Saturday, August 17, 2013
I was thinking lately how in a mere century, give or take a few decades, what was once ordinary has become alternative. At the turn of the 20th century, for instance, nearly all American babies were born at home. Today, that number is less than one percent. Home education was still common and widely-accepted into the late-19th century, even as compulsory schooling laws took effect throughout the country. (Let's not forget that Horace Mann, who helped to pass the nation's first compulsory attendance law in Massachusetts in 1852, happily homeschooled his three children thereafter.) Today, only about three percent of the nation's school population is home-schooled.
In addition to homebirth and homeschooling, many other once ordinary practices have become seen as alternative. Co-sleeping, for example, an ordinary practice for most of America's history and still the most common sleeping arrangement in the world, has in modern America become seen as unconventional. Extended breastfeeding and baby-wearing, also ordinary practices for most of human history, are now somehow associated with a certain "earthy-crunchy" lifestyle.
And, of course, the list goes on. A century ago, most Americans produced much of their own food, fuel and fiber. They knit and sewed their own clothes, and understood the art and skill of food preservation. They drank un-fluoridated water and relied on natural home remedies to cure sickness. They ate farm-direct foods, pastured, grass-fed meats, fresh, raw milk. They didn't have a television. Today, most of these once-ordinary practices are considered non-traditional and even "out-there."
Some could argue that we as a culture abandoned these ordinary practices throughout the last century in the name of progress: greater industrialization, more factory-produced conveniences that became affordable to the masses, wider urbanization and innovation, advancements in technology and medical science, greater equality and opportunity. This may all be true and noble, but it's still astounding that in the span of a mere two or three generations, most of us have lost the essential skills necessary for human survival, have dismissed the foundations of natural living, and now classify ordinary human practices as extra-ordinary.
I have only recently begun to recognize and respect the time-honored traditions and practices that built a civilization, and I realize how little I know about the basics of survival: skills that were lost by my family at least two generations ago. I am trying to get back to basics, to learn and perfect heirloom skills, to raise my children to appreciate such skills, to acknowledge the wisdom of Mother Nature and try not to interfere with her too much.
In short, I am trying to be ordinary.
I guess that makes me alternative.