Tidewater Review - May 2013

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm

& Other Adventures in Parenting Around the World

as reviewed by

Anne Stinson

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm & Other Adventures in Parenting Around the World by Mei-Ling Hopgood. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 164 pp. $15.95 paperback.
Here’s the perfect book for an expectant mother with a bossy mother, or know-it-all mother-in-law, and/or a clueless husband. For that matter, this eye-opener is a good read for anyone who is curious about the child-raising customs of tribes other than ours.
From the keep-your-infants-up until the wee hours of the morning with never a glare of disapproval, through the relative merits of strollers, baby buggies and slings, this book is full of everything you thought you knew, but you really hadn’t a clue about. And I bet you haven’t even considered Chinese potty training or how Eskimo mothers keep their babies warm as toast.
Hopgood has more than a clue. She has fantastic stories to tell, and authoritative proof of every no-kidding tale. She relates how Argentine friends occasionally take their wee ones to a party after dinner, that rarely starts until after 9 or 10 p.m. Unless the little ones are school age and have a more reasonable bedtime hour, the younger ones join other tots and are not only tolerated, but welcomed to enjoy the fun and music.
At the end of this delightful scene, Hopgood adds a list from her research on different sleeping arrangements for kids who may share a bed with their parents, with mom, dad, other children, grandparents, and even visitors who “routinely crash in the same small place ... in the leaf huts of the Efe foragers of Africa.” Gabra nomads in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia have a different arrangement. Women, infants and small children sleep in one bed. Dad and small boys have a separate bed. Since they move around a lot, one wonders what the beds are like. Not four-posters, obviously.
Hopgood credits these sleep habits and those of several others to work compiled by Carol Worthman and Melissa Melby. But wait! She’s just getting wound up.
The chapter on sleeping arrangements when an infant is part of the family describes an amazing variety of who sleeps where and with whom. But the big question, and the title of the book, solves the mystery of how Eskimo mamas keep their babies toasty in sub-zero temperatures. It involves a field of bare skin and cafeteria service. No, that’s all I’m going to tell you!
The next chapter reveals “How the French Teach Their Children to Love Healthy Food.” While the reader is salivating over the content of school lunches, s/he notes the absence of burgers, chicken nuggets and pizza. They also avoid milk, soft drinks and fruit juices. Grown ups get wine; children get water. In rural areas, children go home for a two-hour lunch break.
Recent research, Hopgood writes, says that toddlers can eat the same foods that adults eat. “Mexican children gulp down jalapeños. Japanese tots munch on seaweed and pungent dried fish. In Taiwan I watched in horror as my four-year-old niece walked up to a plate of steaming whole fish, grabbed an exposed eyeball with her chopsticks, and popped it in her mouth.” Are you still with me, readers?
We all know, of course, that raw meat has more calories than cooked meat. We’re glad to learn that Russian aboriginal children in the Arctic eat “...raw meat and blood of deer, seal and other animals.”
The WOW! factor in the book slackens a bit when the discussion moves to the dullness of stroller features. The sling varieties are much more beguiling, though, and although the fad in America was mostly adopted by the hippie crowd, it still lingers here and there.
Moving on to potty training the world over, Hopgood has collected a passel of techniques with sensible options for mothers in the most staid societies. My personal favorite is the kaidandku, which is a popular split-crotch pant for babies. I wish I could have limited the training period for all five of my wee ones to the prospect of two weeks each.
Moving right along; do not ~ that is NOT ~ ask a husband or father to adopt the practice that won Aka Pygmies the title of “Best Fathers of the World.” I can hardly restrain myself from revealing the simple activity that would send any male I know screaming from the room. It must be read to be believed.
And so it goes; one delightful revelation after another. I was not aware how Tibetans cherish pregnancy. Had I known, I’d have been willing to climb Mt. Everest for the adulation. As it is, I must cling to my honest and true experience of being in Venice (permit a little name dropping here ... it’s vital to the story). Obviously with child, I rounded a corner on a narrow street next to a canal and bumped into a short, older Italian man, reeking of garlic. He smiled with approval at my pregnancy, put one hand on my belly and breathed a blessing with a smile ~ “Bellisima,” he said, and bowed reverently. You don’t forget a moment like that.
Surprise and delight follow, with charm or dismay, on subjects like “How the Japanese Let Their Children Fight,” “How Polynesians Play Without Parents,” and “How Mayan Villagers Put Their Kids to Work.” Americans would probably settle for getting their children to clean up their rooms.
All the strange and foreign customs are verified in a plethora of Notes and Bibliography entries. So Hopgood didn’t make up any of these astonishing stories.
The final chapter is one that every parent, prospective or current, will want to read and emulate. It’s “How Asians Learn to Excel in School.”
Mei-Ling Hopgood was born in Taiwan and was adopted in infancy. Her new home in Michigan transformed her into the classic American teenager, complete with the regal status of being a high school cheerleader.
Her previous book, titled Lucky Girl, is an account of her birth parents’ home in Taiwan, and her reunion with her mother, father and seven siblings (all girls). Oh, dear! One other sister was adopted, raised in Europe and schooled in Switzerland, where students learn four languages in addition to their family tongue.
Hopgood’s job as an international journalist has made her a world traveler, as is her husband, a writer and reporter. She’s an inquisitive and observant traveler whose first pregnancy and childbirth were in Argentina.
Familiar as she was in raising a baby in the United States, she found the parenting culture of Buenos Aires extremely foreign. Schedules of eating and sleeping are surprisingly flexible, she recounts in the book’s fist chapter, “How Buenos Aires Children Go To Bed Late.” Her portrait of a festive Christmas Eve party with her toddler dancing, twirling and laughing with her toddler friends until past the witching hour is an epiphany. If parents practiced it here, they’d likely be reported to the guardians at child services agencies.
The gap in practices reminded her of the unusual (to her) patterns of parenting in other places she had visited and worked. She checked her impressions for accuracy with scholars and archeologists, world health physicians and writers, all noted historians and authors. (Pages 165 to 193 contain sources and an impressive bibliography related to her subject).

Anne Stinson began her career in the 1950s as a free lance for the now defunct Baltimore News-American, then later for Chesapeake Publishing, the Baltimore Sun and Maryland Public Television’s panel show, Maryland Newsrap. Now in her ninth decade, she still writes a monthly book review for Tidewater Times.