There is a woman on my street who, every time she sees Noam, must comment on what he’s not wearing. This goes back to when he was two weeks old and I started going on walks with him tucked cozily into the sling I used to wear. She never directs her comments at me of course, and instead innocently coos at the baby, wondering aloud if he shouldn’t really be wearing a hat, long sleeves, shoes, or any number of garments I don’t deem necessary at 85 degrees. She once pondered – to Noam, naturally – why his mom would take him out on such a windy day.
Even when I’m not being bombarded by baby swaddlers, spontaneous baby advice is everywhere. The other side of the cultural coin here in Salvador, where people are notably more warm, friendly and outgoing than in NY, is that they are in your business almost aggressively.
For about a year, I carried Noam in an Ergobaby: a sling-meets-BabyBjorn miracle of modern design. Since his early weeks we walk around our neighborhood every day. People don’t generally seem accustomed to encountering babies in this contraption – the preferred method here being just holding the babe all the time. Some are delighted at the cute vision of an infant all squished up against his mom. Others are appalled, even…offended? There’s a woman at the park who always has to comment on how squashed and miserable Noam must be, and even told “him” that she was going to hit his mom one day if she kept bringing him to the park like that…
…Should I feel threatened?
There was also the lady who, when we met on a trail in the mountains, Noam sleeping peacefully in the Ergobaby, legs bobbing limply along, turned to her boyfriend to tell him how bad she felt for that poor baby.
A sizable part of baby advice here in Salvador is traditional wisdom, also known as home remedies, also known as superstitions depending on who you ask. Noam gave us more than enough opportunity to receive it; he spent the second and third month of his life crying whenever he wasn’t sleeping or nursing. He spent the first six months waking up every 60 minutes or less at night. I was in the depths of new-mother madness and was down to try anything, to hear anything out.
It began when Noam was two days old. We had just gotten home from the hospital. He slept in a tiny co-sleeper attached to our bed, and people would come visit in our room. I was inevitably reclining since he was almost always nursing, and I would invite guests to have a seat at the foot of the bed.
BIG NO NO. You NEVER sit down on a new mother’s bed, Haven’t you heard of that? It gives you cramps. Well, I never quite figured that one out but figured, OK, more space for us.
The next one came soon after. Noam seemed to have taken my chronic hiccups from me and adopted them for himself. Ever since he was born he drifts through fits of them rather easily. I always offer something to drink to get things back to normal. Until I was intercepted by a cousin here, who came to the rescue with the fool-proof plan of…
…red string? Red string! Ball it up, put it on his forehead, and listen as the hiccups fade away. Perhaps it was my skeptical energy blocking and jinxing the whole thing, but I never saw that one work, and believe me, our family here tried it many, many times.
That brings us to the eternal issue of Noam’s sleep – or lack thereof, to be more precise. I am certain that I looked over the edge of insanity more than a few times. There were nights when Noam woke up each and every time we laid him down, nights where he’d only sleep in our arms, nights where he’s only fall sleep nursing, just to wake up 45 minutes after I’d tiptoed away. Then it started all over again. People wanted to help, I
wanted to be helped. And we heard everything you can imagine, including many things we never could have dreamt. We tried almost everything that was suggested. Nothing worked, but that’s beside the point. And among passion fruit, camomile capsules, herbal tea, bottles, meditation and mantras, there was only one suggestion that was discarded:
Lettuce. Placing lettuce under his pillow. I had heard that lettuce tea was calming, even sleep-inducing, but had never imagined that lettuce by osmosis would be a viable option. And in the end, it’s not that I wasn’t up for trying out lettuce’s soporific charms, we just weren’t much into leafy greens at the time. Guess I’ll never know for sure.
Around 5 months old, when Noam got a string of colds, the last one of which turned into a serious case of bronchiolitis, the advice came rolling in again. Don’t bathe at night, spread chicken fat on his chest, protect him from the evil eye, and, most specifically, never leave him in a wind current that comes through buildings.
Movement and development, of course, is another never-ending source of input. Rolling over, crawling and walking were (ahem, still are) points of contention for everyone except Fuca and I. While I’ve always been very at peace with Noam’s own – let’s say – unhurried rhythm in this respect, others are perturbed. While friends’ babies were rolling over and somersaulting at 3 months, Noam waited until 6 to finally heave his chubby little body over. Well, by that time other babies were crawling already, which Noam didn’t find necessary until 9 months. Around this time, I was busy ignoring videos other new mothers sent in message groups of their babies running, dancing and shouting “mama”, “doggy”, and other milestones. At 14 months, Noam seems ready to consider entertaining the possibility of maybe starting some bipedal movement. And we have a neighbor who asks him every.single.day if he’s started walking yet and if not, why is that, lazybones? She loves to remind “him” that the baby down the street already walks, and she’s younger than him. Stop being so lazy! she adds.
And you know those babies who just can’t stop calling “mama”?! Yea that’s not Noam. His first word was “Daddy”, and his second was….Daddy, in Portuguese. Maybe his third will be Pops, then Father, then Old Man? I’ll just keep on being “ahhh!!” Neighbors love to throw salt on the wound, of course. When they ask if he says “mama”, they’re shocked when I answer no. “Why?!!” they ask. “All babies love saying ‘mama'”.
“Must be because I am a cold and negligent mother rejecting her role as nurturer and instead raising an unstable future sociopath.” That usually is enough for them.
But actually, I don’t really feel rubbed by all the meddling. When I put Noam in his push tricycle these days for our walk and the grandma next door asks “him” if he isn’t feeling chilly, I serenely continue buckling his seatbelt. When she wonders aloud if he isn’t going to catch a cold, I placidly ask how her grandson is. And when she rubs her shoulders in the 73 degree weather and says “to Noam” that she’s going back inside, I smile and agree. Noam and I are the ones whose opinions count on all matters mother-baby. I get that now. All those mantras must have worked.