The Baby as Scientist and the Parent as Gardener: Alison Gopnik’s Inspiring Views on Childhood

One of my favorite books to recommend to new parents is The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind. In it, cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnik argues that babies approach their world like scientists, hypothesizing about how the world works and testing their ideas to hone their understanding. She describes her and her colleagues’ clever experiments and the adorable ways babies and small children respond. Gopnik takes obvious delight in small children. Unlike so many other books for parents that are about how to make your child smarter-better-stronger, Gopnik’s basic message is, “babies are amazing! Look at all the cool stuff they can figure out!” It’s fun to read, and geeky parents are likely to find it makes parenting more enjoyable. It might be annoying that my toddler keeps throwing his food off the high chair tray, but at least I can appreciate that he’s exploring the properties of gravity.

So when Gopnik published her latest book last year, I was excited to check it out…

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I May Not Heal, But I Will Live Better Thanks to Occupational Therapy

Last year I learned how to chop a carrot with my eyes closed. While being filmed. Sounds like one of those crazy reality cooking shows, like “Cutthroat Kitchen,” doesn’t it?

Actually, I was in the model kitchen at the Lighthouse Guild for the Blind in New York City, and the filmmaker was Joseph Lovett. We were shooting a brief documentary designed to teach ophthalmologists when and how to refer patients for low vision therapy. I was grateful for the care offered to me by the Lighthouse Guild, and I had agreed to be a sample patient for the film…

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That Time of the Month in Victorian America

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine asked me to write a blog post about how women handled menstruation in the nineteenth century, as historical background for an episode of PBS’s Civil War medical drama Mercy Street. Our stereotype of the Victorians is that they were delicate ladies swooning on settees during their periods. As I explain, that was not the reality for most women. Read the post here.

Referendum on a Life in the Woods

For three decades, my dad’s brothers framed houses. The three of them had a small construction business in rural Connecticut. The eldest sometimes led projects as a general contractor, and other times they worked as subcontractors.

With their skills and their self-made business, they also built cozy, modest houses for themselves. That part of Connecticut isn’t wealthy. They and their neighbors worked hard to pull together comfortable homes out of a limited rural job market, relatively inexpensive real estate, and a frugal lifestyle…

Like many small businesses, my uncles’ construction firm didn’t have health insurance…What would Obamacare have meant to them, and to their lives?…

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Nurse-Midwives are With Women, Walking a Middle Path to a Safe and Rewarding Birth

In childbirth politics as in all politics, extreme viewpoints make the news, and sensible centrists are ignored. A couple of years ago, Ricki Lake provoked a firestorm of debate about home birth with her film, The Business of Being Born, which showcased gloriously crunchy New York City home births, and made the case for the home birth option. Obstetricians responded with censorious anger, shouting at Lake via condescending statements from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Recently, obstetrician and blogger Amy Tuteur published Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting, in which she made fun of women stupid enough to believe that they might have a better birth experience without an epidural, and excoriated anyone who would refuse any of the bells and whistles of modern obstetrics. Her title was a response to journalist Jennifer Block’s, Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care, an exposé of callous obstetricians who damaged women and their babies with the thoughtless overuse of standard obstetric interventions such as the induction agent cytotec and the drastic overuse of major abdominal surgery (cesarean section).

All this shouting. Is it getting us anywhere? Mightn’t there be some middle path for women who see the appeal of “natural” birth, or who at least would like to minimize their chances of cesarean section, but who are not confident about giving birth without immediate medical back-up?1 Could there possibly be a way to combine the emergency backstop of modern medicine with the caring values of home-birth midwifery?…

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Is Your Doctor Experimenting On You?

My friend’s father is in the hospital, and it’s been rough. His cancer treatment did not go as expected. “He’s suffering so much!” my friend sighed. “And the doctors, they’re just experimenting on him. It’s horrible.” When I heard this, I was confused. Was her father in some sort of experimental treatment? “No. But the doctors told us that once he had this treatment, he’d have another five good years, at least. The chemo was awful, but it was supposed to be worth it. It turns out he’s still sick with cancer, and I feel terrible that we put him through that torture. The doctors said they didn’t know why it didn’t work. It’s like they’re just experimenting.”

When I heard my friend’s story, I had a powerful feeling of déjà vu. Her narrative sounded just like letters I had found from the 1960s in Harvard Medical School’s archives…

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Are We Free to Be President Yet? The Legacy of Pat Schroeder and 1970s Feminism

I was born into 1970s feminism. I came into the world in 1972, the year Free to Be You and Me came out. It must have made a big impression on my elementary school teachers, because I saw the filmstrip version of it in school at least three times. I loved it at least as much as my teachers did. I loved the skit in which two babies, played by Marlo Thomas and Mel Brooks, try to figure out which of them is the boy and which is the girl. After much deliberation, they decide that the brave, impatient one who wants to be a firefighter must be the boy. (Of course they’re wrong.) I can still sing along with Rosey Grier’s rendition of “It’s Alright to Cry” in my head…

1972 was also the year that Pat Schroeder, a young lawyer from Denver, first ran for Congress…

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