Reading books about babies has become almost second nature in my house. Between my wife and I we have all of the major subjects covered, from name selection to brain development, often with two or three books on each topic. A bit of overkill, I admit, especially when you find the same information being repeated in multiple volumes. So when a book comes along that is full of new information and experiences, it is a breath of fresh air. How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is just such a book, packed with anecdotes about parenting from every corner of the world. As you can imagine, there are plenty of things inside that will make you raise an eyebrow or two.
Author Mei-Ling Hopgood is exceptionally qualified to write about parenting in other cultures. Adopted from Taiwan, raised in Michigan and living in Argentina, Hopgood is an accomplished international journalist and, as she puts it, a curious mom. How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is presented in a logical fashion, with each chapter focusing on a subject that parents tend to obsess over (well, the parents I know, anyway, myself included). Picky eating, sleep schedules, potty training and excelling at school are just a few of the topics touched upon. Each is presented with anecdotes from Hopgood's own experiences as an expatriate mother of a toddler-aged daughter, which are usually pretty humorous and revealing. She then delves into methodologies and philosophies employed in other parts of the world, which at first glance may look extreme or unattainable but which, upon closer inspection, can be applied to her own parenting style, albeit in a modified form.
Take the Japanese approach to conflict. While Hopgood admits that she is always ready to jump in and save the day before a conflict between her daughter and another child can escalate, she then compares it to the Japanese method of nonintervention, employed by both parents and school systems. They hold back and let the kids mix it up, encouraging them to work it out amongst themselves. Preschools are looked at not as places to learn but places to learn to be a part of a specific culture. That culture is going to include annoying and disruptive people, so the earlier you can figure out how to deal with them the better. In the eyes of the Japanese, this makes them more complete human beings.
When it comes to eating, we all know how much the French enjoy fine food, but it was interesting to learn how this attitude is fostered from early childhood onward. There is no 'kids' food' in France.The menu on offer at a progressive French preschool made my mouth water--fresh green beans, roasted chicken with potatoes, brie, baguette and for dessert, fresh fruit. And the kids ate everything. Many kids in the countryside get two hours for lunch so they can return home and eat with their families, and on their birthdays they are invited to bake their own cake with the school chef. It makes me want to hop a plane and don a beret.
While all of these facts are interesting, the real value in How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is when Hopgood details how she takes what she has learned and applies it to her own life. She determines that she needs to let her daughter and her playmates figure out how to work through rough patches. And she knows that she is not going to replicate the meals that are made in the French countryside but she does commit herself to cooking with more fresh ingredients and not giving in to mac and cheese whenever she feels pressured. But she also maintains her right to serve mac and cheese when she has to and not feel guilty. Hopgood also has applied the golden rule of eating she learned from French schools: You are allowed to not like something but you are not allowed to not try something.
Mei-Ling Hopgood has put together a wholly entertaining and informing trot around the globe that any parent of young children will find both amusing and educational. How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm is a welcome stand-out among the parenting books on my crowded bookshelf.
How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood, is published by Algonquin Books and available at your local bookstore, as well as online.
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