China Martens
china410(a)hotmail.com
P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211

The Future Generation #68

I’m Moving to Baltimore
    I once lived in Baltimore and then I left to move to Minneapolis. I left Minneapolis, after a year and a half, to move in with my grandmother in the suburbs of Baltimore. Now I am moving from the suburbs to the city. Got that? I wanted to get this straight, first off – cuz this is the tale of two cities. Baltimore, now and then.
    I left Baltimore (7 years ago) because I thought it was no place to raise a child in. It seemed like next to know one in my peer group had children. Justin painted Minneapolis as the Punk Parent Utopia. And although we all know Justin can tend to exaggerate – It indeed had more options for the subcultural parent (as well as just more parents and kids in the scene). Better schools, more parks and outdoor daytime activities, cafés, and alternative stuff. My daughter went to Second Foundation for first grade. It was a free school for kids k-12, which started as a home-school resource center in the 60’s, and whose only mandatory activity was the once a week democratic school meeting.
    The year before, in Baltimore, I had vaccinated my child (which was against my beliefs) so she could go to Kindergarten at Grace and Saint Peters (which was the best of my researched options – it was racially mixed like the city and had one openly gay teacher, Dee Dee told me). I had always been the homebirth, vegetarian, homeschool type of parent, but by the time my daughter came old enough to attend school – I was going crazy with her and we both needed some more independence from each other. I didn’t have a community within to homeschool my daughter. There was just me and her and the apartment. Taking her to shows, bars, parks and outings was getting old for both of us. I felt stressed and compromised. So that’s why I left Baltimore.
    I unfortunately, ended up living in one of the worst neighborhoods in Minneapolis, where my child could not play safely outside (A pack of little violent boys owned the street by day. Gunfire by night) and she experienced racism for being the only white kid in the neighborhood.
    We had little money, enough to eat only two weeks out of four, no car and no phone in the Seriously cold Minneapolis winter. My boyfriend was an alcoholic who basically lived off me while feeding me dreams that it would get better. Ok, I hope you get the picture. Being evicted, forced my hand, to change something.
    And so I moved in with my grandmother and enrolled myself in College (it was my last resort, plan z) in an attempt to get a trade and have money so I could have control over my life – to not be the kinda poor like I had been for the last two or so years. I enrolled my daughter into the suburban public school system, which was the antithesis of all my parenting values.  I wrote about this in the first column I ever wrote for Slug and Lettuce – called “Community”. I wrote that I was down and out and I knew it could be like a personal problem. It was I, after all, that was not figuring out a way to support myself in a righteous way. College was not something I really believed in. I believed in being self-made and self-taught. Life has so much more to offer than school, which to me is just the system. I knew plenty of people who worked in co-operative café’s, worked in groups for themselves in jobs like roofing and gardening. People who used their art, or beliefs, or skills in a total inspiring way, in their community and could live off it. Lots of people got by, somehow, through dumpstering or cheap group housing and ok jobs. But I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I was past the age of sofa surfing and bumming around. My daughter was past the age of needing a full time mom. So I was in the hard position of trying to enter the workforce that I had never really been in (I had been on welfare for the last 7 years) and had been avoiding.
    I asked a rhetorical question in my “Community” essay – written at the time I moved in with my grandmother: Why do we have to move back in with our families because it gets too hard to pay the rent and survive on our own? Why do our experiences as parents stress us out, depress us and so forth? And then I answered the question. Because the subculture isn’t strong enough to take care of the future generation: it’s children. It’s a loosely tied knot of inspiration and support – but not really strong enough to really help you out, I said. You are on your own with that. Because my culture isn’t strong enough of offer support with raising children – my child and I are in the grips of the mainstream. I have no choice.
    It seems slightly naïve to me now, to think that I expected support for my child and me from the scene. Now I feel more individualistic. But back then, I mean what I knew as my culture and had been my life for the 4 adult years before I gave birth, had been intense. Squats from Berlin to New York City’s lower east side, traveling, catching a ride with someone, finding people in a new town who will put you up, No Business As Usual Days, Rock against Reagan, Black Flag village in The Peace March, running around in a mall where someone put red dye in the fountain to make the water look like blood, stopping traffic in DC as we threw flyers off the rooftops to educate people on the Contras and Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Shanty towns meant to get College to divest from S. Africa, street theatre against Rocky Flats. And lets not forget all the just stupid drunken and brilliant hijinx, amusement, and inventions in the boring spectacle of life.
    There was Co-ops, co-operation and co-dependence on your friends to strive for a better life than work, consume, die. I did think we would work together and I would continue the rebellion as a mom. I planned on living a different way. I wouldn’t oppress my daughter. There is all kinds of books on that stuff. Home birth and Home schooling and breaking down oppression, ageism, sexism, and all isms, equality for all. I believed in it, hell yea. This culture from anarcho-punks to gutter punks were people you could rely on. Artists and Scenesters made some place to hang out in and something to do. Ism smashers explored new frontiers to let you be who you are, and understand the psychology and politics that were fucking your life and dooming the planet. This is the world that got me out of the suburbs and my alienation.
    The subculture, as I knew it, offered possibilities. For self-realization, for catharsis, for expression, to channel anger, to reject the status quo, to create change. Opportunities for a cheaper, free-er way of living, of getting food and a place to stay. Of creating and existing. More and more, people started up there own things, like Record Labels or Distro’s and learned from the real life experiences, successes and failures. I too was branching into new responsibilities as I became a mother. Washington D.C., Boulder, Colorado, Santa Cruz and San Francisco, California: these were the cities I lived in.
    And here I wind up, with my daughter, back in the suburbs. I never thought that would happen. My family, while not sharing my rhetoric, has turned out to be our biggest consistent support system – with time and money being put to our benefit. My mother is the other most important adult in my daughter’s life. (Of course our family is annoying too, like all families and is not a perfect support system. But it would suck without them)
    I have been living in the suburbs for (?!!) the last 5 years. Four of which I’ve spent in hillbilly heaven in Hanover where I rent part of a house with two acres of land, for $225 a month. I wouldn’t be moving ‘cept for the fact the Airport is kicking me (and my neighbors and the deer, rabbits and so forth) out and turning our street into a parking lot.
    I love it where I live. I like my neighborhood, which is old farm country, with the peoples respect for each other’s privacy and autonomy – yet general friendliness. My neck of the woods is different than the general surrounding suburbs and it is getting destroyed, more and more.
    I’ve gotten a graphic design certificate (switched my major – nursing was not for me) and been working for a year in my first “real” job where I now have flexible part time hours. I did find peace at my grannies house, and I have achieved my basic goals in the last couple of years. I also, really did like going to College, returning at 30 after dropping out at age 15. I would recommend being a student to all struggling moms in this age where welfare is over. You can get a Pell grant, don’t go full time, its too hard, take a small loan, and get support from society more. People are a lot more positive to “college student” than to “welfare mother” although the struggle to raise a child in poverty is definitely harder than any school work.
    But meanwhile my daughter has grown up from the middle of 2nd grade to the beginning of Jr. High school in the suburban school system. How can I teach my values to my daughter, in the land of shopping malls – where I look like an anomaly to her? Like somebody from the old country who says things that don’t apply to the life she is living. Because teaching values is about living them and having a child is about being part of the greater community in a more un-escapable way then when you were an individual person.
    We became a bit of the cliche: of the child who just wants to be normal, to fit in and be a consumer, more conservative and embarrassed of her radical weird mom. I think I am radical because I  accept my daughters rights as an individual to have different opinions and values then my own.
    At this point, teenage-hood is upon my daughter (that’s a whole other issue) but she is doing pretty well as being a strong young woman of course struggling with growing up which is hard – but there was times I worried how bad school was for my daughter’s self confidence. Faith said my daughter was no longer the same wild child, she knew back in the day. After three years of being picked on, for being different, for being chubby, or whatever, my daughter started to fight back. She started to be like them, actually. She was liking Jr. High more than elementary – but then at 12 years old she got expelled for fighting.
    I took my daughters expulsion as an opportunity for change, to get at the root of the troubles and we tried to be positive about homeschooling but it eventually ended up as she watching soap opera’s at home as I went to work, then full time. My daughter had wanted a therapist all that year, and I was trying to look for an affirmative one, but was wary. We were lost and struggling. And I was looking, looking, for something better which had to be out there. My daughter defended school and mainstream objectives, but she was expelled for the year. They said she would have to go to a Juvenal hall type prison school before they let her back. Over my dead body. I told them my objections and I said I would find an alternative school or home-school her and find out the laws on it, and they said ok.
    Then I found out about the Green Mount School! Now things are much better, much more positive, much more hopeful. This school is a vital part of my families well being. It is a small co-operative run school started in a church basement around the time I was seeking an alternative in Baltimore. Now it is in its own building. It is a private alternative school which is truly a tolerant place and excepting of individuality with all kind of interesting things going on. First off, my daughter got into Shakespeare as they read and did the Play, The Midsummer’s Night Dream. The class was so small, she had to introduce herself and answer everyone’s questions about how she got expelled and so forth. (The school took a chance with us because after hearing our story they believed my daughter was not a truly violent person.) She soon was very relaxed about her appearance –which in the suburbs, young teen girls are like immaculately fixed up and spent all kinds of time doing that as they are totally self conscience as every small thing is picked on—and more interested in what they were doing at school. She had an apprentice at a community run library once a week and did other things like went for a walk in the park and learned survival skills, field trip to the local newspaper, etc. etc. I will tell you more about it in my next column.
    Now my life is changing, again. It really started with The Green Mount School. And now we are moving to Baltimore and I am siked about all the good things there – and to be part of that community again.  I see so much of the same people around and see all kinds of new developments. Like for one, the Green Mount School. And for another, there is a lot more people having kids these days, everybody says that. I can think of a whole bunch of people who have had babies in the last 7 years. I used to feel like the biggest minority. If I ever saw another parent that looked like my type I would be so there, to go over and start conversation because it would be a startling discovery to ever meet a person that was like me. So in my next column (this one has dragged on too long enough already and I got to go) I am going to tell you about all kinds of stuff about Baltimore, ok?!
- China