I was not really into children when I arrived in Korea to begin a two year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer. I was not one to notice babies or stop mothers on the street to admire their young.
My first priority in the countryside of Korea was survival. I needed to learn the language and culture, learn to eat with chopsticks and try to enjoy white rice and kimchi for every meal. In the midst of survival, I was to begin a whole new career of leprosy health care.
So I was a bit surprised when my lifeline turned out to be the children of our village. Innocent, delightful, sometimes naughty and always curious beyond reason, they helped me loosen up and they helped me with the language I had been so miserable learning in our early training classes.
I learned a lot about raising children. I saw how the village supported child rearing in the community setting with grandmothers often looking after the children of parents working outside the village. I saw young mothers working the fields with babies on their backs. I saw mothers and grandmothers allowing children a “comfort breast” long after they had stopped nursing. I learned how language contributes to a sense of belonging as I addressed the elderly as grandmother or grandfather and my peers as younger or older brother or sister.
When the Korean mothers told me with no uncertainty that American babies were cuter than theirs and I responded that theirs are certainly much cuter than ours, I came to believe that babies must be God’s secret path to peace among the nations.
I didn’t realize the impact the children had on me until years later when I returned to the village and the children were not there. They had grown. Some were in college, some in high school and too shy now to speak to a foreigner.
As for me, I have come to a deeper appreciation for all of life young and old. I marvel at the baby birds, opossums, mice and deer I see when the earth turn green.
And yes, I’m now one of those who stops you on the street to admire your baby and perhaps move us one step closer to world peace.