Nicaraguans love babies. Some might say that most of the world loves babies, but I would argue that no one embraces children into their culture quite like the Nicas do.
Sunset strolls down the malecon, pre-Lucy, were often accompanied by catcalls from fisherman and Sunday drunks. But once Lucy joined our afternoon walks, those catcalls were quickly replaced by oohs and ahhs from elderly abuelas and seven year olds.
At first, I thought the excessive overtures were simply because Lucy is an exceptionally cute baby But, gradually I came to realize that people here are like this with ALL babies. You could hand them the Seinfeld baby (Jerry: “Is it me or was that the ugliest baby you have ever seen?” Elaine: “Uh, I couldn’t look. It was like the Pekinese”) and they would coo over it as if it were the baby Jesus himself.
Nearly every time we go out for a meal, a waitress lovingly scoops up Lucy and entertains her while we eat. If they are busy with something else, they are happy to let your baby explore the restaurant with carte blanche. Imagine putting your kid on the floor at the Capital Grille and letting her wander… Here in Nicaragua, even the male waiters come over for a high five and smile.
You can’t pass by the pulperia, the “laundromat,” the video rental store or the neighbor’s house without stopping in for a quick hello and a hug for Lucy. No matter age, gender, or socioeconomic status, people here love children. Kids are the great equalizer.
The other day, we went swimming at one of the local hotels. When we arrived, I saw that there were a handful of women sunbathing and I worried that Lucy’s toddler presence might annoy them. Man was I wrong. They watched her splashing in the pool, they made her laugh, she made them laugh, they talked to her and they even took photos with her. Brangelina? Nope, just Lucy.
Even the vocabulary that accompanies this adoration of children is abundant. It far eclipses our own English use of adding the “-y” or “-ie” to express cuteness. Here, simply add the suffix “-ita/-ito” to the end of a word and you’ve got a dictionary full of adjectives for your little one: Angelita (little angel), Gordita (little fatty), Munequita (little doll), Jovencita (young lady), Pedacita (little piece), Pobrecita (poor little thing). This culture even has diminutives for their diminutives. Your child is not just “Chiquita” (loosely translated to mean petite or small). No, your child is “Chiquitita” (exceptionally tiny).
And do you know who loves babies more than Nicaraguan women? Nicaraguan children. I took Lucy to the park over the weekend and 5 kids, of varying ages, scrambled over to play with her. Walking thru our barrio last week, two of the neighbor’s kids came barreling out of their house at the sound of the stroller. A couple of weeks ago, we took Lucy to the beach to release baby turtles. Some of the kids from the nearby neighborhoods came to help, but when they saw Lucy (and our friends’ daughter, Sierra), their attention quickly shifted from tortugas to toddlers. They took the girls by their hands, lifted their feet as the waves rolled in, and brushed away the sand when they fell.
Language and cultural differences are not obstacles for kids the way they are for adults. Most kids like to chase, swing, build sandcastles, and splash in the ocean. It doesn’t matter what language they speak – as long as they can play. If they don’t understand, they invent their own ways of communicating, teaching each other along the way.
Children are cherished and celebrated in this country. Like Mother’s Day, el día de los niños is an all-day event here. There is no eye rolling here when you arrive with a toddler, only smiles and outstretched hands. At a time when the presence of a child on a plane or in a restaurant can spark a debate in the likes of The New York Times, I feel blessed to be living in a place as welcoming as Nicaragua.