The Future Generation #70

Freedom, Responsibility, and Growing up

    I am excited to be interviewing an old friend of mine whom I haven’t seen for a while, about her experiences of working in a co-operatively owned café for the last 6 years. Some of the questions I have asked her are questions I really can ask myself – having been a mother for almost 14 years now. We are both deep in creative endeavors that began with a similar and distinct set of pre-thought ideals.
    The first question I asked her is if her experiences have soured her to human nature, changed her ideas on anarchy. Which is kind of a leading question. Because I know it has to have changed something. And yes my experiences have changed my ideas, soured me on humanity some, and loosened me up. But I don’t really care. I feel optimistic despite my real life worn-out-ness. And I still do believe in the same ideals. But, as my friend Faith so wonderfully put, our ideals are in the middle of a circle, a circle that we travel around as we experience more years on this planet, so we see our ideals from different directions, see how our beliefs affect and are effected. And yes this is about Growing up. People think growing up is a bad thing, or at the least a bad word, signifying the end of growth. But parenting does have to do with growing up. The kind of Grown up I am, is my responsibility and I am digging who I am as a grown up. And so I am excited to see what my old roommate Miki will share with me, of her life, for I know she has put blood sweat and tears into that café. I know dealing with bullshit humanity (at times so lovable at times so disgusting) has to be interesting, of our own peer group and of the outside authority she had to battle for the last two years that wanted to shut down the café. I know she has stuck with this endeavor through good and bad, through the inspiration and the shit work, which I can relate to as a parent. It’s amazing I have stuck through it too, but where can you run to? How can you leave? This is the grown up thing, the time you don’t leave when the going gets hard. And I believe Miki is the kind of grown up I am, with responsibility, but with wonder and with joy in that responsibility. When she tells me of her obsession with making fantastic cakes and pies: lemon meringue pies with 7 inch meringue which intimidates people to order it, and servers to cut it. I crack up laughing, these are the little joys of life that I can get into. My crazy Japanese strawberry shortcake friend, who is only trying to have fun with making creations, that to her regret, people fear to cut into.  She also is considering baking while wearing roller-skates. When her friend tells me of how she will throw down her bike to run off looking for the perfect red in the fall leaves – I know she is the kind of grown up I am. I am more times than not, thought to be my daughters sister than her mother. For we have childlike qualities too, as well as old qualities. We defy stereotypes. We weren’t ageist when we were younger – saying kids had rights too and equality for all – and we are not ageist now that we are older, treating those younger and those older than us with respect as individuals although with differences too. We are still a bit punk. Ah fuck it. Too much responsibility can kill. We want to share the load. The responsibility of freedom.. Lifes too mysterious and everything has its role to play, foolishness, chaos, destruction. We can still dance despite our well, whateverness. But we can bitch like any old grown up. Being responsible and the ensuing stress can bring that out of one. We are not that different than the previous generation.
    Huh? All we ever wanted to be, was different than what we criticized. So what the hell am I saying? Ever here the phrase “You can’t judge till you walk in some one elses shoes” Over time, I have seen that phrase is sooo true. And also sad to say, is true the expression, when you have your own kids you will forgive your parents and revenge will be wrought on you. It doesn’t hit at first really, well not all at once. But I have come to see, and to accept, that all I can do is my best. And all my parents did was there best. This is not to say that everything should be forgiven and I condone abuse done to children. This is not to dismiss Alice Millers theories on Poisonous Pedagogy. I’m just saying, that all this, “I am going to be a better parent stuff” (not that it is bad, no far from it) but all this “you will raise your child with a spirit of love that is far more resourceful and constructive than the guidance you received during your own upbringing” will come to be is a complaining teenager, who though who loves you, will point out all your failings as a parent. You have succeeded in doing what your parents didn’t do. But you have notsucceeded in doing what you child wished you would do and will now (hopefully) make up by doing in her/his lifetime. Because we are all blind sometimes to our own down failings or in the grip of our own mentalities and we are not perfect I don’t really think I am better than my parents or anyone else.
    I find I do still believe in the ideals I have started with. I have grown less attached to the results. Do what you do, out of your heart, because that is who you are. Question yourself and others, research and inquire – settle with what your gut tells you, or simply do the best you can at the time. But life will unfold as it will. Me being me, I had to raise my daughter in this way, with respect and a lot of liberty. I have had to try to learn the pragitism of what is freedom. I have had to deal with my own lumpy emotions and temper. But my daughter has her own fate and I have never believed in clutching on to her, like she was the product of my raising. She is her own person.
    In the end, as she grows, I become more concerned with myself. I have always said one has to defend oneself especially from those one loves, and that is hard because at first motherhood makes one out of two. But I try to be strong for myself. And I tend to myself, as well as most adults should. The best way to teach the young is by example; cultivate the good character in yourself. My room is dirty enough without having to look at the dirt in my daughter’s room.
    In the end, the café is what the café is, not the workers nor the people who hang out there nor anyone alone, but all of us, chaos and order. Letting go is a good thing.
    I concern myself with the details: a winter coat to be gotten; how to communicate; how to work together; when to let go; when to hold on; testing out the recipe—the details of liberty.
    My daughter was quite angry with me when she was 11, 12, and the beginning of 13. She was angry with me for us being poor, for not having what other people had, for being different. Still to this day, we discuss bizarre things like her desire to go to public school over the alternative school she is in now that is into experiential learning and stuff like planting trees,  making a park bench by scratch for an outdoor classroom and going on a 8th grade trip to Holland. When we discuss this, I understand her need to meet local kids and more cute boys is a valid one but I express my concerns that public school is like a jail and breeds a jail climate. A lot of how I raise her might sound good to you because we would like to be raised this way, with ideas of equality and more freedom of expression and love and acceptance for who you are. But the good a child has, one generally takes for granted. It is what a child is missing, that the child seeks, as it should be.
    And so I had a crashing understanding of how my Dad felt. He felt like me. I was angry for my daughter throwing back in my face, all that I had gained in my life, my wisdom, my emotional togetherness, the freedom and well balanced-ness I thought I gave her and instead wanted only material things, money, clothes at the mall, a mom who looked like other moms.
    My Dad grew up in Brooklyn, poor, with high-water jeans for he grew too fast and ate left over school cafeteria food where his mom worked. He worked to gain financial security and because of that he raised me with never a day lacking in security of a home nor food nor a needed item. Yet I was not spoiled nor materialistic in the outcome. Indeed I threw back all his middle class security in his face and challenged it all as soul dead and not worth the sacrifice.
    I see now, I could not appreciate the money because we always had it, and that I have not given my daughter enough economic security. There is a Balance to this life.
    A child makes you see outside yourself, a child can be the truth and a child can be righter than you. But a child can be wrong too. And I defend myself and will not change in some ways. In other ways I will change. I have worked for economic stability in the last five years, I went to college because I was desperate and would do things in the society approved ways because I needed more support. These things have rounded out my personality.
    These days when I buy my daughter a coat she needs (not that I still don’t believe in dumpster diving, getting peoples hand me downs and generally not spending a lot of money on stuff like that) I feel like a grown up. When I look on my body and see I bought myself every stitch on me, I marvel. In the end, it was me having a steady job that made me feel like I had gained adulthood and I liked it This is the first year in my life I have worked for a whole year straight.
    Growing up, I didn’t know how I was going to support myself. I didn’t want to be like them, I’d rather die. I have been a traveler on this earth, I didn’t see many options when it came time to grow up in the sense of ok, how will you support yourself. I was a “free spirit”  (ghastly term), rebel, writer and so it seemed to me, welfare mom would be my profession, then I wouldn’t have to “work”. Ha ha.
    I read this article once, in some magazine like Mademoiselle or something – that was profound to me. It talked about being a Grown Up. Does our generation ever grow up? We sure look younger and take longer to “grow up” than the previous generation did. And what makes a grown up? Having sex, a child, living on your own, paying bills? We pass certain signposts and still don’t feel grown. The article declared that it is not something that happens all at once exactly. But it did list some things that make up a grown up and I found it very interesting. Now this is from my memory, because although I clipped out the article, I can’t find it now. It said part of being a grown up is having had a few relationships one learned from and now being in a more committed long lasting relationship be that with a partner, having a child, or in ones profession. It says being a grown up is having worked out ones childhood issues and being more at peace with who one is and ones relationship with ones parents. It said being a grown up is no longer seeing issues in the black and white way one tends to in ones youth and generally being more easy going and forgiving of people. I felt like I had achieved all the aspects of adulthood it named except financial independence at the time. I had been struggling with that.
    Talking to Miki when she came to visit, she told me something that I could totally agree with and something it said in the article too. She said she had learned over time, how to regulate her emotions better. For when you are happy it seems like only the happy world exists and when you are sad it seems like sad is all that ever can be – but you can help yourself when you realize you have these states of mind fluctuate, up and down and teach yourself little tricks to deal with it. We tell ourselves, remember, life has ups and downs,  things will change. We understand ourselves better and develop coping strategies. This is one of the things that have made life for me, better, as I get older.
    I am in shocked by  those who do forget their childhood, how it felt and don’t stay moderately true to childhood realizations. For example, in front of my building at work, I engaged in a conversation with a bunch of adult parents of teenagers like myself. They all laughed at there children. “They think they can get away with that? Like I didn’t try that when I was there age! Like I don’t know what they are up to!” These were parents of the rock and roll generation who were rebels without a cause in there day and part of the status quo today. They simply forbid their children the activities they were forbade and punished them as the kids snuck around them. What had changed? They had simply become their parents. What lesson had been learned?
    While I so desperately needed to talk to a thinking individual, a previous rebel, now parent of teen, to figure out some issues – how does one be a good parent and protect as only a parent can sometimes, ones child, while letting them grow, take risks and respecting them? I had the open dialogue, listening and talking part down – but my child was acting stupider than I had expected her to act and I feared now, all of a sudden – Sex and Drugs. Eek, how conventional of me. But at 12 years old she spoke rap lyrics and obsessed over boys had low self-esteem, wore “hootchie mama” clothes, looked more like a 16 year old than a 12 year old, and had a dangerous drug experience already under her belt. She also told me No and left the house and ran away for the first time. Had I raised her too permissive? Ayun said in her review of my zine, that I was ‘feeling ill-equiped to do the right thing by her rebellious attachment baby”. Pretty true. I wanted to be a good parent. I questioned my values in raising her. In the end I saw this time was a typically hard time between child and parent. And we both wrestled with this time and came through it for the better, as growth. I think the open honest nature of our relationship and respect has gone far. While my daughter has her private life, she knows in moments of crisis or whatever, she can always come to me. I will always listen to her but in the end I have to realize I am the mom and sometimes the boss. I mean that is hard when you are an anti-authoritarian but sometimes you have got to step up. I’ve tried to become more disciplined and disciplining, I have never been good at that, I don’t know if I am now, but I don’t want to be a chump mama.  I thought I might have to take control completely until I won like a war, but that has never worked for me, not in diaper changes and not with runaways. I actually did find a good book with a cheesy title: Get Out of My Life, But first could you drive me and Cheryl to the Mall?: a Parents Guide to the New Teenager – that helped me to chill.
    Miki’s friend was telling me how Miki has done lots of work at the café, and worked there the second longest time and that some people think she is “the bitch of the café”. I guess cuz she would call someone on their shit. Or worse, they treat her like a boss and resent her but do not come and talkto her, discuss the issue. Communication is so key. That is so terrible to me, that even in a free situation; someone would make a boss out of some one else. I work in an office environment, which is rife with resentment of the boss and full of morally superior underlings that just do what the boss says and never question, discuss or bring up a point of view to the boss. Blame everything on the boss, talk behind their backs, and need to take no responsibility themselves. I personally feel, I do treat people with respect, no matter what there position and am more used to a working together attitude, I feel anarchy is a kind of natural give and take. I tell my boss what I think, generally, and with tact, but I am not afraid to voice a differing opinion and to back up my opinion with reasons why. I try to do a good job and I have respect for myself and for her. I have not raised my daughter to unquestioningly take orders and to have a responsibility, which she gladly takes, to the running our her own household,in amounts she is ready for at her age. If there is anything I hate, it is having to be too much the responsible adult while others play, laugh and wreck things.  My daughter had a friend that turned me into an adult and I hated it. She was used to being bossed around and therefore being sneaky and conniving. (I don’t really condemn lying in children for I feel they are forced to lie when they do, more often than not out of a need for privacy, or lack of power, or immaturity to deal with the situation. I try to be the kind of person one can be honest with. And I feel honesty is a very adult quality, and a wonderful quality, for you have the power to be who you are without someone stopping you.) What I offer kids, is freedom: the freedom to talk things over;  to compromise; to have a part in running your life and to have a part in the responsibility. Sometimes kids think this is chaos styled anarchy – when they find an adult they can express disrespect to, disagree with, whose will isn’t law. An adult who you can agree to disagree with. But there are things I will not accept too, my way is simply a different way then they are used to. I use my words to explain more than to command. Its not like ‘Anything goes’ with me. I can see we cop out when we act powerless. Speak up, have an opinion, make a move. Learn by the consequences of your actions.
    I know I have More responsibility as an adult then as a child, and therefore I do also have some more rights to do what I think is for the greater good. But some of my authority is natural authority, through knowing stuff by having more experience and natural respect, being respected for my merits not just because I am an adult. I’ve had to develop a tougher skin perhaps as an adult, because, maybe like Miki at the café, it’s a hard job but somebody’s got to do it and others are going to not like it sometimes. But I am not the boss. And I have had to except this. I don’t always get my way. Pick your battles. We are not in a power struggle. We are a family. No body wants to be a bitter old adult. Nobody wants to be a powerless scared child. Learning from each other, weaving around, winding up to trade places, learning as we go, different but equal, respect for each other. Take responsibility for yourself and keep working on those communication skills. Freedom without Responsibility is Stealing – that’s a great quote I got out of a book called Redneck Heaven: portrait of a vanishing culture

II

    In my search for understanding, and because I feel sometimes I am going where no one much has gone before, with my parenting style – I have looked for books written by children who were raised with similar values as I am raising my daughter. In this way, I could see the outcome and maybe learn something. There are just starting to be a generation that is speaking out, raised by hippy parents, which I do not think of myself as a hippy but oh well, some of it is close enough. Frank Zappa didn’t consider himself a hippy either, I think he was pretty cool. In Wild Child – girlhoods in the counterculture (seal press); his adult daughter, Moon Unit Zappa writes a forword that is terribly interesting. After describing the coolness and weird shit of her home life, she says it left her with “an awful floating feeling, of too much space, too many choices”. That “she craved rituals and rules like her friends had”. “Prayed for curfews and strictly enforced meal times.”
    I think, what child doesn’t get left with some awful floating feeling. I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself and felt lost as hell, trying to grow up. I wished my parents had taught me all kinds of qualities I felt had been lacking. Meal times and rules seemed to choke us all with gray dull mechanical senselessness. My point is children have to go Seek what they didn’t get at home. These days, almost any child is going to feel a lack and an anger and a lostness. Later, you will appreciate the good things you did get, if your home life was half decent. So I think the typical home-life kid would like some of the freak parents home life and vice a versa.
    Another big thing I see, in reading the stories in this book and in another book called Pagan Time, by Micah Perks –  is kind of scary to me. It is that we parents, we adults have our eyes full of our minds projections, our belief systems, hopes, dreams, delusions, ideals – while our children are sitting in the dust of our old farmhouses. I mean kids just see what is really there at the moment. They see the dirt and lack of food where an adult might see freedom and romance. And if the home is loving, safe and stable enough– the child sees it all in a good light too. If not, then, well, the child does not. Its weird, these stories seem slightly on the negative side, slightly like reporters from the mainstream (“I wanted to explore what hippie kids had learned about freedom from coming of age in an environment that valued it so highly yet may not have had considered all of it’s consequences”- Chelsea Cain), slightly like my own child’s critical voice when she was 12 – for these voices are indeed the children of freaks, put between two worlds, there home life and the straight world. I hungrily ate the stories up. And in the end, it seems families are all slightly the same, no matter how different. Everyone’s family is a little bit crazy. Everyone (not just wild haired nekid child raised folks) has to “work through the lessons of their upbringing, its successes and failures”. I think there are good families and bad families in every culture, in every subculture.
    I guess at one point, I really did believe that the future was wide open with fresh possibilities. I probably did believe, to quote Chelsea in the Wild Child introduction – that like her parents in the “hippie trip” – I was part of creating a lifestyle that not only abandoned, but defied the cultural norms. That by rejecting the expectations and betrayals of their upbringings, they could start fresh with the next generation. They could change the world one child at a time.” And so many of these voices, could be indeed, my own child’s voice.:” We—your aunt and I and the rest of the kids who used to huddle together on Saturday mornings before the grownups came too, huddle at the neighbors house, in front of the forbidden TV, with spoonfuls of peanut butter and slabs of stolen ham – we were supposed to be the first generation of truly free children. Free to trample each other at the Bay School. Free to eat tofu and bean sprouts. Free of the sway of pop culture and advertising and Sunday morning cartoons. Free of finger bowls and social constructions of every kind. Free not to suffer from the eating disorders and gender-identity crises that weren’t supposed to come later, but did. Of course they did.”  Ariel Gore’s essay in Wild Child, cracks me up.  She goes on to say ‘I was never nostalgic for the hopes in that poetry. I didn’t miss communal living and talk of non-violent revolutions. I never did like the anarchist’s free school.” Ha ha how like my daughter.
    On the positive side, my daughter doesn’t have that much negative memories of her childhood, like some of the stories in the book, no sexual abuse, not too much of adults out of control. I always thought we punks weren’t as flaky as the hippies, but perhaps I’m biased. She remembers watching a parade sharing a pair of mittens with her friend, holding hands on the hand that had no mitten, and swimming in hidden beach, collecting seaweed, seeing a funny looking old naked man (it was a nudist beach if you wanted to be) stuff like that. I think I was a pretty balanced mama for her, I hope. I know she misses home whenever she’s gone for a while, that she feels loved and taken seriously. Our kids seem to be so much the pragmatists. And we parents, the books we write, like Spiritual Midwifery, Summer Hill, and Children of the Future, are so full of hope for a brave new much improved world, we get carried away, stars in our eyes. Utopian hunters with there crazy ironic fates waiting. “First Chasidim, then socialists, then beatniks, then hippies, now feminists, lesbians, reconstructionist Jews – my mother’s family has always been swept away with the newest possibility of making the world a little sweeter”. –Pagan Time
    You know its funny, speaking of Freedom and Revolutions children, Thomas Paine was a pretty cool guy. Really. He said – “We have it in our power, to begin the world anew” in the 1700’s talking about America.  (His pamphlet Common Sense, sold more than 500,000 copies-- while he didn’t keep a dime from it and died poor by the way -- helped encourage the Declaration of Independence. Read about him.)
    You know we do. This is our adventure, our wild crazy, boring, fragile, flawed, heaven and hell, our works in progress. It’s no reason to be totally cynical that nothing ever seems to work out totally perfect, is it? What’s the alternative? Creative forces tug and a balance must be found, lost and found, over again. Keep it fresh. You still have to try. I urge you to tend to your responsibilities for your own freedom. To support others freedoms. To work towards what you want. So much is possible. We do need to learn, to listen to the young, to stay flexible, to sort out or own lessons in childhood and manifest what we do want. I personally am not in that point of life where I see so much promise in new beginnings but I do see the hope of some ones new day in every old thing, as in every old adult I see someone’s baby. I see a lot of success still in the subculture. Criticize the hippies all you want, and then the punks. Criticize your parents and yourself. Criticize the mainstream and the politicians. Be a critic, but don’t just criticize. Write the music too and play from your heart.
-China