Feb 11, 2010

And I thought I had heard it all (Subtitle: Please stop licking my baby)

When I was pregnant with Bella and living in Beijing, I was the recipient of a lot of unsolicited advice from a few acquaintances (and also quite a few complete strangers). From my Chinese teacher saying that I should walk four hours a day, to someone who told me to stay away from bananas, because they would give my baby epilepsy. Though I invariably would smile, nod, and say "I'll have to try that," it never really got under my skin because I knew I was going to ignore the advice anyway. And maybe write about it in my pregnancy journal/blog.

But what I considered the wackiest idea, and the set of advice I'd be least likely to follow, was the entire 30-day post-natal restriction on bathing, showering, brushing your teeth, or leaving the house. What the what?!?!?!?? Mik's theory is that it's a throwback to less hygienic times, when contact with water might increase your exposure to infection and illness. But 30 days of no showering? Ew. So imagine my surprise, on a recent trip to Manila, to learn that some of my own, younger relatives have actually LISTENED TO THEIR GREAT-AUNTS and followed this hoary tradition. The Philippines being the crossroads of so many cultures and traditions, I guess I shouldn'tve been surprised that the practice was followed there. But by people I know? People related to me? In that kind of heat? Yikes.

Anyway, this all came up because of a strange experience I had at the airport when Matias and I went to Manila last weekend. Matias, darling boy, is a happy smiley little fella, and upon arrival at Manila International Airport, he got a fair amount of attention in the Baby Bjorn carrier, facing outwards, where I had popped him so I could have my hands free for the luggage, stroller, etc etc. It was a busy morning at the airport, and when we got in the immigration queue, a woman who had been on my JetStar flight from Singapore was in line in front of us. I wasn't sure I had seen right at the time, but quick as a flash, it seemed like she had LICKED HER THUMB, and then touched my 3-month old on the foot. What the what?!?!?!?! I did a double take, sort of furrowed my brow at the lady, and jumped to another line. I won't lie - I also dug out my little bottle of antiseptic and doused both his feet liberally. We ended up in a queue with a group of merchant marines in front of and behind us, and soon enough, an affable type had struck up a conversation about my pale-skinned son with the Finnish father ("Hey, this kid's dad owns Nokia!"). As the man in front of us got to the immigration desk, the guy behind yelled out (and this will sound strange in translation, but it sounded just as strange to me in Tagalog), "Hey, dab some of your spit on this kid, he might get usog!!"

What the what?!?!?!?! I almost literally grabbed the guy and demanded, "WHAT IS THAT WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHY IS EVERYONE WANTING TO PUT THEIR SALIVA ON MY KID?!!!?"

Eventually it was explained to me that sometimes, when someone notices or greets a baby, especially a cute or gregarious one, it later gets sick or colicky and it's somehow attributed to the undue attention paid to the kid. This is also the reason why some people put a red dot on their baby's heads, between the eyes, or put on coral bracelets or red clothing-- to attract the evil spirits' attention instead of getting drawn to the baby. Uuuuuhhhhh...riiiiight. As if this wasn't nutty enough, the remedy to all this is apparently to put some of your saliva on the kid, IN ORDER TO ERASE ALL THOSE EVIL EFFECTS THAT YOU MAY HAVE UNINTENTIONALLY CAUSED WITH YOUR COOCHIECOOCHIECOOING.

I'm still so undone by all of this that I don't even have a pithy conclusion. This, from a culture where even as a child, the first thing I knew about babies is that you may NOT touch them on the hands or face, and that you may ONLY ever kiss a baby on the feet. In a country with average temps of 80 degrees, babies don't even go out without HATS, for criminy's sake. But if you say hi to a complete stranger's kid, it's acceptable-- no, it's your DUTY-- to put your bodily fluids on them to ward AWAY illness and danger?

To tell the truth, I LOVE the convoluted, multi-step ridiculousness of it all, but seriously - I'm without words.