Francisco, as the kindergarten tuition for next year is $ 18,300 (gasp, gasp)!!! So how come I did attend their open house this Saturday? Which btw was an event in itself as my father-in-law babysat our 15 months old daughter on his own for the first time and they did very sweetly together.
That’s where the doula connection comes into play. Out of the 17 women participating at the postpartum doula training two weeks ago, two mothers had their children in Waldorf school. That is a considerable number, considering that about 1/2 of the women did not have school-age children. And they were the ones who encouraged me to look into the school, even though there is no way we can afford it. They assured me that if I loved the philosophy, there would be a way to do it, because there is tuition assistance. So, that’s how we ended up at the open house this weekend, which took 3 hours to complete, and during which I participating in playing a pumpkin, sat in a 6th grade classroom and listened about the stories they hear each year, had tasty home-made snacks and talked to the parents and graduates. It was very inspirational. Money aside it would be a great school for Oliver, but money is not the only factor. Once a Waldorf kid, it would be hard to transition into something else (not impossible, as one of the women I talked to had her daughter transfer out in the 3rd grade for personal reasons and it went very well), and to think of eventually committing two children to that kind of education expenses!!!
Oliver stayed at the childcare, while the parents played pumpkins and drank tea. He enjoyed it. And I learned one good lesson. In our backyard, there won’t be any tree-house built by the adults. We will provide our children with materials and they will build their house themselves … over and over again….