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.