Monday, October 28, 2013

'How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm' (Review)

No, this is not a parenting guide. Anyone with an ounce of curiosity about other cultures will enjoy How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, and Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and Everywhere in Between) (Algonquin Books, 2012). Approaching with a hint of naïveté and a bit humor, journalist Mei-Ling Hopgood investigates the ways mothers and fathers around the world rear their children, and reports on her misadventures in actually trying to apply some of these ideas to her own daughter.

Before getting on the defense, note that Eskimos is not an apologetic for non-American parenting styles. Many of the practices discussed are so deeply embedded in the cultures referenced, that application in the United States doesn’t always make sense. No bedtimes in party city Buenos Aires might not translate well here, where children find security in structure and familiar schedules. Chinese hosts will be more understanding then American ones when your diaperless toddler makes a mess on their floor. And carrying your infant all day when lions are constantly about saves lives in Kenya, where there aren’t many paved surfaces for strollers anyway. However, Hopgood does encourage her readers to think outside the box and take away real lessons on how to improve upon current parenting norms.

Complaint? Well, call it false advertising. I searched high and low and never found a word about Eskimos. Funny thing though: When my mother and my husband, on separate occasions, saw me reading the book, both asked “So how do Eskimos keep their babies warm?” Maybe eventually Hopgood will provide the answer. [Correction: A kind reader (below) found the reference that I'd forgotten about when writing this review. On p. 66, Hopgood discusses the amauti, the traditional, and very furry, baby carrier used by the Inuit people. I apologize for the error.]