The Child - Its Care And Nurture
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE beautiful consummation of home life arranged both by God and Nature is a baby. The woman who has borne a child after the stress and pain of her labor rejoices in that first baby cry as no soul on earth can rejoice in anything else. It is the fruition of hope, the fulfillment of the greatest joy of existence because it is the new pledge of life and love. It is the note which sings again the song of love in deeper and tenderer tones. It has in it the deep harmonies which are recognized throughout the earth wherever there is womanhood and motherhood.
How anxiously she longs to see at once the firstborn of her own body and soul and what serene satisfaction and peace there is when the little babe is laid in her arms ! That constitutes the supreme triumph of her existence. But what does she do when that babe is laid into her waiting arms? Eagerly, almost half afraid, she passes her hands over every feature and limb to see that it is all there ! Eagerly she scans its every feature to see that it is perfect and without blemish and without defect! Tenderly she does this over and over again, confirming her first impressions and each time probing a little deeper to find out all that she can learn about its little body of which for long and often weary months she was the conscious custodian but could not see or handle!
Because she knows herself what that child has cost her in pain and anxiety she is anxious to see a perfect result and to feel that her toil and travail have borne the fruit she wished for and that it is fair and goodly to look upon. And when she has this satisfaction the past pains, the labor, the travail, the turbulent hours, and the still reflections by night, are all forgotten in the joy that a new life has been fairly started on the road to power and usefulness.
But just here she is at once brought face to face with the fact, not that her work is done, but that it has just begun! For months she has been thinking and planning for the little stranger. Now he is here and possibly for the first time she understands that there has been committed to her a great task, a vast responsibility. She gradually awakens to the fact that this beautiful, perfect piece of mechanism which has just been laid into her arms is not a mechanism at all—not a toy to play with, but a life to develop, and that it is an organism with the power of developing its own life and storing up its own energies, and that one day she may stand beside it grown to a mighty size and feel that the little pink toy has grown to a powerful man. That it may do this she sees that there have been laid upon her a series of duties that begin the moment she is able to move. No sooner has she recovered her strength and become able to move about than she must ask herself "What am I to do for this baby?" The first answer to that question has to do with the matter of producing a strong, healthy body.
"A sound mind in a sound body" was an ancient motto. Yes, but you cannot have a sound mind except in a sound body; and so the mother must think first of all about the little body ; and here at once she finds that she has entered a vast laboratory into which many millions of mothers have preceded her, and from these there has been gathered a vast fund of experience and wisdom which she must make her own. She learns that she must think about things she never thought of before. She must learn the names and uses of instruments of which, perhaps, she never heard before. She finds that she must gather strength and skill to do things from which she would often shrink, except that she is doing them for her own baby. She learns the names and the symptoms of ailments and what to do about them. She learns to plan for the various stages of the baby's growth and to observe things as they are coming and with an enlightened vision take time by the forelock. All these things gradually break upon her as she discovers that this beautiful pink creation in which she has had so large a part yields readily to all kinds of influences. Warmth and cold, nurture and diet, bathing and rubbing, clothing and feeding, sleep and airing, all these things begin to assume an importance of which she had not the slightest idea before.
She is the protector of the child. Therefore she has to erect and manage the defenses of its life. It is she who has to think about every detail long after everyone else has ceased to think about it. The novelty wears off and the baby is a matter of fact, and then we find out what kind of a mother we have for this baby. If she is the right kind of a mother, she begins to inform herself about all kinds of things. She sets up a routine of every kind so that she will not be taken unawares. She reads instructions about various matters long before there is any need, that she be not taken by surprise. She learns to observe carefully, though there is no reason for anxiety or alarm. She accustoms herself to simply seeing everything that has any relation to her child and planning without fuss and without noise, so that when something appears, it finds her vigilant and watchful, ready to meet the emergency.
It is one of the surprising things about motherhood to watch how quickly the right-minded mother does these things. But she does them much better if she works with a plan. It is one thing to give a bath ; but it is quite another thing to give the same bath with precision and beauty of detail, every article exactly in place and within reach ; every necessity right where it should be and the conclusion finding again everything in place and not in general confusion. So it is one thing to give the baby its food; but it is another thing to note the baby's appetite, to note the baby's weight and color, to observe its general attitude, and the like symptoms, taking all these things in with a careful, eye so that any slight disturbance is at once connected with some possible cause. It is the artist mother who can do these things and keep sweet, and not get fussy and nervous, and that is the fine art of motherhood. One of the things this work seeks to do is to help train and develop the Artist Mother who shall not only give her child birth, but give it also training, bodily training—physical literacy and power and mental stimulus and inspiration, and finally moral power and strength.
This is the ideal she must have before her even when she is dealing with the humblest matters about her child's physical life. It seems a long road from the cleanliness of a feeding bottle to some great moral injury—but the road is not so long as it looks, for many men have found their moral power wrecked by bad digestion, and their happiness in life destroyed because of the constant inward anxieties due to malnutrition. Schools are repeatedly—so steadily that it is an old story to most school teachers —finding out that the wrong treatment of children in the matters of diet is upsetting their school work and often branding them as dunces when the real trouble is in what they are permitted to eat.
For we must keep in mind that there are several kinds of illiteracy. There is the illiteracy of the mind—people who cannot read, who cannot write, and who do not know the rudiments without which there is no mental intercourse possible. But there are physical illiterates as well, people who never have learned the use of arms and legs and fingers, who do not know what a rhythmic carriage of the body is, and are forever awkward, ungainly, clumsy persons.. That is physical illiteracy. It often springs from the want of proper care in childhood. It may have to do with such simple things as cleanliness and immediate care in what look like trifling details of infancy. Tall oaks from little acorns grow. So big defects often spring from very trivial matters.
Then how often you see people who have to travel through this beautiful world in which there is so much to see without a real pair of eyes ! Very likely want of care in infancy may have affected those eyes which forever shut out some of the most beautiful sights which God made for human eyes to look upon. Do you realize that there is such a thing as tone deafness—and that perhaps carelessness in the matter of the ears, one of the most delicate of human instruments, may mean that the sweet harmonies of music are forever at best only a half-opened book? These are the things the Artist Mother thinks about when she is giving her baby its bath, when she is cleaning it, when she is feeding it, when she is watching the teeth, the skin and what not. Before her stands a graceful, beautiful, attractive creature, a man or a woman, such a man or woman as she would have wished to create perfect and finished—but God was wiser, old Mother Nature was wiser, and she said that this complete figure, erect, beautiful, graceful, strong, must not be thrown out into the world like a mechanical toy, but must grow, must grow, must grow, and like a tender plant must be nurtured and guarded and trained by example, by careful discipline, by guidance, and by every detail that love can invent and that art and science can supply !
Then sometimes there is linked up with the Artist Mother the Artist Father! He is rarer, but he does exist, and he, too, sees that as this baby is not the life of the father or the life of the mother alone but a new creation, the union of two, so he must contribute his part to the training of the new creation and beauty. Every man and father as he takes off his clothes at night and gazes upon his broad and powerful chest, can see the remains of the organs by which in some remote stage of human development the child hung, not only at the mother's breast, but also at the father's ! There are those nipples remaining, the mute but significant witnesses of the time when fathers as well as mothers took part in the nursing of the child, and had to supply a part of the food and take a part of the care and training of the baby which was the joint possession of both ! Have we not too much forgotten that ? Is it not time that fathers were thinking a little more about the child, that they may the better know the son or daughter when grown? This also begins in the earliest care for the physical life of the child because some of the training calls especially for the strength of the father as well as the tenderness and delicacy of the mother. In the great plaza of King Solomon's Temple there were two pillars. One was called Beauty and the other was called Strength. It is the Artist Mother's function to give the touch of beauty. It is the Artist Father's function to give the touch of strength. But it takes both to make the rounded and symmetrical whole.
Thus under careful and loving supervision and handling, the baby life is developed and guided till the perfect specimen emerges as the finished statue comes forth from under the sculptor's hammer and chisel. But when the sculptor has done his work, even the best of which the world has knowledge, the result is beautiful but cold, symmetrical but without emotion, suggestive of life but itself lifeless. But when the baby has been reared and fashioned into physical completeness and power, it is a living, breathing organism, formed for self-government and self-determination. Then, perhaps, you have reared a great scholar, a great poet, a great scientist, a great statesman, or some other great leader of men and women. Then you have set into motion a force which goes on endlessly perpetuating itself and creating vast new forces like unto itself to the end of time.
The human body is the most wonderful structure which exists. Its wonderful coordination, its capacity for development, its beautiful functioning in which all the parts are fitly joined and compacted together, make that beautiful structure which even in lifeless stone or marble charms and often thrills us. This body has itself undergone vast changes, and the story of its evolution is itself a wonderful tale of how powers develop and physical beauty and capability have become organized. It is more than a mere question of health, though health is uppermost always in our thought, because lack of it means the stoppage of everything else. It is a question of making a creditable addition to the human race, of giving to our children the only aristocracy worth having, that of pure blood and unstained physical organization, out of which may come a beautiful and vigorous mental life. Love to the baby can do much. But even love must be instructed, and bring Science and Experience and Care as handmaids to secure the final result. The baby life is the seedling which, albeit so tiny and so helpless at the beginning, when it has grown to the sturdy and powerful tree rooted in strength of limb and organ, becomes the refuge and strength of many others. This is what makes the physical care of the child so vital to the child himself and to the race in whose development he must play a vital and uplifting part.