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words of wisdom

It’s hard to put one’s finger on what exactly it is about having children that suddenly makes everyone else an expert on one’s life. Friends had warned that one of the most trying aspects of parenthood is fielding unsolicited advice, oftentimes from pushy strangers, on how to raise their children. The hubris behind such advice is staggering. It essentially presupposes that parents either don’t care to or don’t know how to tell what is good for their own children.

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Advice from close relatives is usually more palatable, but that too has its limits, and it’s probably a good thing that S does not speak Russian because over the course of the last week D’s grandma proved to be so prolific in this respect that even D’s parents found their patience sorely tested. Unless she was holding Munchkin, she proffered a veritable litany of non-stop rebuke and exhortations, even managing to criticize S while she was breastfeeding — an action we had thought would be above reproach.

At first D bristled, especially at babushka’s running commentary while he was trying to soothe a crying Munchkin, but he soon regained his even keel and started making mental notes of her recommendations, which ranged from medically outdated but well-established cultural practices to the inexplicable, amusing, and absurd. Here is a partial list:

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A few of these are variations on the same theme. The germ theory of disease transmission appears to have had a difficult time gaining a foothold in Soviet times, and to this day many people in Eastern Europe remain convinced that one should guard against drafts to avoid catching a cold. Thus,

(1) We’re not keeping him warm enough — Even when clothed, wrapped in a blanket, and held in our arms, babushka urged more: a hat, bootees, mittens, winter snowsuit, and an extra blanket… or three.

(2) The baby needs more sunlight…with the subtle caveat that too much direct sunlight is probably bad and we should definitely keep the sun out of his eyes.

(3) Keep him away from the window to avoid catching a cold — She was also mortified when we decided to take him for a walk outside, leaving us puzzling as to how we could possibly carry out her previous recommendation, with which we actually agreed.

The unfamiliar can be alarming, which we think may explain babushka’s opposition to:

(4) Our sleeping arrangements… — Munchkin spends most of his time in our arms but for a few hours at night, when we both try to get some sleep, we leave him in his rock ‘n play, which babushka found horrifying because she was convinced it would break his spine. She suggested we put him to sleep in a crack in the sofa instead, and then proceeded to relate an ‘amusing’ story about how she fell asleep on the couch while nursing D’s mom, who fell, rolled under the couch, and remained there crying while half of the residents of the communal apartment racked their sleep-addled brains trying to figure out where she had vanished.

(5) … and our feeding methodology… — To avoid nipple confusion, our lactation consultant showed us how to feed S’s pumped milk to Munchkin with a pipette, which is placed in his mouth alongside a finger. Nipple confusion is clearly not a term in babushka’s lexicon and she accused us of torturing Munchkin and doing some unnamed yet irreparable harm to him until D explained that we were feeding him this way under doctor’s orders.

(6) …and tummy time, which is also clearly torture, even though Munchkin is perfectly content to explore the limits of his strength in brief intervals.

(7) Don’t let him scratch himself — Newborns have very sharp fingernails, so babushka exhorted us to knit him some tiny mittens so he would not scratch himself. Paradoxically, she also accused D of sharpening Munchkin’s claws after observing D clipping Munchkin’s fingernails.

And then there are the suggestions that defy all explanations, including:

(8) Don’t kiss him — newborns should only be kissed on their bums, never on their heads.

(9) Don’t stand behind himhe will become cross-eyed if you talk to him from behind his head.

(10) Don’t breathe… on, around, or near the baby. 

(11) Straighten his legsNewborns like to curl up in the fetal position, but whenever babushka held Munchkin, she would try to straighten his legs, afraid that he would not grow otherwise.

And our favorite:

(12) Don’t tickle his feet — This was the way our lactation consultant suggest we rouse Munchkin for his feeding sessions if he was sleeping, but babushka objected — “It’s very bad.” What? Why? She couldn’t quite say, but she was adamant that it should never be done.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Your babushka sounds an awful lot like an old Kenyan Cucu (Shosho, or grandmother)!

    March 19, 2014
    • Ok, let’s hear it. What’s the best piece of advice she’s offered you?

      March 19, 2014
      • Most of her advice follows the same theme – baby will catch her death of cold if she’s not dressed for the Polar Vortex (even though it’s in the 80’s here daily). She also believes that when a person sneezes, it means they’re cold. And this baby sneezes A LOT. And babies should never cry. That one is a puzzler. As a post-partum mum, many Kenyans believe my back (?) needs to heal and I shouldn’t move around at all. I am also strongly encouraged to drink lots of uji (fermented porridge) and njahi) black-eyed peas), else I will never produce milk. But we most often get, “How is the baby? Only that she’s cold!!!” :)

        March 19, 2014
        • Speaking of post-partum, we had a couple of Asian friends visiting last weekend and they were saying that Chinese women are not allowed to bathe for two weeks post-partum. They are allowed to be wiped clean but no showers, lest they lose the protective immunity they are transferring to their newborns.

          There were a few more nuggets we omitted from the post. D’s grandma also wanted S to feed the baby water and told her to leave the baby crying so that she could eat because she couldn’t feed the baby properly unless she had eaten properly herself first.

          March 19, 2014
  2. Aren’t people irritating sometimes? Honestly it was way easier overseas where I could just pretend like it was a language barrier thing and I didn’t understand.

    March 24, 2014
    • Well, S can always pretend that she doesn’t understand the advice from D’s side of the family because of the language barrier as well. The only problem is that unlike strangers who give unsolicited advice, we can expect to see the same relatives again and again, and they are sure to repeat the advice if we don’t heed it the first time.

      March 24, 2014

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