|In the restaurant in Moscow, the groom from the wedding came over and introduced himself. He picked up our
daughter and held her up for everyone to see. He gave an impromptu speech to the wedding party about the cold
war (ongoing at the time), about politics and human relations, and how this (still holding the baby up) was
what was going to repair relations between our two countries. Not politicians, not treaties, but simply taking
our children outside their own culture to meet other people. He handed her to another person, and she was
passed around the room, from table to table.
Our frame of reference in this country is so narrow that it's hard to talk about raising children in any
meaningful way. When we discuss breastfeeding in airports, the debate focuses on whether other travelers
should have to tolerate hungry babies being fed in public, or whether that sort of activity should be done in
a bathroom. We cannot even conceive of shifting the debate to whether or not nursing women should be treated
as diplomats. Nor can we conceive of a professional guard force that makes faces at babies to make them laugh.
I was reading this week about the Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, and found this on their
organization's website: "Today, most of the challenges faced by the Sentinels are tourists who want to
get a better picture or uncontrolled children (which generally is very frightening for the parent when the
Soldier challenges the child)."
When we talk about dehumanization, we tend to think about how it relates to the way our troops are trained
to view Iraqi citizens or how guards view prisoners, or how riot police view protesters. We think in terms of
a subject and object, as if the dehumanization is something done to an object - when it's actually the human
relations and connections between two people that are being destroyed.
From a very young age, we train our children to break bonds with their parents. Children who sleep with
their parents are "spoiled"; parents who allow this to happen "have no discipline". We are
advised by professionals to train or children to fall asleep in cribs, in their own rooms. We are told how
important it is not to give in to their "demands" to sleep side by side with their parents. The goal
is to create self-reliant independent adults as quickly as possible, and we begin this process almost as soon
as a child is born. In other cultures, children are wrapped or slung against their parents' bodies as they go
about their day. We use baby strollers instead of slings, so that instead of feeling our bodies, children feel
the bumps of cement sidewalks through a plastic or metal frame. We put them into plastic baby carriers,
holding our children at arm's length by a handle. I'm not convinced that babies are supposed to come with
carrying handles, even if it is more convenient.
The great thing about using a sling is that a baby feels the parent breathing, feels their heartbeat, and
moves when their body moves. They feel and share the rhythm of our steps as we walk. As parents, we in turn do
the same. When a child in a sling shifts their weight, the parent naturally shifts to maintain balance.
Instead of fostering independence, it fosters interdependence and human connection.
I look at photos of people marching in support of Chavez, or of the people in Oaxaca rising up as one
entity against oppression, and I wonder why we can't do that here, why the immigrants marched in our country
with a common purpose this year, but we as a nation couldn't or wouldn't rise up as one when the government
failed the people of the Gulf Coast.
Then I look at photos of us with our children, and I think I get it.