Bayarjargal, who lives in Mongolia with his family, is one of four  babies followed from birth to first steps in Thomas Balmès' 'Babies.'

New York mothers could learn a thing or two about child rearing from Thomas Balmes' 'Babies'

Bayarjargal, who lives in Mongolia with his family, is one of four babies followed from birth to first steps in Thomas Balmès' 'Babies.'

In the movie "Babies" (which opened on Friday), a fly-on-the-wall documentary about four infants growing up in four very different countries, 6-month-old Hattie attends a "developmental movement" class in her native San Francisco.

"The Earth is our mother," chants the group of moms and dads, bumping their kids off their knees. Seems like fun.

Except Hattie's father doesn't look as if he's enjoying himself one bit. He seems terrified that Hattie is not responding properly to the "sensory stimulation."

By contrast, every time they appear in the film, the parents of Bayar, a little boy raised in rural Mongolia, are the picture of calm. They don't bat an eyelid when he eats dirt or licks the cat. When a rooster strolls across his crib and a yak drinks out of his bathtub, it's no big deal.

Watching "Babies," I sensed that frazzled Western moms like me have a lot to learn from families like Bayar's.

"The Mongolian children have the freedom to move around, play with animals and explore the space around them," says the movie's director, Thomas Balmes. "The parents are never far away ... and they do not worry."

Balmes selected the babies who appear in the film pretty much at random - his only criterion was choosing families who welcomed their new arrivals "with love." While he insists that the documentary isn't meant to be judgmental, he raises questions about the approach to child care by various cultures. So it's a shame that the cameras didn't follow a baby from New York. There would have been plenty of material here.

In the big city, we are way too busy going to "Mommy and Me" sessions, worrying that our precious bundle isn't "getting" the infant sign language course; that the $40 we spent on "Opera Tots" is wasted money.

For instance, at my daughter's music class recently, a mother threw a tantrum because there weren't enough tambourines to go around. Later, she complained they hadn't sterilized the percussion instruments properly. God forbid her son caught a cold from a plastic rattle.

That manic Manhattan moment played out 7,000 miles from Namibia, Africa, where Ponijao, another child featured in "Babies," lives with her mom and eight sibings. There's no plastic rattles in her village. Instead, Ponijao plays with beads and stray dogs.

Nobody's advocating we trade our apartments for mud huts with no running water. That we flee to a poverty-stricken continent with a high infant mortality rate. But it's certainly time we relaxed the schedule and start to chill out.

In San Francisco, Hattie's permanently hassled-looking mom pores over a self-help book called "Becoming the Parent You Want to Be." Similarly, there is a chic Tokyo couple in the film. They own every baby gadget under the sun.

Meanwhile, back in Mongolia, there's a scene where Bayar's mom rides home from the hospital perched on the back of a scooter, her newborn in her arms. Earlier, a hospital nurse swaddles him in a blanket, fixing it tight with a length of string.

Here in New York, that would be unheard of. Instead, we obsess about car seat specifications and the latest product recall for "unsafe" baby slings. We fret over germs in the sandbox.

Sunday, a mom friend of mine announced she has stopped making chili. Her family practically lives on the stuff, but she's hung up about BPA (bisphenol A, a chemical found in plastic bottles, soda cans and food containers) in canned tomatoes.

So I'm buying her a ticket to see "Babies." Like me, she'll pick up some child-rearing tips from Namibia and Mongolia. You never know, she might even cancel her toddler's French pastry-making classes.


Bookmark and Share
Related Posts with Thumbnails


Post a Comment

[▼/▲] More Emoticons
:)) ;)) ;;) :D ;) :p :(( :) :( :X =(( :-o :-/ :-* :| 8-} :)] ~x( :-t b-( :-L x( =))