May 19, 2010


Posted in Children, Family, Traditions, Women tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 3:47 pm by Liliana


Ponijao (left) and friend

Last week, I went to see the movie Babies with two friends. Babies follows the development of four infants for about a year, from birth until their first words and steps.

The babies inhabit four very different societies: Ponijao is from a village in Namibia; Bayar lives in a yurt (nomadic tent) in Mongolia; Mari resides in a modern high rise in Tokyo; and Hattie lives in San Francisco.

I loved the movie. It also made me sad.

My own three babies had childhoods not unlike Mari and Hattie. They have all grown into happy and well adjusted people. Maybe it is my own sentimentality that gets in the way, when I wish their early years back so that I could do it all over again.

I found aspects of Ponijao’s childhood most comforting. She lives in a communal society with few material belongings. Mostly what we see is women and children of different ages spending time together. The women sit and talk to each other, tell stories, make jewelry out of rope. They grind flower for food with stones. They hold their babies, or hand them over to older children. Babies crawl around on  the dirt floor. They put things in their mouth. They taste, smell, hear, see. They are fed when hungry and reassured when frustrated. Expectations are clear. There is time for everything.

Punjao meets all the milestones that babies in other societies do at a similar rate of development. She (together with Bayar from Mongolia) seems to have gotten there at a more relaxed pace, though.

Mari and Hattie have wonderful childhoods, also. Their fathers are present and involved in their upbringing. But these two girls and their parents are living hectic, distracted lives. With their busy schedules they seem to be trying to recreate in baby classes what Ponijao and Bayar have as a starting point. And even though they live in large, populated cities, their existence seems more isolated and restrained than Bayar’s and Pujao’s. Punjao has her community; Bayar has his animals as companions and the expansive landscape around him is wide open for him to explore.

What do infants need to grow and flourish? Love, time and patience from their parents; response to their needs and concerned company of other beings (both human and animal). These seem to be the ingredients of a happy childhood. Most other activities seem to be a distraction.

Blind Men and the Elephant

Posted in Children tagged , , , , , , , at 6:51 am by Liliana

Everyone holds a piece of the puzzle

Everyone holds a piece of the puzzle

I remember when my children were little they went through a period when they wanted me to read them only one book. Again and again and again.

It was a colorful, richly illustrated allegory based on an ancient Indian fable.

This is how the story went.

In a remote village in India, a number of blind men lived in a house together. They mostly got along, but sometimes they argued about the world around them. Each man felt he understood the nature of things better than the others.

One day, a mysterious traveler passed through their little village. The blind men offered him hospitality, and in return the traveler told them about a glorious and magical animal – an elephant. He hadn’t seen an elephant himself,  but he had heard that this animal was the wonder of the world. The blind men were intrigued. It was their greatest wish to touch an elephant and to understand what this glorious being was like.

Years passed. The men didn’t forget the elephant. In fact, as time went on their desire to touch this wonderful being grew greater and greater. And then, one day, their wish was fulfilled. A  caravan of merchants was passing near the village and the news spread quickly that an elephant was heading their convoy. The blind men sent word inquiring if they could visit the caravan and touch the elephant. The gracious merchants were pleased to grant their wish and invited them over for tea.

The blind men spent the entire day dressing in their finest clothes, preparing for the  meeting. In the afternoon, their guides took them to the field where the caravan was resting. They were well received. They had tea with the merchants and were then allowed to inspect the glorious elephant. It was a day full of excitement.

By evening they were back at their house. Tired from the drama of the day, they sat down for supper. Sitting around a large table, they started discussing and comparing their experiences. One man said, “Elephants are so interesting but I had no idea they were a huge long trunk!” “What”, said another man,” an elephant is not a trunk. An elephant is a giant ear.” “No, said another, an elephant is a huge leg.” “A huge head.” “A huge eye.” “A tail!”

Every man had touched one part of the elephant and thought that was the entire animal. Their servant’s little son, sitting near them heard them arguing. He had never seen the elephant himself, but while listening to them he had an idea.  “Maybe the elephant is the huge trunk, a giant ear a huge leg, an eye, and a tail, too.” The blind men stopped talking and listened to the boy. And they realized that he was right.

The glory of the elephant was in their willingness to share and combine their visions, and experience the elephant through each other’s eyes. Everyone held a piece of the puzzle.