Bath vs. shower: on cultural differences in bathing

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I just googled “Does your child shower in the evening or night?” I was doing this mostly because I wanted to find out when parents in the US, which is a very shower obsessed (have you seen the tiny tubs here???? they are definitely not meant for a comfortable bath) nation, switch their kids from a bath to a shower, as it is a common knowledge that most newborn babies are bathed and most often in the evening before going to sleep. In fact, it is one of the things baby experts suggest in order for the child to develop a routine. I was also interested in when American kids switch from an evening to  morning bathing/showering. So… please share your experience! When did you or your kids start showering instead of bathing? I am curious…

Now… bathing is a very cultural matter. It is also historically specific, as it was much harder to bathe and wash before the modern advance in technologies that pump and heat up water. That means that what was considered clean or smelly was very different before too. Just read any good medieval novel  (Roberta Gellis, a good historic romance and mystery author, for example) and it will be clear that the sense of smell was very different back then.  Regular bathing is also something taken for granted by the privileged nations such as the Americans or Latvians, privileged by the way that the water is readily available and does not have to be fetched in a big bucket and carried on the head like in some other parts of the world. Washing hair twice a day (or even once a day, with two uses of shampoo which when you think about it hard, is just another marketing strategy of the shampoo selling companies) is most certainly a privilege and btw it makes your skin and hair much more oily in a long run. Children definitely do not need to wash their hair once a day. I don’t have any evidence based research to adhere to, but I can attest that my kids hair (which gets washed very occasionally) does not get oily the way adults (my own… sigh) does. Even my hair did not get that oily when I was pregnant with Aleksandra and swimming in the sea twice a day. But … here it is… oily hair (which in some cultures is even achieved by putting extra oil into the hair) is a sign of poor hygiene and neglect in the modern West.

As a kid,  I grew up in a communal house, where the bathroom was shared by several families. Those who know Soviet history, will know how common this arrangement was. In addition, we had to heat up the wooden stove in order to have our once a weekend big bath (the water of which had to be saved, so that either my mother or grandparents could use it afterwards, which meant that my sister and I had to suffer through a very hot bath without being allowed to open the tap of cold water). We did take a bath a day, often in a plastic tub upstairs in our apartment, in the winter time, the tub was placed so close to the stove handle, that I had to watch out or I would burn my back. Bathing was a lot of work.

My most influential and daily American example, i.e. my husband prefers to take a morning shower. I, on the other hand, cannot imagine going to bed dirty (I need to wash my feet at least).  Not that anyone’s college experience, can be taken for an indication of how things are in life, but I do remember my college roommate and many of my American friends showering in the morning or even more than once a day. As of now,  my kids do bathe/play in the tub together every night. It is more a bed time ritual than anything else.  And as I am currently listening to my husband bossing them around in the tub (they do tend to get violently happy in there sometimes), I am wondering when will they insist on showering or when will they start shampooing their hair every day, all this cultural tidbits that nobody can be immune to …. until they grow up and decide for themselves…. to be or not to be … the one with the oily hair today.

About Plot

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I have a writer’s block. Maybe it is because we are finally doing the touristy things around here (my mom is visiting) and there is an overproduction of experiences which coupled with my newest addiction to a Korean soap opera/TV show called My lovely Sam-soon  is definitely straining my possibilities to write and reflect.

Normally, I do not watch TV, probably because I have an addictive edge when it comes to a good plot (which this show has  btw, it is about a chubby (relatively speaking) woman who is 30 and unmarried in Korea, but has a sparkling personality and bakes cakes for living). I can as well get addicted to a good plot in a book. I just need to know what will happen (which pre-kids meant I could stay reading in my pajamas the whole day, post-kids it sometimes means that they have a very unresponsive mom who is constantly trying to sneak away to her book).

This I learn can be inherited, because my mom reads books the same way. She needs to know what the end will be before she starts reading the book in depth (see – word by word), because how else would you know it is a good book to read? This might seem ludicrous to a lot of people (my husband included), but I am sure there are some people out there, who will understand me (and my mom). I generally do not like to know the end before I start a book or a movie, but it is certainly the plot development that I am interested at first, which is why we both skim books until we know what will happen and them we re-read them. I know people who will never re-read a book, but not I. If there is a good book, I will re-read it many times, as each reading can provide a new insight into it. it is not so with life though, we cannot skip forward to see what the plot development will lead us to, so we just have to go on in good faith that all will work out well at the end.

In this stage of my having been replanted or rather having chosen to be replanted to the Bay area, which I self-assess as the stage when the plants roots are still very shallow and have not reached the necessary depth for any real nutrition but the most superficial, I am very eager to know how the plot of my new life will develop, as I have many doubts and fears with a a huge dose of homesickness (for my life in Latvia) on top. The older I get, the harder I find the process of moving from one place to another. Upon replying to a friends inquest about a possible summer nanny job in the Bay area, i just realized that I have not met almost any other moms here that I can even ask about it. So, if there is anybody out there, who needs a student nanny in July and August from Latvia with plenty of baby-sitting experience, let me know.

But as for the plot of my life, I will for now commit to enjoying the details: the elephant seals we saw yesterday, the oyster’s we ate in Tomales bay with friends and my mom, the famous San Francisco cable car I took after freezing for at least an hour in a line with Oliver, whose eyes lit up on the ride, and my mom… the date we went out with Sherwin to the neighborhood cafe that had live music on a Monday night performed by a jazz trio (of which two of the performers were over 60 years old, distinguished gray men and very good)….. etc. etc…..

 

 

I heart Outer Richmond, SF!!!

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What a neighborhood to stumble into !!! … for me at least, as my husband grew up here, but since he has not lived here for 18 years, it is a discovery for him too. Had his family not owned a house here, I think we would have gone for something more like Park Slope in NYC, a well known stroller central such as Noe Valley. I am so glad, we did not.

It is quiet and gentle. I feel safe when my kids play in the back yard, that opens into an alley. Even on the sunniest weekends, the marvelous Sutro park a few blocks down the road offers a stunning view of the ocean (and the great view of the sunset) and not too many people (and most people there come with a dog, on leash and with poop collecting bags), enough place for a picnic too. It takes 10- 15 minutes to walk down to Ocean beach. Not For Tourists (NTF) Guide to SF, describes the area we live as “residential and mellow, the periphery of this area is home to some of the city’s most regal spots.” (page 79)

There are no (except for a Walgreen where the old neighborhood store used to be) shops anywhere in sight (but thankfully, there are several great ones just across the park on the Sunset side, such as the gentle worker owned “Other avenues” with a lot of bulk options and almost exclusively organic food.) Then there is an old fashioned cinema Balboa Theater, built it 1926 with two movie halls and still operational!!! Can you believe it? We watched “The Artist” there on Monday. And apparently it will be there for at least the next 15 years! I love the Purusha yoga studio too, and I love the proximity of the parks, the bison and even the raccoons who walk around the streets here. And the trail at Land’s End, from which one can see the ocean and have a great walk too. There are some stairs there, so a bit difficult with a stroller.

I attended a birth massage training  (there is a tiny call in the universe for me to be doing birth related douling) this week at Natural Resources (it was great btw)  and met two other women from the Outer Richmond, which was surprising, as I had thought that mostly retired people (both of our neighbors on both sides are the same people, and they already were adults when Sherwin was a kid!!!).  They both love the neighborhood. A  young (er than me) guy whose telephone was snatched away on a Friday night on Geary 38 bus, and who lived around the 30th ave in Richmond, also loved it (which he told me after he got over the loss of his I-Phone and called his dad from my phone to block it).

I would go on and on, but my daughter is no longer satisfied with the porridge I offered (and she demanded) as a distraction.

Happy Mother Language Day!

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Today (the 21st of February) is recognized as the the international mother language day by the UN.  I have been quite absent minded about anything else but my native language,  Latvian, in the last couple of weeks, because of the referendum on adding the Russian language as the second state language in Latvia that took place over the weekend.  Because of historic and practical  reasons, all involving Russia, which is a  huge neighboring country with no danger to its native language, as opposed to the barely 2 million Latvians who speak it word-wide, this idea, though not so problematic in theory, would not be beneficial for the state of Latvia and it was deemed so also by the electorate, of which only 18 % supported the notion (even though there are many more Russian speakers in Latvia than that).

I was surprised and quite unsettled though by the ferocious manner of the nationalist campaigns on both sides. The images of the burned down houses from my time working for the OSCE in Kosovo and Croatia kept coming to mind.  In the end, there was no violence and over 82 % of the voters did not support the notion, but it has left my country divided along ethnic lines. Was it the intention of the initiators of the referendum who are rumored to have been supported by Moscow? In any case, I am happy there are so many languages in the world, Russian being one of them and my favorite of all – Latvian.  i am grateful that I can give this gift to my children, along with other lessons from my culture – such as observing the natural rhythm of life or singing Latvian folk songs. So – happy Mother language day, everyone!

What does a DONA certified post-partum doula do…

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It has been over 3 months since I took the DONA post-partum doula training. I have been very happy to participate in the Doula support group once a month, but other than that not much else has been accomplished until now, when I have finally sat down to look over my notes and chart-out a course of action.

So here is what a DONA certified doula should do according to the training.  She schould be NEAR, which stands for: 

Nurture – nurtures the family with her loving heart and hands and meets them where they are, offering them non-judgemental support;

Educate – educated the family by modeling behavior, observing and offering options;

Assess –  is constantly assessing the environment  in order to assist the family;

Refer – she provides resources and referrals to families, and assists them to develop the skills to seek out resources and referrals.

What doulas DO:

1)   Doulas help find confidence

2)   They work themselves out of their job

3)   They teach physical skills and coping skills

4)   Assist with household organization

5)   Help to discover what kind of parent you want to be

6)   Teach parenting 24/7 coping skills

What post-partum doulas DON’T DO:

1)   Educate according to their own beliefs or personal experience

2)   Judge their clients and their family members and friends

3)   Diagnose conditions in the mother or any other family member

4)   Overstep her boundaries and consider themselves the expert while functioning in her role as the doula

5)   Perform clinical and medical tasks (such as taking temperature or checking the stitches or giving medication to mom or baby)

6)   Drive parents and/or baby.

Happy Birthday, Oliver, happy Birthday, Oliver’s mom!

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Oliver was born four years ago today, in fact, it was a Super Bowl Sunday here in the US, even though it was already Monday morning (4 am on the 4th of February) in Riga, where he was born. I had been waiting for snow (as it was part of my birth plan… ha) and with the first wet, meager snow (and the only one that I can recall that February), he was born. He flew into this word, so eager was he to be born, after I had mistakenly walked around in ‘false labor” for 26 hours, his midwife had arrived just barely forty minutes before that. His Daddy had just woken minutes before that and was totally shaken and mesmerized by what he had just witnessed. There is no snow here, just pink cherry blossoms on the streets of San Francisco. I guess that is to be the weather around his birthday from now on (considering that we are planning on staying here for a while). There is part of me that wishes for snow still. And for going sleighing during his birthday party like we did last year. But I am content with staying up until 2 am to bake the cake, just like I did last year and possibly the year before.  Happy Birthday, Oliver and happy Birthday to me too! Will I ever stop thinking of his wonderful birth on this day?

Silver and Gold…. cultural differences between Americans and Latvians

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You know how you sometimes wake up and there is some thought in the back of your mind. So, I woke up this morning with the song-rhyme in my head: “Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold.” I am not sure if this is an inherently American rhyme, but I have only sung it here. Then the Latvian saying came to mind, which also uses the metaphor of the gold and silver. That is – “runāšana – sudrabs, klusēšana – zelts” (talking is silver, being silent is gold).  It pretty much sums up the cultural differences between Latvians and Americans, in my opinion. Not that one is better than other. I actually prefer silver to gold, for example.

Evolution, night-doulas and sleeping patterns…

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Evolution is on my mind. I guess it is because of that book by Meredith Small that I just finished (and reviewed here). If I really were designed to roam the plains in search of food together with a close-knit group, then how unnatural is my life and that of most other mothers in the industrialized world? Trying to raise our (two to three) children by ourselves within our four walls, sneaking off to our computers to check for an email or a twitter message, sitting there for hours after the kids go to bed, driving everywhere, and increasingly more of the childcare assistance that we get is from trained professionals not family members. And doulas too, at least here in the US,  are the professionalized substitute for the kin women.

I attended the post-partum doula meeting on Tuesday, which was as great and inspiring as ever. The topic of conversation was night doula’s work. It turns out that a lot of parents (especially if they have twins and if they can afford it) like to hire night doulas or night nannies (which are two completely different professionals), some disappear the minute the doula comes by and lets her take care of the kids for the whole night (which is more like a night nanny, even though she is paid like a doula), some spend time talking and get their babies brought in to them when necessary for feeding. Then the talk was about sleep and how a lot of parents expect sleep training from their night doulas (which most of them don’t do, but they do promote the babies natural capacity to sleep and call it “sleep teaching” as opposed to “sleep training”, which is from the book called “Babywise” which the doula community and the American association of Pediatricians do not recommend). That reminded me once again about the book by M. Small. In her cross-cultural comparison she mentions the differences between Italian and American mothers, the latter of which are mostly concerned about their infants’ sleep, while the former are concerned about what their babies eat. Never have I been asked so often if my baby sleeps through the night as in the US, even though in Latvia people also inquire after the sleep pattern of the newborn. What I thought was interesting, was how much part of the culture the doulas themselves seemed to be by suggesting things like quiet time at night, dimming lights for night feedings and not bringing the baby out of the sleeping environment after 6 pm, which as I have often observed is close to the bed time that many American children have (7 pm or 7:30 pm). I have noticed that the 10 pm bedtime of our kids seems normal only to other foreigners. So, I started wondering if I ever could become a doula in the USA, considering my much relaxed attitude about sleep (and other cultural differences), but then again I remembered what our trainer at the DONA training said: “There is the right fit for everyone.  It is not only them, who are interviewing you, it is also you who is seeing if the family is right for you.” So, please, the families that are right for me and for whom I am the right doula – do come my way.

Book Review No. 2 How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We parent Meredith Small

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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.