Was I kind of a RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) mom before I even knew that existed? Let me explain. RIE (sounds like wry) is the little-known Californian movement created in 1978 by Magda Gerber and Tom Forrest -- which basically aims at treating babies as...non-babies, and respect them as equal members. The philosophy is making a comeback, and the vision statement of the group is taking roots again with new parents.
When we talk to our kids as if they were mentally impaired, we are wrong. When we baby-talk, we are making ourselves ridiculous; they won't understand the subtlety of language for a few weeks, but I firmly believe that we should talk to them as if they did understand. Do you really think they comprehend the gibberish words coming out of your mouth anyways?
The use of pacifiers was a big no-no for me. I never used one. I also hated Sippy cups, plastic bibs, bouncy chairs and a slew of items especially created for what adults thought children would like, or need. Neither of my three kids had pacifiers. One sucked her thumb in the womb, the other two had a favorite plush toy which made it to the laundry basket only at night.
My first child (a girl) only had wooden toys, selected objects of wonderful designs that I would buy at FAO Swartz in New York, or at various high-end department stores and boutiques in Paris. I believed then that a noble material would teach something (but what?) to a baby, and risk less damage to her hands and gums. I was a very young and novice mom, with no coaching from anyone. I did not believe in books about parenting, I thought my baby could not be so generic that taking care of her would be in a book aimed at raising every baby in the World.
Wood and felt toys, satin objects and organic shapes, classical music and soothing herbal mists were all she ever knew. I only wanted her to look at pretty things, and to me then, plastic was ugly. Our Paris apartment was somewhat of a showcase of impeccable design, with white fabric couches and stairs everywhere, and a rugged sisal floor that prevented baby to ever crawl on it (too scratchy), so she never hit the floor on her knees and walked instead on the day of her first birthday.
This baby never had a gram of synthetic material on her skin, only pure cashmere, fine linen, 100% cotton and soft wool. Her bibs were of double layers of cotton. Her prim dresses made of Liberty fabric had smokes and flowers. She had the Mary Jane shoes of style. I long debated the cotton diapers as well, but the daunting laundry tasks got the best of me, and she wore regular Pampers, albeit the organic ones, with no dye and no perfume.
My second baby (a boy) played with an inherited mix of his sister's wood toys and the plastic gifts that were given by close friends, how can you say no? I was a little more relaxed with my strict rules of nothing indestructible in landfills. Besides, my son only liked to play with spoons and boxes of Kleenex, endlessly emptying them, then trying to refill the tissues back in. He would sit in a corner for hours, with just one box. An easy child, he was always quiet and relaxed, so much so that his first steps came at about 15 months, after he got tired of hoping on his behind from one spot to the next.
The boy also had selected clothing, but I was a little less stringent on the purity of the fiber mix, I know he had some articles that were not 100% fine material. His grandma kept on buying things that he had to wear in her presence, for social niceness. And by then we had a dog, the most marvelous lesson of all in caring and affection, but a definite break down in the purity of air and cleanliness of couches.
Then my third came (a girl again) and with this one, it was all out the window! No rules, no worries, no censorship, she was free as a bird to touch, smell, lick and squeeze just about anything she wanted. I became a hippie mother in the 1990s, what can I say? She was never crying, never demanding, always happy, smiling, eating and sleeping all night long at three weeks of age. What more could I possibly want?
Was I wrong with the other two? Did I stress too much over their environment, trying to control what they ate, when one could not control the (polluted) air they breathe? I became convinced that a little germ and a little flexibility were possibly better for them.
This little girl wore recycled dresses from the first daughter. And by living in Miami (instead of Paris), she never had a sweater nor a coat, neither hats nor mittens, never wanting to wear shoes, and when she outgrew her second-hand cotton dresses, they were all shipped to an orphanage in Haiti, where few little girls get to own outfit from Paris. It always warmed my heart to imagine the children wearing a third generation dresses form my daughters, I hope some still do.
My first daughter never ate. She vomited all food passing her throat. She survived somehow, still skinny to this day. My son would just eat what was in front of him, not looking at it, not caring a bit, never wanting more, or less. Cold, hot, or tepid, none mattered to him. To this day, he is an easy man.
My third one could not stop eating. From the minute she was born, the tiny baby bottles at the maternity on the first day were a joke to her. What? I only get one? Seriously? Not two, not three were ever enough for her. To this day, she devours anything, I can't think of food she does not like!
So you see? I had three perfect children, each molded to my internal fears and hangs-up, each easing my worries and style of parenting as they came along. They were all brought up bilingual and in the French style of education, and with French food as well. They never ate baby food, they had our food smashed up. At a few months, they had fruits and vegetable served at the dinner table. No special diet, no purￃﾩe food, no pudding, nothing different from adult cuisine. What more can I ask for?
I could have written three books on babies, and they would have been very different ones. Truly now, I do believe that baby knows best. No matter what you believe in and try, the children will probably live the life they are intended for, the way they want to. You can only make sure they are safe and loved, pretty much everything else is out of your control.
I believe children are just other people, not tiny replicas of what we are; they learn from us but also do arrive with their own set of skills, and are much more prepared for life that we give them credit for. I know my three kids taught me as much as I did to them. And still do.