P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211
Mama Friends & Allies
Most alternative parents are somewhat isolated from each other: I know I am. There’s a whole lot more rad parents around these days but most of them have younger children, not a teenager like how I do. It’s too easy to become isolated as a mother of teen since the role isn’t as overwhelming as raising a younger child—but it's still surprisingly heavy. You can go for a while, just living your life with all kinds of individuals, but sometimes you just need some one else in your position to find sympathy, enlightenment, and understanding! Mama Power!
Lydia is my new friend and a mom of teen. Just like me, she doesn’t have any other friends (in her daily life) with kids her son’s age. When you are part of a minority or outsider group, you get used to not belonging in some ways and inversely: it feels really good when you find similarities (no matter how small, or maybe its even cooler sometimes, when they are small odd details) with others. I was having supper with Lydia and her family when I found out that her son had also not believed her when she first told him that Chuck Taylor’s/Converse All Stars were cool. Not until the fashion caught up with his own peer group did he realize his mom might know something after all! (Old Punks would you believe it: In Elementary school, my daughter literally cried when she left her “good” tennis shoes over at someone else’s house and had to wear Chucks to school! It wasn’t until her High School days that they became popular with her peer group when Nike bought them out, and ran lots of commercials for them simultaneously as another wave of punk came into fashion; and, with an irony not lost on her, she now desired a pair.) Anyway, it’s a silly detail but it made me feel good. I don’t normally have supper with other parents of teenagers. They were saying something about embarrassing him and I said: Well all teenagers are embarrassed by their parents. My daughter was like that too. But they come around, just like with the converse tennis shoes, and realize you were, actually, pretty cool after all. (Which, I must interrupt this cool/not cool discussion for a public service announcement via Lydia: Chucks are not cool anymore -BOYCOTT CHUCKS!!! — Non-sweatshop look-a-likes from No Sweat or Adbusters are OK). I told them the more recent story about how my daughter came home from her painter friend’s house and apologized to me: “I’m sorry about the time I told you it was a terrible idea to paint a mural on the wall, and how I would never let you paint a mural on the car. That was a pretty great idea and I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time.” And it feels good to hear that!
See? Said Lydia. “Yea”, said her 15-year-old, “But I’m not at that point yet.” And that’s just how it is. I think that teenagers and parents both like to hear the stories of other people to realize they are not so alone in their irritations. I highly recommend any rad parent of teen to read the chapter “Why can’t you be Normal?” in Ariel Gore’s book Whatever, Mom: Hip Mama’s Guide to Raising a Teenager - because she really lays it down! Teens of alternative and subculture type parents often wish we could be “normal” like other parents. If you think rebellion is just about dying your hair a bright color, you're dead wrong. It’s a hard road but not a road to nowhere: stay true to yourself as you resist oppression and respect the rights of those around you to be their selves (in whatever shape or form that takes) and others will respect you in the end too. Now my daughter, while a fiercely independent young woman, is also a self-proclaimed "mommy's girl". She wants to get a "Made in China" tattoo (cuz my name is China) and if that’s not pride in where you came from, then I don’t know what is.
Feeling encouraged by sharing the tennis shoe story: I told Lydia that I suspected a trait of our generation of mothers might be that we had all left our afterbirths in the freezer. When you put together the trend in natural birth and the rediscovered custom of burying the afterbirth under a tree with our lack of attachment to land and laziness/procrastination: a lot of afterbirths sit around in the freezer for a quite a long time. And I think my story might be worst of all as I left most of mine (I drank part of it in a V-8 cocktail) in a friends freezer, where I forgot it when I left town. She laughed and said she didn’t have that experience: as a young mom of 16, she really didn’t have as many of choices over the birth process at she would have liked: she gave birth in a hospital and felt apologetic most of the time. She said that was the great thing about finding girlmom.com was finding other teen moms to share experiences with and empowerment.
It's not just these days, as a mom of teen, that I feel isolated from others like me—it’s always been this way. I was the first of anyone I knew to become a mother at 21, which isn’t really so young but many people choose to have children later in life. I remember when I was first pregnant, and I felt sick. I worried something was wrong with me until I read in Our Bodies Our Selves that I was morning sick. It's kind of crazy how isolated we can be, how scared, and how much better we feel when we find out we are “normal” whatever that is, and even being not normal isn’t abnormal because there are always other people like ourselves out there with to trade notes with. Over time, with my zine, with reaching out to others at the playground, and later with the internet I found myself somewhat a circle of associates. You know, kick ass radical moms!
However, last spring I found myself really wondering what happened to the radical single moms—it seemed like all the “hip” parents I knew were married. I was also really craving to be around people more like myself, even those a step ahead in the road as usually I am always the one in the crowd with the oldest kid (she will be 18 in March). I get asked for advice but I don’t get much of a chance to ask it. And guess what?
As if there is a Goddess and she answered my unsent prayers—to send to me the precise people I needed to talk to about the most important issues in my life-- I found myself road tripping with a bunch of rad single moms of teens and grown children! My dear mama-zinester friend Ariel Gore invited me to go on her Essential Hip Mama Book tour “Yo Mama's Illumination Road Show”: from Baltimore up to Burlington, Vermont. Oh my god - it was like a dream! Hanging out with the old school “Welfare Bohemia!” I met Katherine Arnoldi (author of The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom) who is a grandmother! And hot! She has long hair in braids and she looks like a librarian and has ton of knowledge/experience about art, revolution, and social justice. We also toured with Annaliese Jakimides who is a poet/artist/mother from Maine of three grown children who raised them during the “back to the land” movement. And I just want to say, if you think the issues in zines and on the internet are good—they ain't nothing compared to a road trip when it comes to discussing the deep issues in one life you need hours and hours on the road to bring up these talks and confidences. There is stuff I talked about, that I just never can in print. Especially with raising teenagers, there are serious things to talk of that we are more sensitive to keeping our children’s privacy and can not easily discuss: plus the way these issues are entwined in our own histories and souls.
And everywhere we went: the mamas fed us! They took us in and gave us a place to stay; shared their stories of all the interesting things they were doing in their towns. (Providence, Boston, Portland—wow, I’ve never been to New England before!) It was really really inspiring.
When I came back to town, it seemed like some road magic was still on me cuz Atomic Books approached me that they would like to put out a book of mine, an anthology of my zine: The Future Generation: a zine for subculture parents, kids, friends + others. It took me a half a year to sort through my 15 years of making a zine and try to get something in order, with help from my two bestest mama-writer friends (Ariel Gore and Vikki Law). I’m kinda nervous, and kinda excited and hope to share with you (anyone who is interested in anarchy, raising kids, and parenting be it social parenting or being a parent yourself) soon my zine book. Details shall be forth coming! Until then, if you would like something cool to read: order my daughters first ever zine! Dildo #1, containing: the history of the dildo; the history of the twinkie; poetry; a concert review (of The Bravery when she had chicken pox); a walk to remember; photos from a rally supporting gay marriage in front of the courthouse. Send $2 dollars to Nadja Martens P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211
Thanks to everyone I met, read with, and stayed with on the road. Stay in touch! China410@hotmail.com