Challenges

“It takes a village to raise a child,” Hillary Clinton said this week in her “acceptance speech” as the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party. A “historic step,” some would say: the first woman to be nominated by a major party in the United States.

This may be a big step for us — if, as an immigrant, I may aspire to integrate myself into the “American people” — but, let’s face it: from a global perspective, we are far behind. Even Brazil, where I grew up, has already had a female president, and we all know what happened back there. This turn of events does not alter the fact that Angela Merkel, for example, is a great leader, with all her ups and downs in the European journey towards a higher “civilized” standard. Which is not really working, not to mention the EU is now about to face a threat to its own existence, Brexit and all.

We must conclude… that there’s no conclusion at all. Although it is indeed remarkable that women are now free to pursue and conquer the highest positions on the planet, this does not mean they will be more effective, or equal, or worse than a man. There is good and there is evil in every segment of the human race, and yes, I avoided the term “minority” because it makes no sense when applied to an average 50% of humanity. Right? And this too must change.

Back to Hillary’s speech, I had never heard the aforementioned popular saying before (please remember, for all its undesired effects I am still a foreigner in the United States, something my husband Alan still struggles to cope with in his daily criticism). Therefore, I immediately googled it, and found out one or two things.

Although its origin is quite controversial, I learned that it comes from an African proverb, which seems to have been appropriated by Hillary, who was First Lady at the time, as a title for her 1996 book, It Takes a Village. It was more interesting to find a popular “fake quote” attributed to Hillary, according to which she once affirmed that “the primary role of the state is to teach, train, and raise children. Parents have a secondary role.”

Did she say it? Apparently not. Did she affirm it in her ’96 book? Apparently not. But it is a fact that she had included the African aphorism in her acceptance speech this week. Why? I was intrigued.

Why would we, women, advocate any kind of action that at the end of the day is detrimental to ourselves? To our indispensable role as primary caretakers in a human family?

It is also a fact that the idea of leaving the task of raising children to the “state” is a predominant socialist idea, which results in a greater control of human habits and behavior. Back in the idealist times of the kibbutz movement, to “use the village as a primary caretaker” was a widespread practice to which I was subjected as a baby, since I was born in Israel shortly after the Declaration of Independence, in a kibbutz in the Kinneret region (Galilee). And as women were supposed to be as available for work as men (I don’t think anything similar to “maternity leave” existed back then), the care of children was (not voluntarily) confided to a specific woman in a specific house where all the children lived together. Mothers went there a few times a day to breastfeed their child. It is also important to emphasize that, as far as I know, this practice is no longer a rule.

I confess that I have tried to attribute my shortcomings in life to these early beginnings. After all, it is common knowledge that the first three years of infants are the ones that affect them the most. Although, in my case, I have “redesigned” my life so completely and so often it is difficult to affirm that it happened that way. I eventually traveled to Israel and tried to contact the “woman in charge,” who was described as a strict lady, but also a caring one. When I asked her what kind of child I was, here is what she had to say: “You were just normal, like everyone else. When you cried, I just told you to shut up.”

Okay. As I’m now 64 and this “investigative” trip took place almost 20 years ago, it is possible that I’m now reinterpreting her answer mingling it with my mixed feelings about my upbringing and what I have experienced all these years.

The fact is, I grew up with and grew accustomed to an ingrained sensation of fear and insecurity, always struggling against the certainty that sooner or later I will lose a person or asset that I value highly. To which I always react by trying to go too far, challenging myself too much, putting myself in sensitive situations I could and should avoid. I just can’t behave differently.

My mother once told me that after I arrived in Brazil, when I was 15 months old, I refused to walk for a while. Later, as an adult, whenever I looked at pictures from my early childhood, I could detect a sad face and a body posture that seemed to avoid close contact. This used to disturb me so much that I ended up “ritualizing” these images, as a friend would put it. In other words, I decided to burn all my early childhood pictures.

And why am I reminiscing about these disturbing feelings today?

I don’t know the exact answer. Quoting my husband Alan, when I write “things come through me,” or something like that, which I honestly find difficult to believe.

Nevertheless, this is what came to my mind when Hillary said those words, and here is how I responded: It does not take a village, or a state, or any sort of ideology to raise a child. Outside of formal education, which is important, all it takes is simply a good couple of steady, loving parents — biological parents, whenever possible —, a lot of touching and “I-love-yous,” caring words backed by loving actions, no matter what the latest behavioral theory says.

It is not impossible for a child who is raised under dire circumstances to end up being a balanced adult, equipped for happiness. I’ve seen children who were wrongly diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or whatever, and medicated accordingly, and were still able to find their way. Okay.

On the other hand, I wonder why young people feel so lost today, so carried away by immediate violence and dubious beliefs, so negatively inclined against profound thinking and creative ways to transcend the hardships of life — I was shocked the other day to see a reader accusing the author of a philosophical essay of “living in a bubble.” How will this reflect upon their own children? Or, ultimately, what will our disposition to divert ourselves from nature show as a result? There’s no way to know, except waiting to see.

I just thought I should write about it. Period. And as I was thinking about my chronicle today, I came across the viralized video of a 6-year-old boy who reacted in desperation to another video he had seen at school, showing how mankind is “destroying the forests and killing all the animals.” He was lucky (or not) they didn’t teach what the real threat to the future is; and speaking of which, isn’t it intriguing that we’re so worried about preserving nature and animals while doing what we can to exclude ourselves from it? While we struggle against what nature has bestowed upon each one of us? To experiment with animal bodies and administer drugs to lab animals is unanimously considered cruelty. At the same time, it is alright for humans to subject themselves to all kinds of crazy manipulations.

It is hard to comprehend. Meanwhile, I believe it is important as a political stand to fight for our right to be what we were born to be, to preserve a child’s right to be cared by a loving family, protected from “social experiments.” Which, by the way, is how I define the present “gender craze,” although I’m surely aware that these same ideas can and will be used against me. After all, who is anybody out there to tell us what we were born to be? Or what a loving family is?

As a start, it is crucial to keep the “village” out of our personal lives as much as we can. That’s what freedom is.

Remember: the present “behavioral revolution” began 50 years ago with acts of civil disobedience. It is stunning to realize we are now begging the state to solve our most intimate dilemmas.

About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.
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