Saturday, April 25, 2009

Do you have any children?

I'm just catching up on a series I love - the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It is incredibly evocative, with all kinds of little things that make me feel like I am really there - I have never been to Botswana, but I have visited Namibia and Zimbabwe (the latter back in the day when it was almost as rich as Botswana) and lived in the region. I look at the furniture, the gates, the roads, the signs, the kitchens, the way people wear their clothes, the gardens and the trees, and I'm back there. I know just where the girls in the Go Go Handsome Man's Bar get their clothes and how the beer tastes, and the ketchup on JLB Matekoni's table, and what the detectives are drinking, since they aren't drinking beer themselves, and how Mma Ramotswe's tailor makes her clothes, and how Mma Makutsi is squeezed in the minibus, and what the bush smells like (and, sadly, how the dust in such dry places stops me breathing properly, and hence why I could never live in that corner of the world - only on a humid coast).

As some of you may know, the series would have to be (under my rating system) rated M, as Mma Ramotswe lost her newborn baby while she was married to her violent ex-husband. I believe there was at least a hint that he had caused the baby's death by beating her up though I don't particularly want to go back and check*. In one episode she helps an American woman find out what happened to her son, who had been living in Botswana, and she tells the woman that she, too, lost a child and knows what it is like. At the end of the episode we find Mma Ramotswe at the baby's grave**, and we also find me in floods of tears.

In the next episode a father is worried about his daughter and he asks Mma Ramotswe whether she has children. She does not answer but pauses and looks down, and he says "well, take it from one who has". I do find - and stop me if I've harped on about this before - oh, yes, that's right, you can't stop me - OK, stop reading if I have - that my friends and family divide into those who believe that no-one can possibly know what children are like until they have had their own and that their own children are so special and unique that I cannot possibly even comment on their development, and those that accept that I know something about child development, and are interested in the topic in general and although they are the ones that know what their child is doing right now***, ask for my opinion or explanation of this (they've spotted he is crawling backwards/thinking you can hide by closing your eyes/spelling words with letters missing and want to know if this is common or why it happens).

A perfect example of the former is, as we know, my brother. 'Nuff said. A good example of the latter is my primary-teacher-trained uncle's wife - she has 3 children aged 5-13 and although she knows about the school stuff, we've had many lovely conversations about them when they were preschool, and also about spoken language things which at least when she trained wasn't a major part of what they studied.

I didn't mean to get this on to a rant about people who think you know nothing because you haven't any of your own, 25+ years' experience of working with children notwithstanding. I was actually wondering about something that, again, I may have waffled about before: if you have lost children, what do you say when people ask how many you have? Do you acknowledge the ones you've lost? Or only some of them? If you have children living, do you also mention the ones that are not?

*Another not-for-the-squeamish story: When I was doing my PhD I was working on speech and language disorders and some of the individuals I worked with had had strokes. The youngest was a woman in her 20s who had been pregnant when her boyfriend karate chopped her on her neck, causing a clot to move to her brain and a subsequent stroke. The baby, happily, was fine (I think she was very near delivery) and she survived, but with severe speech and langauge problems. When I met her she was worrying that her baby's language was soon to overtake hers, and that she couldn't read his books very well. Apparently pregnancy is one of the commonest times for a partner to first become violent to a woman. Lovely.

**I hadn't seen the little grave shelters before, as where I've lived they tend to concrete grave stones, and the little baby-sized one was heartbreaking.

***In fact, this is a big theme in my research - the abilities of parents to report on and assess their own children's behaviour, and how to get accurate information from parents that isn't either wishful thinking or ultra conservative.

1 comment:

docgrumbles said...

As a developmental psychologist, I have had many people doubt my knowledge and abilities based on my (until recently) lack of my own children. It drove me nuts, because sometimes parents can be the worst judges of children because they are so biased.

Even though my class lectures have always included numerous anecdotes from my work experience with children of all ages, I am certain that non-representative tales of my new daughter will hold more weight with my students. It really isn't right, but it sure happens a lot.