It Takes a Village

To all the old ladies I’ve met in Taiwan:

I admit it: I am a very bad mother. There, now will you all please leave me alone?! It seems that every time I take my 10-month-old out of the house, some old po-po will come out of nowhere to inform me that I am doing something wrong with my daughter. Typically, I am accused of exposing the baby to the gale-force 27-degrees-Celsius winds of Taiwan. They tell me that the baby is too cold and that I need to cover her up with these giant quilts that they all used on their babies. Other times, I am reprimanded for allowing my daughter to explore her environment too freely such as the letting her touch the windows on the subway, lick the tables at restaurants, or pull out blades of grass at a park. Didn’t I know that she will get germs all over her hands?! Some of my other offenses as a mother include letting my daughter crawl on the floor, which is full of germs; not taking her to the doctor each time she sneezed, allowing her to chew on things that are not toys such as wallets, cell phones, or keys. I was scolded when my daughter did catch a cold, because maybe I should have taken better care of her. I have also been told that I was holding the baby wrong by a nun. While waiting for the bus, I was scrutinized for rocking the baby too much and therefore spoiling her. Another time I had to explain myself. You see, the baby was crying and I wasn’t shoving a pacifier into her mouth to shut her up.

In the US, most people consider parenting choices to be individual, that each parent has the right to choose what they want for their child. Here in Taiwan, it seems that child-rearing styles are not up to the parents but to the elders. In this case, it’s mostly the old ah-mahs and po-pos. There is more of a provincial mentality among them, where they believe it’s their duty to take care of all the children in their “village” and it’s their duty to voice their opinions, however harsh they may be. On top of that, since they are elders, their opinions are supposed to be respected and followed. This mentality has its positives in today’s fast-paced Taiwan but can also leave you longing for some breathing room.

I recently took my daughter for a walk in a park in Banqiao. She was in a backpack carrier so I couldn’t see her but I could tell that she was asleep from the deep breathing sounds that she makes when she’s off to dreamland. Just as I was enjoying the trees and the gentle breeze of the park, an old lady came up to me and said, “ Miss, your baby is asleep!” “I know!” I was annoyed at her interruption. “Miss, your baby is too cold! The hood of her jacket has fallen down. You should put it back on her head!” Never mind that it is about 29 degrees Celsius outside and that the baby is wearing a coat thick enough to brave a blizzard in Norway. I just said “Thank you, but she’s not cold,” and started walking faster. Not satisfied with my answer, the old woman started yelling after me, “I can help you put her hood on! She’s too cold!” I started panicking because her yelling was waking up the baby from her once-peaceful nap. I repeated that the baby was not cold, and cut my walk short by finding the nearest exit from the park. I was not going to risk having her come after me with a squad of old ladies trying to cover up my sleeping infant.

I may be a first-time parent and there may be some things that you ah-mahs do better than me but I just have to inform you all that times have changed. Just because you’ve raised your 10 children your way in the countryside 180 years ago doesn’t mean that I should do the same with my child today. Just as you’ve charged me with my list of crimes as a mother, I am also going to indict you with things you’ve done that I find appalling when it comes to child-rearing. First of all, stop offering my child candy! She’s 10 months old! Not to mention it’s a major choking hazard! On that same note, please stop giving her ice cream! Especially ice cream cones that you’ve licked! That’s absolutely disgusting! And please, I keep having to say this, don’t take a bite off of something, say a piece of banana, take it out of your mouth, then offer it to my child. I’d rather let my child lick the floors of all the trains of Taipei than let her eat something you’ve just taken out of your gold-toothed mouth. Now that we’re both clear where we stand, please, I beg you, just leave me and my baby alone!

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