Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

On the "indispensable" modern techniques

As frequently happens, the delightful (especially when he writes about daily life) Mr. Lileks writes something that makes me think:
the state is considering dropping a program that sends nurses to the homes of new parents, giving them valuable hints on childrearing such as “feed your baby” and “hold the child from time to time.” How we raised generations without this program, I’ve no idea, but the need is clearly there - one woman quoted in the article said that without the nurse’s words, she would have had no idea when to feed her baby. (Hint: when they cry.)

I have worked in a temporary child placement facility (formerly known as an "orphanage") run by Child Protective Services (to quote Arlo, there's a study of my fingerprints in black and white up there in Washington with the FBI). Bob works in a certified daycare. He enjoys changing dirty diapers. I mentioned that to my beloved senior tutor here, who responded, "when's the wedding?" -- exactly; I think he's a keeper! But anyhow: we have been trained different ways in our jobs; we also have grown up with different ideas (some traditional Euro-American, some South Indian) on how to care for children and keep house. Therefore, we argue about things frequently.

He's of the opinion that dishes must be handwashed and soaked in bleach before children can safely eat off them. And of the opinion that one should not clean much of anything, nor change diapers (even of your own child, away from daycare), without using disposable rubber gloves (two pairs for diaper changing). Otherwise WE WILL ALL DIE!!!!! And so forth.

I'm of a, in my opinion, more sensible mind. How ever did all generations of children before this one grow up without being protected from every thought of germs? And how did their brains develop without learning-oriented structured playtime?

Back at my high school, one mildly insane biology teacher raised her children in a germ-free home. The effect? the poor children could not eat anywhere but at home without becoming very ill; they could not sleep over at friends' houses; and they were some of the most frequently diseased children I have ever met.

There are pictures of me as a child eating mud pies. I have seasonal allergies, but I only get sick when I've been terribly cruel to my physical being -- not sleeping for a week, living on coffee, etc. I didn't have special toys when I was little; I had one doll, one teddy bear, and an unlimited supply of crayons -- which I normally ignored in favor of dry spaghetti noodles (a remarkably entertaining toy, I seem to recall). I had parents who spent time with me, a mother who would plop me down in the middle of her scarves and costume necklaces and let me entertain myself while she showered and got ready in the morning, and a father who would read the paper aloud for my benefit (when I was 2 -- I don't think I understood too much, but it got me started on reading!). I was largely a self-entertainer. Immediately, they gave me an entirely harmless dog to play with; two and a half years on, they provided me with a small human plaything, and taught me how to treat her. (Once we got to middle school, the kid sister and I didn't get along too well, but we were fine up to then.) We didn't have a TV until several years down the road, and then our reception was (and still is) so bad that we only got PBS and ABC, plus watching old classic movies and Disney animations; even then, TV watching was rare. (Yes, it's on all the time in my room here, but I swear that's an anomaly; when I go home, I watch the news for half an hour in the evenings, and maybe one of the fascinating PBS reality shows or a James Bond movie once a week or so.)

Bob's constantly catching some virus or other, has constant troubles with respiratory allergies and asthma, can't travel without being laid up for two days upon arriving there and upon returning home, and has a very weak immune system (which is improving, from contact with germy babies). His parents, as far as I can tell, were unsure what to do with him. His mother pretended he was a girl at a family reunion (to this day, Bob's uneasy around men in drag). I don't think he's ever had a conversation with his father -- he doesn't even know anything about his father's job beyond the company it's with and that it entails lots of lengthy travel. He's very admirably close to his brother and cousins, but none of them have any sort of functional relationship with their parents. Bob's parents are trying to get a mail-order bride for his brother, who hasn't told them he's already got a girlfriend and who won't tell them he's not interested in the girls they keep sending for. He was raised largely by Nintendo and cable TV.

I feel I've got the upper hand here, both in terms of knowledge of how to have a working family and in terms of my opinion of paranoid obsessive übercleanliness.

But programs and advertisements tell us we can't live without everything in our home being antibacterial! and without children being raised by smart-toys and interactive tv shows! and without special self-esteem boosters!

How ever did I turn out so good?

UPDATE: Didn't mention how we're solving the problems of disagreement: in things that I don't think that are directly harmful, but just an unnecessary hassle, and which I don't want to do, such as washing dishes in bleach, -- well, if it is that important to Bob, the dishes can be washed in bleach, but he'll have to do it. My father was of the opinion that dishes must be soaked in several basins of progressively increasing temperature and decreasing soapiness as part of the handwashing routine; my mother said he could have his dishes washed that way, but he'd have to do it himself. That lasted two days. Something I think is actually unhealthy (keeping my children from all exposure to bacteria ever, for example), well, I'll have to put agreement to those of my ideas as a precondition for childbearing. My uncle tried that quite successfully; his wife is Christian Science, but my uncle would only agree to adopt a baby with her if she would let him take the baby to the doctor in case of any diseases, rather than just praying about it while refusing to use our God-given mental abilities to think of ways to fix it.

#2: If anything keeps us apart, and it's not our massive religious differences, it'll be his moods.


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