Scary stories from a lovely place
Recently one of my regular trips to a local park took an unexpected turn. I live in a working class area, so park visits with kids aren’t what they are in middle class or affluent suburbs. There’s less helicopter parenting, and more roaming, wrestling kids. There’s less trendy park equipment and more graffiti. There’s less hiking prams and more fold up strollers.
We pulled into the car park, and after noticing that the playground was much busier than usual, I was surprised to see myriad shiny SUV’s with sensible sun shades – very out of the ordinary. As we settled into our routine of swinging, sliding and chasing I began to feel slightly uneasy. This was not the usual crowd at the park. The group was made up of about 25 parents and a range of kids, including lots of babies. It wasn’t a typical mother’s group – there were no prams. There was one defining feature – all the mothers, and a couple of unwilling but participatory looking dads, were wearing their babies in slings or wraps of various types on their bodies. This was a gang of middle class baby wearers.
As I watched them, the characteristics were unmistakable. Most of the adults were wearing comfortable looking linen pants, there was an overabundance of handmade clothes on the kids, slices of chia seed bread were passed around, blueberries littered the play equipment floor, even a pomegranate lay smashed on the ground. And the littlest kids of all were (mostly) happily tied to an adults body courtesy of a stretchy sling, a structured carrier or a woven wrap. There was much excited conversation about this brand and that brand, special, secret knots and the benefits of hemp or bamboo or cotton. Children were unslung and re-slung to demonstrate various techniques and positions.
I mock, yes, but I must admit – I am one of these people, (and I was pretty disappointed not to be a member of the gang). I’m totally into baby wearing. Silas loved it. Oisín resisted the front position as a newborn but tolerated being on my back as a toddler. I have tried (but failed) to make clothes for my kids. My husband is a willing/unwilling baby wearer (that’s him there with Silas. I bought that purple sling thinking it was a good unisex colour. Stephen says it’s not. But he wore it anyway, bless him). I planted a pomegranate tree in my garden. I regularly ply my children with blueberries and homemade, grainy bread.
I think what I find amusing, is the way middle class Westerners latch onto an idea, that is not original, and treat it with such wonder.
Babywearing is the most normal thing in the world in Africa and Asia – poor, historically pastoral communities. In these countries, as long as women have been having babies, children are carried and mothered in this way. Women do it as children with siblings, cousins or neighbours. It comes naturally and is ingrained from a young age. Mothers use a towel, or a blanket or a sheet and carry their kids where they go. Some white people in these countries criticise it though. When I lived in Johannesburg a white doctor told me it was bad, and another white doctor told me it was fine. Apparently it’s bad for hip development and eyesight – none of which seems true if all the black adults in Africa with good hips and eyesight are a sizeable enough sample group.
This seems to be something that comes with the privilege of the middle class in the West. We take straightforward, natural, instinctual things and make them trendy. We create products for them and make them expensive. We turn them into a subculture and they become exclusive.
I love baby wearing, I really do, and I will hopefully continue to do it. But I will laugh at myself in the process, knowing that I am taking something basic and good, that is not of my culture, use a pricey product and go about my business with my child close to my heart.