P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211
Getting Out: isolated struggle and the open road
I led a workshop at the Philadelphia Skill Share a few months ago - about creating awareness and support for radical mothers and children within the subculture. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to say but since I am a rad mama of a 16 year old, I should have something to say on the subject. This workshop was created with the non-parent in mind since the first workshop I have ever done ("Building a radical parenting support network" co-hosted with Vikki Law) at the Anarchist Bookfair in Baltimore consisted of burnt out parents with no participation from the rest of the young punk "kids" running around us. (And no day care but what Faith, a mother herself, spontaneously threw together) So forget about "networking radical parents" I decided we most needed to enlist the help and the energy of the anarchist community itself.
The workshop in Philly was very heartening for it was well attended by non parents who were interested and concerned with the issues at hand. We gathered in the park so the few children with us had space to play. Two local moms shared their thoughts and annoyance with the white punk community and felt their was much more going on for activist parents in the anti-capitalist movement. We talked about what parents would like: to be asked "can I help you?" to have inclusive spaces without cigarette smoke and loud music, to be given a hand and have their children acknowledged. Non parents talked about being afraid to play with kids, of not seeing kids in their daily life. It felt like a good starting point, a dialogue, creating awareness - to be able to talk in a group about some of this stuff: race, neighborhood, class, ageism, child care, and the struggles of moms in the radical community.
Sara (with her small children: Lucy and DV) and Maryn went with me as they had fond memories of Philly from their youth and were up to experience "whatever". It was great to take a road trip - even one of this short distance from Baltimore. There is nothing like leaving town, and that air bubble that seems to contain all your neighborhoods oxygen and magnifies everything in your little world—to gain perspective.
I was nervous about the workshop but it went well, and afterwards we went to eat Ethiopian food with a friend of Sara’s brother, an organizer for Acorn, and our host. She was incredibly sensitive and giving to Lucy. Everyone in our group was like that—a set of extra hands available at all times. (Maryn talked with Lucy in the back seat the whole ride up and played with her the entire workshop.) But still there is that moment for the mama of two where two sleepy children need her one loving lap and giving body.
One would think it would be less of a fun trip to travel with a three month old baby and a four year old child. But a funner trip I could not think of. First of all, their mother is a traveler. She had the car, she was in motion. Hard to pin down. Wholesome snacks, grab a few things, simple and easy, she moves. We all know this four year old is a wonder. But the baby!
He is small. Crying behind me in the car seat when the car does not move. A back of the head pressed up against her boob. A sack of potatoes, somewhat easy to be taken here and there in a sling. I didn’t really notice him on the trip for hours. Not until after my workshop and we were chilling out at the house we were staying at, did I meet his eyes. He looks at me. He looks at me in wonder. Waking and Sleeping in short frequent bouts. He is awake now, very awake. Looking at his world. He looks at me.
Wow. I forgot how babies look into your eyes. Really look at you. Everything else but him becomes a blur. I can’t take my eyes off him - our eye contact remains unbroken. He is loving me. No one looks at me like this ever. Except my incredible lover, actually. And I must say often I am afraid to look back for such a long and unbroken stare. How close one is looking into each others eyes. I am not afraid of the baby. DV smiles at me. It is wonderful. Really wonderful. Now I know who you are. This experience rocks.
Later in the park I hold him. His little body gives in to me. I heard his cries and picked him up to soothed him, and I did. I stand one hand under his butt, another around his head and hold him to my chest, our hearts in contact, his view over my shoulder. Although my morning coffee sits there, I do not go to reach for it. It would break the comfort of our embrace. I hold this baby boy, so open he is. It feels wonderful. I hold him for a long time as I feel him give into my body completely. Then he looks around more. The feeling in his body changes. It is easy to drink coffee now with one hand as I prop him up with another on my lap to watch the kids play in the playground. I think the most wonderful age in the world is 3 months old.
Maryn tells me stories: years of drug addiction and addict stories, a year of many deaths, memories of sexual freedom where one felt safe and walking down the street in less clothes, the worst acid trip she ever had and an Italian funeral.
I listened to her as my head was on my pillow, in a shared bed in a soft yellow room of the third floor in an old house in Philadelphia. She kept talking on and on - wonderful and strange stories. Her face looked so beautiful now to me, with her hair down. A story of first love and ongoing attraction throughout the years as they grow longer. Stories of what happens to friends/lovers (interchangeable they were for the most part) and revolutionaries.
And what now? Anarchists near to turning 30, not nearly as old as me, but people who are starting to have some down-the-road-ness. When my down-the-road-ness has taken me down so many paths as to loose too many sets of friends and wind up too many times in places where I did not speak the language. I have been in this kind of place for too long - that I forgot it could be like this. What a conversation with beautiful smart kind interesting woman into the night could be like. Had I forgotten how to talk - to even bother? Lately its like that with me. I’m finding people I want to talk to again and realizing how much I had given up on. I thought it was too much to ask from people - soulful connection, meaningful dialogue. Life, culture, individuality, and sharp intelligence. Willingness to experience life.
The bond these two old friends have is richer than almost anything I know. It lets me in closer to both of their personalities than if I had been with just one of them. They come from a similar background - our generation gap not having us experience the same times but touching in places - anarchist punk rock youth. And where they are now - they are "open". "There is so much to experience in life, its sad to narrow it down so much with a new set of rules" said Sara once. The spirit of what she had known as punk rock was not a code of any kind but a liberation of the self. Your own way. In other words, they are fairly positive, fairly free, fairly uncrushed and living here - Here and Now.
As we walk we catch the meandering sights a three year pulls into us: a floating lily pad garden "fairy world". We all watch together the mercurial dew drop off the waterproof flawless leaves. We oh and ah. Perhaps the child lingers the longest, as our conversation wanders other aimless paths. We take on the day together with an ease, a lack of expectation, and a camaraderie. We find good food to eat at a farmers market and make new friends. We pass the baby, share responsibility, and laugh. For me, I find sanity. Was it always this easy? To simply walk into the sunlight? Or does some company make it feel like that, make you see how much better life can be.
We easily respond to the needs of the group as we interact with new people. We talk of shit, water, and sleep. Love you can not deny. Kisses when they are electric. Troubled butch girls who are bad for you. Birth and parenting. Life and everything and what tastes good and if you should vote. Names people name their cats. Beauty that comes from within. The secrets that we share alone. The Battles we fought and won or survived somehow.
Its often a depressing struggle for existence, I know. I have and am struggling. Sometimes you can’t get out the door and sometimes once you are out - you find yourself running back with tears in your eyes. Sometimes you move forward in blindness—like the old man I once saw struggling to walk down my street carrying heavy bags of food he had got free at the church next to my house. I offered my assistance and as I gave him a ride, he told me how he really didn’t know how he was going to get home that day and thought he would have probably fallen a few times on the way.
I often see old people really struggle to walk down the road carrying bags in their hands, but as I am rushing around in my own world, it fails to register with me until I think back on it - that they need help. Then I have to get the guts up, besides remembering to take notice, to ask this simple question: "Do you need help?". So I felt good about myself this day when I gave the dapper old gentleman with manicured hands a ride home . He told me the impressive tree in front of his house had started as an acorn dropped by a squirrel, about how when he had a car he would give people rides.
When I thought back on it I was impressed with his leap of faith. Yes its an act of desperation to start out on something you don’t know how you can finish too, but much more an act of faith to at least try then to sit home hungry. And sometimes you need to just try to do stuff - just cuz. I have been missing my deadlines here at Slug and Lettuce for a year and I know this piece is rough. But I thought I would try and submit it to have *something* although I didn’t get to talk about seeing Michelle Tea at Atomic Books on her book tour for "Rent Girl" and seeing the Sweet Saddle Show (Bicycle and Burlesque) at the True Vine Record Store. And I didn’t talk about anything real personal. So here it is: I have been unemployed and working poor and depressed a lot this year. My daughter is doing good and we get along pretty well. I have a bunch of stories about her doing some cool radical things which is nice since she went through a early rebellious phase of being so damn normal and conservative! Still my daughter is what she is, a much more pragmatic and sensible individual than me who likes money and keeps a job and has always planned on going to college and stuff like that. She’s a mix of interesting forces. I helped edit Ariel Gores new book on raising teenagers "Whatever Mom" on Seal Press and it rocked. I highly recommend it.
Thank you friends everywhere, those who make me laugh and feel inspired, those who speak up and make life colorful, those who plant a garden, offer a ride, or take off walking having faith it will somehow work out since it has to, there is no other way. - China Martens/ China410@hotmail.com