by T. Berry Brazelton Reviewed by Janet Levine
| Released: April 29, 2013 Publisher: Da Capo Press (256 pages)
“Such is the importance of Dr. Brazelton’s work that this sensitive memoir fills a gap as to the theoretical and practical roots of contemporary child raising practice.”
I was a Dr. Spock baby.
My mother cared for me “by the book” the famous Baby and Child Care. She proudly gave me her much used copy when my first child was born. I paged through it with growing bemusement (Spock’s methodology was contrary to everything I wanted to be as a mother) because I had already prepped myself on Dr. Brazelton’s Infant and Mothers and What Every Baby Knows.
These books, in setting out Dr. Brazelton’s observations and advice, debunked much of Spock’s regimen. In preparation for writing this review I took a sampling of younger mothers (those mainly in their thirties), some had heard of Dr. Brazelton but many now utilized and relied on other childcare gurus.
Such is the importance of Dr. Brazelton’s work that this sensitive memoir fills a gap as to the theoretical and practical roots of contemporary child raising practice.
Learning to Listen is a timely reminder (on Brazelton’s 95th birthday) of his huge contribution to child rearing.
Dr. Brazelton details and pays tribute to the many colleagues he listened to and cooperated with and to whom he owes a debt for the theory and practice he then shared with hundreds of pediatricians and scores of thousands of patients.
Most importantly Dr. Brazelton listened, observed and learned from babies.
Newborns have a special place in his heart and the chapter on “Discovering the Power of Newborns” rivets attention, especially the section on how the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) was developed from the work of Heinz Prechtl.
Prechtl identified six states of neonatal consciousness (deep sleep, light sleep, an indeterminate state, wide awake, fussing, and crying). As Dr. Brazelton writes “these states were the matrix on which different kinds of newborns’ responses depended. Unless one respected the state of the baby, you couldn’t get a reliable response.”
The scale became know as the Brazelton scale. It is fundamental to Brazelton’s understanding of how to give parents insight into their baby.
In other sections Dr. Brazelton writes of the development of his widely (and wildly) influential four point, Touchpoints model, positing in child rearing instead of a stimuli-response model the family becomes a system in which each member is in balance with the other members. He also explains his advocacy for children on the national political stage during the years of the Clinton administration’s foray into the health care debate.
The opening chapters lay a strong foundation for understanding the influences on Dr. Brazelton’s life. They relate his childhood in Waco, Texas, his college experience at Princeton, and the early days of his medical training and residencies in Boston—a compassionate glimpse at the young boy and man who became such an internationally trusted pediatrician.
He unsparingly denotes his emotional struggles with his father and younger brother juxtaposed with his love for his mother, as well as for an older black woman, Annie May, his nanny.
At Princeton he shone both academically and as a theatrical performer and even considered Broadway as a career path. But he chose medicine. The Second World War interrupted his medical internship in Boston (where he confesses he did not learn much sitting in lectures without any hands on training.) He served as a doctor on a DE (a small ship used as Destroyer Escorts.)
Later, gradually, he found his place in the thriving Boston medical universe and began to be noticed by leaders in the field of pediatrics.
A singular contribution to the memoir is Dr. Brazelton’s account of his research with newborns in other cultures. For years he asked many questions of himself as to similarities and differences in newborns in various cultures—genes, nutrition, experiences in utero, and delivery.
Availing himself of any opportunity, over decades he visited and worked with babies and parents in Southern Mexico (Mayan culture), Guatemala, Kenya, Japan, China, and in New Mexico among the Navajos.
Dr. Brazelton’s descriptions are sensitive and thorough. I learned so much. He concludes “The spectrum of differences in infant behavior or in parents’ ways of handling neonates in these various cultures are valuable to those caring for parents and babies in the United States. Despite individual variations within each culture, the differences . . . point the way to many potential changes in our child-care arrangements and our educational system.”
He is still dispensing well-researched and hard won practical advice. Dr. Brazelton’s Learning to Listen is a must-read for professionals and lay people alike—anyone interested in babies and in parenting.
Janet Levine is a journalist and author of four books including Know Your Parenting Personality: How to Use the Enneagram to Become the Best Parent You Can Be.
, human rights
, Leela's Gift
Read my most recent review (see below) for the New York Journal of Books
Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard
“. . . the book is neither Dr. Bates’ memoir nor a disquisition on the transformative power of Shakespearean language and imagery; it actually centers on murderer and prisoner Larry Newton’s story.”
Laura Bates, the author of this memoir, receives international recognition for her program, Shakespeare in Shackles, from many in penal and academic circles who celebrate its unique value.
Much of Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard unfolds in Indiana’s correctional facilities such as maximum security Wabash Valley.
As Dr. Bates explains, “I am sitting side by side” with a prisoner who after ten years in solitary confinement is allowed unprecedented permission to work one on one with her to create a series of Shakespeare workbooks for prisoners. This prisoner is one Larry Newton, a convicted multi-murderer. The book recounts their journey together.
As such the book is neither Dr. Bates’ memoir nor a disquisition on the transformative power of Shakespearean language and imagery; it actually centers on murderer and prisoner Larry Newton’s story.
Dr. Bates details the context of daily life in maximum security and other prisons she visits. Excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays dot the text, deliberately chosen “lessons” containing the words “prison” or “prisoner” or “murder” serving as springboards for the author (and readers) to enter the prisoners’ minds and world.
Speeches from (for example) King Richard the Second, Act 5:5 “I have been studying how I may compare/This prison where I live unto the world . . .”, Macbeth Act 2:1 “Is this a dagger I see before me,/The handle toward my hand?” and Hamlet, Act 2:2 in Hamlet’s interchange with Guildenstern when Hamlet states “Denmark’s a prison . . . in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons. Denmark being one o’ the worst.”
Dr. Bates describes her initial amazement at prisoner Newton’s perceptive interpretations of these speeches and his ability to communicate verbally and in writing. “. . . I had never heard such an enthusiastic Shakespearean discussion in any college course I’d taken or taught.”
An autodidact, prisoner Newton is a compelling figure, especially if one buys Dr. Bates’ premise that her expectations were stereotypically shaped to never expect to encounter an “intellectual and philosopher” like Larry Newton in a prison.
How many other Newtons languish in other prisons? This question never arises.
Throughout Shakespeare Saved My Life Dr. Bates herself remains a shadowy figure: no self-reflection, no inner dialogue, little introspection—nothing of the very lifeblood of memoir writing.
We glean tidbits of events of her life while we plow through precise detail of her ingress and egress to and from various prisons, as well as multiple descriptions of procedural formalities inside various prisons.
The format of Shakespeare Saved My Life reads like a workbook, a series of lessons and responses from prisoners to substantiate Laura Bates’ brave and well-intentioned activities and the universal impact of Shakespeare’s canon, while along the way her program paves a path for her to secure tenure as a university professor.
Currently there are many volunteer programs in so many prison systems across this country: meditation, mediation, counseling, tutoring, even the esotericism of martial arts such as aikido. We can honor Laura Bates as one among many and hope someday someone will write a compelling personal memoir of experiences as potentially intriguing as these.
Janet Levine is a decades long freelance journalist and an author of four books. She writes for such publications as the New York Times Magazine and The Boston Globe.
A wonderful read; historical family memoir wrapped in modern European history (1850s to 1950s). Internationally acclaimed ceramicist Edmund De Waal takes a sabbatical from his art studio in London to trace his family’s roots from their position as the world’s greatest grain merchants operating from Odessa in 1860 to becoming among the world’s richest bankers with family members from London to Paris to Vienna running the financial operations and consorting within the highest social and artistic circles of those European capitals. But the Ephrussis family were Jews and the vast majority of their members perished in the 1940s along with their spectacular wealth. It is coldly shocking all over again to read evidence of the depth of Austrian, German and French anti-Semitism. De Waal book-ends his family memoir with his great-uncle Iggie who lived in Japan after the Second World War and collected <em>netsuke</em> small Japanese figurines. De Waal, a perfectionist, travels to these cities and countries and tracks down the smallest details of his family history. A worthy tribute to a fascinating era.
Having read and thought so highly of Tsukiyama’s 1996 book “The Samurai’s Garden” I was excited to pick up “Dreaming Water” last week. It is well-reviewed and Tsukiyama is an esteemed American novelist but this one was obviously not for me. The subject matter of the protagonist’s battle with Werner’s syndrome is intriguing but I found the narrative flow jarred by the shifts of POV. The book never “took off”, found a rhythm, drew me in. I so wanted to love this book but I never did. Perhaps you will.
, mind structure
In the psychology of personality if we use a model such as the Enneagram, we are helped to face our emotional avoidances. This is a huge step towards cultivating psychological wellbeing. If you are coping with an unexpected dire illness or accident, extended family issues that involve your spouse or other family members, abusive behavior by a boss, or any other intense experience, how do you react? We each have a strategy of avoidance.
Previously I highlighted three avoidances, failure, pain, and vulnerability. Let’s examine three other common avoidances. One is to experience intense stress as internalized anger, not anger that devolves on others but anger at oneself for not being perfect and so allowing the situation one is facing to have manifested in the first place. Those who avoid this kind of anger see themselves as moral standard-bearers and they see the potential for perfection in the world. Yet they can never make the world as perfect as they perceive it could be. The panacea for internalized anger is to try to bring an ever-expanding awareness that the way things are is perfect in itself. To see the “imperfections” caused by stress as perfection inherent in the way things are.
Another avoidance is feeling ordinary, living in a mundane. The cause of stress is processed as a feeling that you are special. Stressful situations are to be avoided and they pull you into a messy emotional morass where you do not belong. You are ill because you thought of yourself as too special to take healthy precautions, those routines are for others. Your extended family is in turmoil because no-one realizes your uniqueness and they blame you for relationships not running smoothly. Your boss is rude and harassing because (s)he does not appreciate your creativity, and anyway (s)he should never have asked you to do those mundane tasks in the first place. The panacea for those avoiding ordinariness is to cultivate compassion and empathy and see the basic goodness of all life in every moment lived—whatever that may be.
A third avoidance is not to form connections on an emotional level. You overvalue privacy and independence and draw back from personal conflicts. Engaging in stressful situations drains you and you guard your time and energy. You try not to let stressful situations arise by continually signaling your unwillingness to engage. You can easily withdraw into the safety of your mind, pull up the drawbridge of communication and interaction and literally not be present, even if you are in the same room. The panacea for those who avoid interacting on an emotional level, however low key, is be present in a calm, balanced and non-judgmental way that can be helpful to everyone in charged situations. If others feel your presence and attention they will accept and appreciate your rational perspective.
A methodology I teach for us to be able to enter our avoidances and include them in our emotional development is to write a letter to Dear Anger, or Dear Ordinariness, or Dear Emotional Connectedness. Ask what you are avoiding and why. Write a reply to yourself from these mind states. Continue the correspondence until you begin to engage with the avoidance. This is hard inner work but one way to ensure our psychological wellbeing.
In my next blog I’ll look at the final three common personality avoidances.
You can read more on the avoidance and other aspects of the psychology of personality in my books Know Your Parenting Personality and The Enneagram Intelligences. More information at http://www.janetlevine.com
, mind structure
Winter Solstice 2012
Breathe, relax, center and smile. Let things come and go, and just let be. It’s not about trying not to think but about letting things come and go. Learning to relax, just be,center, and naturally meditate is a well known spiritual secret that people ought to be able to learn and integrate into life. Like mental flossing, it keeps one open and free, calm and clear.
–Lama Surya Das, Dzogchen Center, Austin, Texas
Season’s Greetings, I decided this year instead of a rundown of where I have been and whom I was with, and what I saw and what I didn’t see. As well as what happened to me and what didn’t happen, I’ll share two useful “message” out of the hundreds that come my way each year. The first is from one of my Buddhist meditation teachers, Lama Surya Das. How often this year I have heard these words in my head “breathe, relax, center and smile.” It is such a powerful mantra, and so useful as a centering or attention practice.
The other (below) came my way from another teacher, Lawrence Hillman, who quotes the Apple visionary, Steve Jobs (who literally changed our world). I love Jobs’ imagery of connecting the dots of our lifelines.
My heartfelt wishes to you and yours for a healthy and fulfilling 2013. May we all “connect the dots” awaiting us and learn a little more about where we are going.
Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
At this threshold moment in history, I wish to remind you that nobody can predict what will come in the future and that if you trust that part of you that knows this, you will connect the dots in due time.
, Janet Levine
, mind structure
In my last post on this topic I blogged on some aspects of the relationship of writers and editors. For myself I can report that while there is progress with my latest project, a historical novel, it is a vexed adventure. As you can see from the title of this post I have moved on to Phase Three of the process; the search for an agent. From all that I have read over past years and continue to read, almost daily, on the hopeless state of publishing with a “real” publisher (as opposed to plunging into the “new” self-publishing world with an eBook) the majority of writers who are self-published state they would relinquish that process in a heart beat to sign a contract with a publisher.
After much thought I decided to try the “old” road again and find an agent, the gatekeeper to the publishing kingdom, someone who will help me grab the publishing ring. I made this decision because several years ago I took the innovative route with my novel “Leela’s Gift” and found while I enjoyed the experience of producing the book as both easy and satisfactory, as I worked with a self-publishing company, the marketing and publicity process proved expensive and time consuming. In fact so focused on writing and then producing the book I neglected the before publication PR vital to selling the Product. At least with an “old school publisher” you have a shot at some “before publication” PR.
The back story? My first agent found me after I appeared on the PBS News Hour in an interview with Judy Woodruff. He was an “old school”, veteran New York agent, and after several fruitless leads found a “home” for my political memoir. The next agent came easily too. She was recommended to my co-author (we were writing a book on the psychology of personality) and she landed us a six-figure deal after sending the proposal to several editors in an “auction.” (The book project failed but that is another story.) This agent stuck with me and helped me secure publishers for my next two books. I felt assured of continued presence in the publishing realm.
Then? Then the publishing world began experiencing volcanic shifts as if its citizens lived on the lower slopes of a Vesuvius in near-constant uproar. Publishers failed to see the consequences heralded by the ramifications of the exploding Information Era and Information Technology Age. One of those ramifications being the democratization of accessibility to knowledge and to those who want to share their inner expressiveness with this vast new wave of readers. Amazon.com, whether generator or purveyor of this movement (or both) ruled and continues to rule the universe. Both reviled and praised, Amazon, and a legion of other web-based publishing enterprises, flourish while “real” books wither in the “virtual” Kindle and other reading devices onslaught, and once mighty bookstore chains as well as independent bookstores go the way of dinosaurs. Web-based book clubs and venues for readers to rate and recommend books proliferate…and so?
And so, writers still write books and readers read. Agents still exist, publishers publish (on an ever diminishing scale) what some writers write. Here is the rub, as Shakespeare said.
My agent moved on to other ventures. Finding a new agent is daunting. Several weeks ago I sent out several query letters based on recommendations from some people I know in the broader publishing world. One agent replied within ten minutes and asked me to send the manuscript. Another replied the same day with a similar request. A third asked for the “(in)famous” first three chapters and a synopsis. Could I have a “hot” property? How long will it remain that way? Week after week passed (it was August the “dead” spot of the publishing year) I heard nothing. Yes, during this time I could have self-published the novel…but still something in me wants to honor the “old” process. How much longer do I wait until I send out more query letters? Haven’t I been here before? I am caught in a time warp.
, human rights
, Leela's Gift
, south africa