What Descartes Taught Me About Froot Loops

When James and I met he was studying philosophy and I was studying literature. Though I struggle to understand the dense philosophical texts that James enjoys so much, I’ve always had a soft spot for literary theory, which is often very philosophical.

James says as parents, we are Cartesians. René Descartes, in his Meditations, wrote that in order for his philosophical thought to bring him to valid conclusions, Descartes realized that he had to discard all he had ever learned or heard before, and start from scratch using only what he could verify was certain.

I grew up eating Froot Loops, those neon colored O’s that make the milk turn bright pink in the bowl. My brother and I also liked Spaghetti-o’s. I came home to an empty house every day after school and watched TV from 4:00 o’clock onwards. We walked to school because everyone else walked to school. My parents put us to sleep on our stomaches because they were told babies should not sleep on their backs, for fear they would choke on their spit-up or aspirate their own vomit. My father was an atheist, a civil rights champion, and a much more involved dad than was usual for that generation. He liked to tell stories of his father being a card-carrying member of the Communist party. Still, we were mostly a family that did what everyone else did, from the food we ate to the sports we played (soccer) to the vaccine shots we received.

When I ask my mom now why she fed us Count Chocula and Apple Jacks, she says, “I don’t know. I guess because everyone else was eating that, so that’s what we ate too.”

My mom, though, is no stranger to controversy. In the 1960s when she was having her children (my oldest brother was born in 1959), my mom was told in the hospital not to breastfeed. She knew instinctively that was ridiculous. A microbiologist whose theories were so radical they were originally dismissed but are now in every basic scientific textbook but have now changed our understanding of evolutionary biology, my mom knew that calves drink cow milk, lambs drink sheep milk, and baby humans should drink human milk. So she bucked cultural pressure and breastfed the four of us. She even hand-expressed milk for one of my brothers when an infected appendix made it hard for her to nurse.

Though she questioned some of our culture’s expectations, she went along with a lot of what advertisers would have us all think is best. “Why do you drink this stuff?” I asked her when I saw she had a “fruit cocktail” beverage on her pantry shelf. The first ingredient was high fructose corn syrup. The second ingredient was sugar. “This isn’t food, Mom, it’s sugar water. It’s gross and bad for you and you shouldn’t be drinking it.”

“Oh, Jenny,” my mom said, exasperated. “I don’t care!”

But I do care.

Descartes tells us that we have to examine why we do EVERYTHING, why we feel a certain way, why we hold fast to certain beliefs. You have to take your beliefs out of the box where they are contained, spread them on the table, and look at them, as you would a rock collection. I started taking my beliefs out and examining them in a Cartesian way when I was pregnant for the first time eleven years ago.

When I did, so much in our life started to change. Luckily James was right there with me, changing too. It was James who explained that organic food was better than conventional food and convinced me that it was worth the extra money to buy it, it was I who convinced James to stop driving the mile to campus and start biking instead. Together we read an article about a baby being poisoned by Drain-O and that same day we rounded up the two buckets full of toxic cleaning products that we had always used and took them out of our house for good (we use vinegar now for cleaning, and baking soda for scrubbing).

We didn’t know enough to say, “No thank you,” to plastic toys and electronic toys and the bribe of disposable diapers given to us in the hospital (though we stuck with cloth) but we started to change our diet, our cleaning products, our mode of transportation, and our beliefs about the healthiest place to give birth and the best ways to raise a child.

It’s a work in progress. If you are committed to examining your beliefs, you have to be committed to re-examining them as well. You can’t ever hold one dogma and insist that it is The Correct Way. You have to constantly reevaluate, rethink, and question yourself.

It’s hard to be Cartesian. I try to be conscious of my reactions. When I have a knee jerk response of “That’s wrong,” or “That’s stupid,” or “Why would someone do that?” instead of turning off my curiosity I try to open myself to that new way, new idea, or new concept. That’s how we came to have a lotus birth (which I thought sounded gross when I first read about it), start going diaper free (which I thought must be impossible before I knew anything about it), and start eating meat (I was a vegetarian for 20 years until my body started to tell me I needed to eat meat.)

We’ve applied this concept even to shoelaces.

Have you ever thought of why you tie your shoes?

It turns out there’s a better way than the bunny ear method we all learned as kids. Ian’s shoelace site will tell you all about it.

Here’s a video of Hesperus showing Athena how to tie shoes a better way.

A new shoelace method. An unassisted homebirth. Cloth diapers. Selective vaccines. And no Froot Loops. Thank you Descartes.

Did you make changes to your lifestyle after becoming a parent? Do you think it’s a good idea to examine and re-examine your beliefs? Do you do things differently now that you are a grown-up from how you were raised as a kid?

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6 thoughts on “What Descartes Taught Me About Froot Loops”

  1. What I love about this post is that it allows for so much of the individuality that the dogmas that Jennifer mentions don’t! I have very different feelings about vaccines than Jennifer does. We eat plenty of Froot Loops in our house and we watch a good amount of TV. But this post was inspirational–making me think about those choices–instead of making me feel that I needed to ascribe to someone else’s dictates. Good work.

  2. Loved this post!!! I raised my children in a foreign country, France, after several years of Child Study at Vassar. I was not raising children the way the French were raising children – and that must not have been easy on my French husband, who let me do my own thing anyway, to his credit – so, I know how hard it is to stray from the norm. I hope your blog will encourage readers to embrace options that may seem “outside the lines” at first glance but prove, in the long run, so sensible. Thanks for writing this blog!
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Crows & Plovers: Is Cohabitation Mission Impossible? =-.

  3. Thanks for that! It’s always fun when sites link to something on my site that they find worthwhile, but even more so when the blog entry is in itself so interesting to me. I loved the aspect of trying to be open to contantly re-evaluate our lives. So many of us hold ourselves back either with preconceptions or with plain old force of habit, and it does take a leap of faith any time we accept new ideas. I hope that this will see others not just re-learn about shoelace knots but, in doing so, learn that their lives are always open for improvement.

  4. This a wonderful way to approach parenting. Like you, we’ve rejected a lot of the “normal” ways of doing things. I just do what seems right to me. It is hard to keep an open mind about things once you decide something is right – that might be the hardest thing to do.

    Loved the shoe-tying video but I am such a clutz I can’t do it! It took me a long time to learn to tie my shoes the “normal way” – in fact, my grandfather gave me a tropy when I finally got it!

  5. When I became a mother, I became my mother. I tried to do everything that I could remember exactly as she did for the short nine years that I knew her. To a tee. Looking back we had some very bad habits in terms of fatty diet and non-existent exercise and smoking and drinking and forget about even considering the waste of gas or water of the likes of many of today’s conservation habits. Recycling? What? But, did I question that? Not really. I questioned more the psychological than physical behaviors. I swore I would never bribe with a sucker or say things like “because I said so” or, “you should be ashamed” and I didn’t. Well. Maybe I bribed. Nor did I necessarily believe that doctors or priests or even Santas were trustworthy and infallible even though my parents honored them.

    Anyway, I think we are all more open to other ideas these days. There’s easier access to information and more advances in research on and in approaches to lifestyle. Where, for example, before it would have been that organic foods are for hippies and that’s that. I recently found myself pontificating to my newly pregnant friend about eating organic and not poisoning herself or her fetus. So, I am starting to do alot of things differently from how I was raised, and how I raised my son, ironically, on the advice and information that I get from my Cartesian son. And, again, the Cartesian ways of our times. We just don’t accept everything as gospel and every authority on a subject as the only one, anymore.

    I do think it is a good idea to examine your beliefs to be sure they are authentic and YOUR beliefs and not a general consensus or someone else’s.

  6. Sometimes its hard to know that you’re ascribing to is what you really believe, or whether you’re succumbing to societal pressure. When my kids were little I felt a lot of pressure not to nurse too long. It was hard to know what I myself believed and then to stick to it. I felt similar pressures about pacifiers and bottles. I admire all of you who are questionning your beliefs and coming up with your own answers, whatever they are. I also think its important to respect others’ different conclusions about what’s right for them and their families.

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