There was once a great story on NPR’s “This American Life” about a man who had an idea for a cable channel called “Puppies”. It would just keep the camera focused on puppies, 24 hours a day (with crawls advertising dog food and flea medicine). The guy felt that people would be happy just looking at puppies yawn, bite and scratch. I think he’s right.
The same kind of thinking went into the documentary, “Babies”. French director Thomas Balmes thought people would be fascinated just to watch babies. If not for twenty four hours - then at least for an hour and a half or so. He was right, of course.
The film was released in France in 2009 and in the United States this year, with a DVD release soon. I can’t imagine much was changed with these various releases, aside from translating the credits.
The film follows the first year of life for four babies in four families in four very different parts in the world. The families are all relatively well off in their cultures. But “well to do” means something different in a western urban center and a third world farm. Hattie and Mari are first born daughters in big cities, San Francisco and Tokyo respectively. Ponijao and Bayar are younger brothers growing among animals as well as siblings (again, respectively, in Opuwo, Namibia and Bayanchandnami, Mongolia.)
We don’t hear a lot of talking, even from the babies’ parents, and I only understood Hattie’s folks, who spoke English, because there is no dubbing or subtitles. The only editorial comment comes from the editing. We see Hattie’s father using a lint brush on his daughter’s PJs. A contrast is found in Panijao crawling through the dirt and sampling the taste of various stones.
There is, of course, quite a contrast in material possessions. Mari lives among the latest of gadgets and electronics to be found in contemporary Japan. Bayer’s family has a TV, but the family probably wasn’t in line for the premiere of the iPad.
One can’t help but wonder as one watches what the best environment for a baby would be. Surely we wouldn’t want a pregnant woman riding a motorcycle through rough mountain roads, like Bayar’s parents. But I would never want to subject any child of mine to the vapid song praising “Mother Earth” heard in Hattie’s playgroup.
I loved the free exposure that Bayar and Ponijao had to animals. But Hattie and Mari would grow up in a world with much more ready access to books. Is it better to be an only child with one’s parents’ undivided attention or to have siblings one can look up to and enjoy?
There certainly are advantages for children in some cultures. One can’t doubt the advantages of western medicine. But there must also be advantages to the freedom of living much more freely in the world of nature. We often think we must provide the perfect environment for our children’s growth and development.
I was thinking of this when looking at Exodus chapter 2. God needed a leader to guide the “Children” of Israel to freedom. And like all leaders (like all people, really), this leader started as a baby. The sons of the Israelites were being slaughtered by the Egyptians. So a wise Israelite woman allowed her son to be adopted by an Egyptian woman and raised in the court of the Pharaoh. I’m sure Moses’ mother would have been appalled if she watched a documentary on everything Moses’ adopted family did as they raised him. But God was in control.
As the song says, Jesus loves all the children of the world. As should we. And we should work to see that all babies, children, parents, well….everyone knows of God’s love for us. Jesus always took time for babies (Luke 18:15). So should we.