Radical self-care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” –Audre Lorde

I’m not feeling inspired this week to write about social justice and parenting. Not sure if my mental energy is being sucked away by work or by the INSANE temper tantrums A has been throwing recently. Dammnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, he has been feeling cranky the last few days. Or he’s just testing his limits. Or he’s going through a developmental spurt. I don’t know, but it is a test of my patience. And a test of my whole ‘are temper tantrums social justice opportunities?’ strategy I put forth a few weeks ago. I want to seriously laugh-out-loud at myself that I called what A was doing then ‘temper tantrums’—they were more like a 30 second whine. Now he screams immediately if I don’t give him what he wants all the time (which I don’t, don’t worry!).

This is actually a perfect segue into what I wanted to talk about this week: how self-care can be an act of radicalism. The image of the ultimate selfless mom who has no time to think about herself is not a healthy one (though I’m sure it feels true sometimes). A few weeks ago, my friend invited me to a self-care workshop for moms. It was a nice 2-and-a-half-hour session, mostly because it was a non-judgmental space of moms recognizing the need for time for themselves. During the workshop, I made a few resolutions to myself about self-care: (1) that I would turn off my screens at 9:30pm every day (not going so hot with that one—it’s currently 9:51 as I’m writing these words), (2) I would hug my husband once a day (seems so obvious that I’m embarrassed to say it) and (3) that I would try floating. One of the other moms in the self-care workshop highly recommended floating (also called sensory deprivation). Essentially, you float in a salt water tub that’s heated to the perfect temperature so that you lose track of your body. The room is pitch dark and completely silent. I did end up trying it recently: one Sunday night right before A’s bedtime, I left him with his dad and went to float in a dark, soundless room (lol). I’m not sure if I’ll do it again, but I’m proud that I made time to try something new, just for myself.

Lorde’s quote is a powerful one. She obviously speaks from an intersectional perspective—her Blackness and her womanhood are wound up together. I’m not sure her quote exactly speaks to me as a White woman (nor should it), but I do believe that any one’s self-care is an important act of social justice. Particularly for parents. Particularly for moms. Not just because it helps us be better moms, but because we deserve that care simply because we are human.


Failing as a White person/parent

Last Friday, a few hours after I last posted, Police Officer Jason Stockley was found not guilty of murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. The evidence seemed obvious, but yet again, the justice system failed to bring justice to Anthony’s family.

St. Louis activists were immediately on the streets, yet again drawing the nation’s attention to this failure of the criminal justice system. These protesters are doing the real work of nation-building: they are holding this entire country accountable to its most fundamental promise: that all…are created equal.

But I didn’t go. I didn’t go to any protests. I followed the news; I liked Facebook posts; I tried to go to a university-based panel discussion, but A’s naptime overlapped with it. But I didn’t put my body where my mind was–at the protests.

The only reason I have for not going is how the police have been acting towards the protesters. Aggressive, to put it mildly. I was too nervous to bring A to a setting like that. But I know that is a privileged choice to make–many don’t have that choice. I failed this week in my inaction. I don’t want A to be raised inactive.

A’s daycare was shut down on Friday. The teacher that called me to tell me explicitly said, ‘because they just released the Stockley verdict’. I heard other daycares were evacuated, and I know of at least one K-12 school that cancelled after-school activities. There are two possible reasons why his daycare shut down: either because of fear (inconvenience?) of protestors (likely) or out of some sort of respect for the mourning that the city was going through (unlikely). I didn’t try to question the executive director of A’s daycare (who made the decision). Should I?


Storytime and Decentralizing manhood: Tubby, pt. 2

A has moved on from his Tubby obsession since I wrote the first blog post about the book, but I still wanted to revisit it. Last post, I talked about Tubby and whiteness. Today, I want to use Tubby to talk about decentralizing & redefining boyhood/manhood.

Tubby never implies a gender of the baby protagonist in either the words or pictures. I find myself really intentionally using the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ in reference to the baby, though I admit one of the first times I read it (of thousands at this point), I realized I had been referring to the baby as a ‘he.’ It’s not uncommon in American society for gender-neutral characters/things/animals to be assigned ‘he’ as a pronoun. There’s an awesome (and free) zoo near where we live, and I often hear parents referring to almost every animal (without obvious genitalia, lol) as a ‘he.’ De-normalizing boy/man as the assumed gender is one thing I try to be conscious of in my day-to-day interactions with A.

I am human, of course. Sometimes, I’m sure I assume ‘he’ when I’m super busy or feeling really tired. We haven’t completely abandoned gender in raising A, particularly in how we dress him, though I do try to push back at hyper-normativity whenever I can. Trucks and dinosaurs are great, but so are dolls and art and play-cleaning (he’s currently obsessed with a vacuums and brooms and all things cleaning) and science and nature and all sorts of things. Blue and red are great colors, but so are pink and green and purple and orange.

My mentality is that the world is going to smother him with trucks/dinosaurs/blue/red so much already that I don’t need to encourage it anymore. He will get those messages from school, media, people on the street. I can use our home to encourage him to be interested in things (often stereotypically feminine) that the world won’t push on him.

Using ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun when reading books or encouraging non-normative interests are small ways of decentralizing and redefining boyhood/manhood. It happens during storytime with books like Tubby. It happens when I’m buying him new kid silverware, and I pick the green & purple unicorn-themed fork. It happens in all sorts of mundane, tiny moments of parenting.

It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

Opportunity Hoarding

My sister introduced me to a podcast about parenting called ‘The Longest Shortest Time.’ On a recent episode (8.30.2017), they interview the author Eula Bliss. About two-thirds of the way through the interview, Hillary (the host) and Eula have a brief exchange about opportunity hoarding as White parents. Here’s my own transcription:

Eula: … I think quite a few of the parents in my community and in my circle actually see some version of opportunity hoarding as their duty—as what they are supposed to do for their child…

Hillary: Because, like, why wouldn’t you get them the best opportunities?”

It’s a brief 30 seconds, but the idea really struck me: opportunity hoarding [as a parent] is the phenomenon when you advocate for the best resources and opportunities for your child. There’s an almost evolutionary compulsion to want your child to have the best of everything. It’s engrained in us that we should loudly promote what is best for our child.

The problem is that my voice, as a parent with racial and class privilege, is already prioritized in society. When I compound it with a parent’s natural tendency to opportunity hoard for my child, parenting becomes a clear mechanism for the exacerbation of power along the lines of race and class.

During the interview, Eula argues that opportunity hoarding can be as simple as being the loudest parent to your child’s teacher. By drawing the teachers’ attention to your child, you are draining the teachers of the energy to focus on other parents and children. Eula has made it a personal policy to advocate to her son’s teacher only if the change would benefit more than just her son. Now, there are obvious exceptions to this—if your child has a physical or learning disability, for example—but I like her point overall. Opportunity hoarding as a White parent is a compulsion that we have to overcome if we, as parents, want our actions to promote justice.

So, my questions to myself: When have I participated in opportunity hoarding for A, particularly in the school setting? What can I do to ensure that my opportunity hoarding instinct (a natural, evolutionary compulsion, I would argue) is redirected to benefit more than just A?

Here’s one mundane example: recently, I’ve been thinking about asking A’s daycare teachers to give him seconds at breakfast and lunch. Since A moved into the toddler classroom a few weeks ago, he’s constantly asking for food when he gets home [an adorable combination of the ‘eat’ and ‘please’ signs, along with a persistent whine, repeated about a million times over]. I wanted to ask his teachers if he could be offered more food if he finishes his plate. This seems like an innocuous request, but opportunity hoarding can happen in small, mundane ways. Since listening to the podcast, I’ve altered my strategy: I’ll ask if any of the kids could be offered seconds of the food. It’s a really simple switch, but instead of advocating for just A, I’m advocating for everyone.



*P.S. Obviously this strategy as a way to promote social justice wouldn’t work if A went to an all-White, all-wealthy daycare, but choosing a daycare is a separate mess that I can get into later.

Birthing a human

I actually really loved giving birth. And I don’t mean I really liked the end result, but the process sucked. I mean I actually liked GIVING birth. I liked being in labor; I liked pushing. When my OB asked if I wanted a mirror to watch A come out, first I asked ‘Am I going to see myself poop?’ (she assured me no, though I don’t know why I cared), then I said ‘Sure!’.

In the internet world, you often hear this birth-positive narrative from moms who’ve gone the ‘natural’ route (aka, medication-free). I was about as far from a medication-free birth as you can get: I had Pitocin to encourage contractions after my water broke at 38 weeks, and then had an epidural at 2-3 centimeters dilated. One thing I do have in common with women who chose a medication-free birth, though, is that feeling of empowerment: I felt powerful, and I felt in control. I respected my doctor, and she respected me.

Now, I know a lot of this has to do with luck and privilege, which I will get into in future posts. Here, though, I want to say this: how we talk about birth can be an act of social justice. I know this blog is dedicated to mundane moments of parenting, and pregnancy/childbirth is far from mundane. How we TALK about pregnancy/childbirth, though, creeps into daily lives without even realizing it. Through chatting with friends, watching TV, or browsing the internet, images of pregnancy and birth are actually pretty ubiquitous. Outside of the natural birth world, there is a dominant narrative of anxiety and fear around pregnancy/childbirth. It is a huge and demanding physical experience to have, don’t get me wrong. But it is something that our culture teaches women to fear in small ways every day.

Talking about birth in a positive, empowering way isn’t just for women who choose a medication-free birth; it can be for anyone. I would encourage anyone who is pregnant or wants to be pregnant to consciously start curating positive images of pregnancy and birth and censoring the anxiety- and fear-driven ones. Living in a patriarchal society means that women have to be very concerted in their efforts to shape how they think about pregnancy and birth.

At times, during my pregnancy, I did think I was just trying to trick my brain into being positive. That patriarchal fear-driven narrative of pregnancy/birth is a pernicious, insidious thing. There were times when I felt nervous, anxious, and afraid. That’s normal and not something I’m ashamed of. I used mantras, yoga, and mindfulness to get me through that. Other women may use other strategies. You have to find what works for you.

In future posts, I want to reflect on how my Whiteness and class privileges changed how I gave birth and experienced in pregnancy. But today, I want to focus on this one message to anyone who is pregnant:



*P.S. Whenever someone asks me if I need help carrying something now, I often respond, ‘Nah, I’m strong as hell. I literally pushed a human being out of my body once.’ And you can still feel like this if you had a c-section: you literally GREW A HUMAN and had it CUT OUT OF YOU. That makes you badass as hell!