Saturday, July 23, 2016

Longtime nursing and parenting

I think that some fish and amphibians create babies by squirting large clouds of eggs or sperm into the water and letting physics mix the two.  For them, that's it as far as sex, procreation and parenting goes.  When you contrast that with 20 years of direct parenting followed by another 20 or so of worry and wonder about the kids and where you might have gone wrong with them, you can see that humans have developed an oddly taxing way of reproducing.

I have a longtime interest in nutrition and it has led me in recent years to the subject of cooking.  Cooking, like parenting, is a big deal with humans and scientists like Richard Wrangham (see his "Catching Fire" but his book, not the Hunger Games novel) have charted out the ways that the adoption of cooking affects humans.  It does so in many ways, from supplying more calories and nutrients in less eating time than the other animals can manage with only raw foods.  But of course, cooking and table settings and table manners and table conversations and coordinated meals do much more for us and to us than just lessen chewing time.  As I mentioned, in some primitive societies, sex together is one thing but being offered food and accepting it is a way bigger deal and equals getting married.

If you think about what we normally call "childhood" and contrast that with the baby frogs or baby alligators who move about unsupervised at birth and live by luck and instinct, you get a glimpse of another very human and special way of doing things.  You can see nature films of young wildebeests being born and managing to stand within minutes.  They can run awkwardly and stay with the herd right away.  They nurse from their mammal moms standing up.  Watch "Call the Midwife" (PBS and Netflix) and see the help and assistance human babies need for months.

Whether a parent or not, we all were squalling little bundles and we would all have died without years of support and nursing and care.  Speaking and understanding speech is a basic mark of being human but so is upright, two-footed walking around.  We take years to master those skills and that is only when everything goes optimally.  We don't even start to get our adult teeth for 5 or more years.  Then, the years of elementary and secondary education and life during that time.  So, maybe at age 17, we get college or apprenticeship or a beginning job.

Much of our lives and activities are built around the extended human childhood.

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