April 10, 1998

Baby and Child Care

The most important thing that I have to say is that you should not take too literally what is said in this book. Every child is different, every parent is different. Every illness or behavior problem is somewhat different from every other.All that I can do is describe the most common developments and problems in the most general terms. Remember that you know a lot about your child and that I don't know anything about him.

Benjamin Spock, 1945

On March 15,1998 Dr. Benjamin Spock died at the age of 94. His death produced a number of radio and television bits on the good doctor. It brought back many memories for me. Spock's book was as close to a child rearing bible as my wife and I had during those hectic years when we were raising 4 children, all very close together in age. I recently browsed through it and realized what a remarkable book it is.

In so-called primitive cultures, a family group consists of children, parents and grandparents. When a first time mother had a question or a problem, she asked her mother or grandmother, who gave her about the same answer that her mother gave her. When we were raising children, our parents weren't around. This is often the case in our mobile society. We had to turn to our physician and Dr.Spock. Our pediatrician was no help with a colicky baby at three in the morning. Nor was he any help with most of the every day problems that a new parent is faced with. That was where Spock came in handy. For all of its faults, it was the best that there was. Where Spock was inadequate, there was The Berenstane Baby Book, which contained much superb non-medical advice, and was also good for a chuckle or two. It should have become a classic. It was full of great advice such as: The best teething toy is a small rubber dog bone or the business end of a sink plunger, which you are sure to need if you have small children.They also recommended as the best toys, kitchen utensils and a large appliance carton, which were free. I suspect that the book was suppressed by the manufacturers of children's toys and gadgets.

In one TV interview, Spock discussed thumb sucking, which was considered a terrible thing at the time. Doctors recommended a variety of methods of torturing a thumb-sucking baby. Spock recommended a pacifier. I don't think that he recommended a device as primitive as a tit, which is what most "primitives" use with great success. I chuckle when I think about it. We tried a pacifier on our first child. As soon as she realized that it didn't give milk, she spit it out and refused to have any more to do with it. Our second made the pacifier a part of her mouth and we were concerned that she might be the only kid ever to attend her high school graduation with a pacifier in her mouth. It was a major disaster when Lynn lost her pacifier or we were down to our last spare.Our identical twins didn't take to pacifiers. One didn't use anything and one used her thumb, with the rest of her fingers firmly anchored to her nose. Did it make any difference in their development? I doubt it, but we had Dr. Spock to thank for not making it a big deal. The same thing applied to toilet training. The good doctor was quite casual about the whole earth-shaking business.

The reason Spock's book was a runaway best seller was because there wasn't any other book worth reading on child care. My only objection to the book was that it did make some sicknesses seem very frightening. Fortunately we had a fine pediatrician who was available by phone and who would see a child at any hour if he thought it necessary.

Spock was very active in trying to do away with nuclear testing and was also active in protesting the Viet Nam war.He was very sincere in trying to help people. An indication of this is the fact that he died broke, despite what must have been massive royalties from the sale of his book.

So, Dr. Benjamin Spock, the world is a somewhat better place because you were here. I salute you.

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