10. Love and Its Expression
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127«.«.« 10 ».».» Love and Its Expression Home-Grown Love Florencio sat on the edge of his porch with an infant in his hands and a look of deep satisfaction on his face. The child he was holding was his own, only a few months old. Florencio’s three older children joined their father on the porch and watched him almost enviously as he held the infant in the air, shook it­ gently, and then quickly pulled the infant toward him. As he drew the infant toward him, Florencio would sniff all around the tiny body as he mumbled tender little words to his child. Then he would extend the infant at arm’s length once again,­ tilting him this way and that, as he maintained a steady stream of sweet speech to the child. Occasionally the other children would gather around the infant and try to play with the newest member of their family, but their father would just wave them back. When Florencio’s ten-year-old daughter asked to hold the child for a while, Florencio wordlessly glowered at her. She could play with the infant later when her mother returned; he was ­ having too much fun right now to share the infant with his daughter. Then Florencio heard his young son speak from the other side of the porch. “Papa, when are you going to help me with my math homework for tomorrow? You said that we could do it this afternoon.” Florencio glanced at his son and then quickly turned away, all the while mumbling words to his infant that the child could not possibly understand. 128 Chapter 10 Micronesian parents can be very demonstrative in their affection toward infants. They playfully coddle them and kiss them, whispering sweet words, and then pass them over to their spouses, all the while lavishing their full attention on them. In other words, they behave the way parents anywhere in the world might toward a young infant born into their family. But this doesn’t last long. As soon as a new child arrives, the attention given to the slightly older infant abruptly ceases and is refocused on the latest arrival. The child who had once been the center of attention is suddenly demoted and shunted off to the care of an older sibling . This was bound to be traumatic for the child, western-trained psychologists who observed this pattern in the 1950s concluded. The sudden shift from center stage to the far wings would make the child confused and mistrustful of the support of those closest to him. The child’s emotional life was certain to be constricted, the social scientists surmised, leaving the child with an impaired sense of trust and a diminished capacity for love. It was only a matter of time before this theory was discredited. The small child had not been ruined, after all. It had simply been treated to its first lesson in island life: the individual may claim the attention of all for a time, but in the end he or she must yield to the interests of the family. The corollary to this, which the child will eventually learn, is that the family will provide a source of love that will never fail. As children grew up they were not always treated to the displays of affection that western children might have expected. Generous praise was not heaped on them for every little step forward they took, and positive reinforcement would have been scarce in most island households . Many parents simply expected children to do what they were asked to do, and do it well, without the benefit of the encouraging remarks that western parents might make. A Micronesian adult, speaking about his own boyhood at a public forum some years ago, said that he and his brothers learned to accept the absence of criticism as the highest praise they would receive from their parents. Compliments were rare in his family, he recalled, but he and his siblings had learned to expect few. Years ago I used to marvel at how dismissive Micronesian parents could be toward their own children. I would often hear parents talking down their children in public, spinning out long lists of negative traits Fig. 12.  Kosraean father and his son (1972). Courtesy of Trust ­ Territory Archives, University of Hawai‘i. 130 Chapter 10 that they attributed to them. Their children were stupid and lazy, careless in their chores at home, disrespectful and ill-mannered, and—as...