Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Time and progress.

I spent the night with my grandma a few weeks ago, and we spent some time talking about time and progress. She wasn't foisting her ideas on me. I was actually making the leap from my own era to hers without aid.

When my mom was growing up, several generations lived in one house here in the rural south. As in many more "primitive" places throughout the world still today, families eased the burden of care through sharing it.

Over the years, progress has meant not only moving forward but moving away from that model. Success means having room to divide more and more thoroughly from our bonds. Success means being able to say haughtily with each new addition to the task list, "No, no. I can do it by myself," like toddlers.

During my pregnancy I read Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. I really couldn't get into What to Expect While You're Expecting, so I decided I might take the anthropologist's approach to child-rearing.

In the book, Hrdy compares those cultures that promote parent-child togetherness with those that separate the child. In traditional Japanese culture, mother and child would stay in bed together for a month or more bonding while everything was taken care of for them. Then, perhaps for economic reasons, there are those areas where whole families share one room, even one bed.

And then, there's America, where an infant could be expected to have his own wing of the house, parents eavesdropping remotely to his breathing through a one-way walkie talkie. Once, in Audubon Park in New Orleans, I observed two white mamas strolling leisurely through the park some distance behind their strollers, which were being pushed by two black nannies. If the mothers were walking anyway, why didn't they push the strollers themselves?

I was convicted when I read the book of the anxiety that an infant must feel being abandoned in a wide, silent nursery room so soon after being expelled from mom's warm, cozy, noisy womb. And what did it say to the child that mom expelled and abandoned him, and then went and snuggled up cozily with pop in their warm little bed, while baby squirmed alone? It truly disturbed me, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows me and knows what a hippie I am anyway.

I'm circumnavigating my earlier point. I was at Ma's house, where I'd spent the night to keep her company and watch some old black and white monster flick, and we were eating breakfast -buttermilk biscuits stuffed with hoop cheese, old fashioned spicy sausage from the Red and White grocery store, and fried apples - and talking about the economy and the state of the world. I myself, besides feeling early on that the economic crisis would not affect me, have begun to feel the pinch of a salary frozen for three years at the rate of a third year teacher while paying a mortgage that continues to rise with the taxes, have begun to feel remorse at my earlier proclamations that I can do it all on my own. I consider Ma, living alone in a house with three bedrooms after the death of my granddad. And I can't help wondering if this is all madness.

Are we better off because we're farther off? Or are our current problems a result of this continual spread into separate rooms, separate houses, separate worlds?

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A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.