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Radical Motherhood by Candyce #71

    I want to start out by saying that I love this zine and I am so proud to be a contributor. For me this is like going to see my most all time favorite band and getting pulled on stage to sing along. I have so much respect and admiration for Chris and all the people that have made this zine such a great resource. I'm so excited to be a part of this, and yet I've found it incredibly hard to pull this article together. It is just that these days I've been writing less and less structured pieces intended to inform an audience. Instead, I have thrown myself into my journal and writing letters to friends and songs where what I'm saying won't matter much in the midst of feedback. The way I've been writing is just an extension of the way my life is lately, and these days I seem to be tuning out a lot of exterior forces and just focusing on my life and the people immediately in it.  I'm a little surprised at how easy this has been to do, and I am reminded of that phrase "Ignorance is bliss," and wondering if that statement applies to me. See, I've been really happy lately-happier than I ever remember being. This happiness is the result of several things: a great family, good friends, new knowledge and coping skills regarding living with manic-depression, and a sense of purpose and freedom from homeschooling my son.  And perhaps some of my happiness comes from tuning out a lot of things in my community and the world that are stressful and depressing, which has been troubling me a little in the past few weeks. I really haven't been following world events in the wake of 9-11 like I feel that I should be, I haven't been politically active in my community, I haven't really been networking outside of my circle of friends. I've spent years battling depression, always wishing I could get strong enough to really throw myself into those sort of things 100%, so finally I quit trying to be so involved and just concentrated on myself and getting better, and here I am-feeling better and wondering if tuning out all of that stuff and concentrating on myself is a bigger part of my happiness than I am truthfully willing to acknowledge. I guess this is an idea that I am going to have to keep exploring-I'd like to believe that my bliss does not depend on ignorance.
    But in keeping with the tone of the way I've been doing things lately, I probably won't rush the process of trying to figure this out. I'm not eager to dismiss my happiness no matter where it comes from-it just feels too good. Sometimes I wake up in the morning to my son crawling into bed for some snuggling before we start our day, and I lay there thinking, "Man, I am pretty sure this kind of happiness and freedom I'm feeling has got to be illegal." Sometimes I even feel this inexplicable guilt as I think about how we have all the time in the world for drawing, reading, karate lessons, kite flying, doing crafts or whatever else we are into; in contrast to how most other people I know will be spending their day, I think my son and I definitely have the better deal. We have the privilege to live like this. It has been important for me to hold onto that idea, not only to give respect to the people that make it possible for me and my son to live like this, but also because of what I mentioned before: I don't want my bliss to depend on ignorance. I've become so confident in homeschooling as a great way to raise and educate a kid that I get a little over zealous at times and start thinking that EVERYONE should be doing this, never mind whether they have the financial ability to do it or even any desire to do it. I guess that mode of thinking is what is called 'blind idealism'. I'm really trying to avoid that.
      Just like me, I see a lot of people getting caught up in ideas when they are talking politics and forgetting about individuals and their wants and needs. Sometimes what people call radical politics are just a matter extremes, and in the end it is just politics as usual. In regard to education, I've talked to plenty of people that hate the way the American public school system operates as much as I do-where we differ is that I have maintained the stance that reform is necessary, while they call for the abolishment of the system altogether. I've argued that to sweep down and do away the system would create a crisis that would only be more destructive to children (churches and corporate America would be the first to open up schools if the privatization of education were to occur) than the current system. And I have argued that public schools are necessary for poor families who depend on having a place for the kids to be during the day while they go to work in order to maintain the basic necessities. And now I have yet another argument in favor of reforming the public school system: There are people that really want to keep it, and overthrowing a system that is desired by the people who use it doesn't make a lot of sense and doesn't seem very possible, either. So we might as well make it the best that we can.
     Recently a friend of mine got pregnant-she had read my zine, knew how happy and well my son is doing in a homeschool environment, and has been very supportive and interested in what we are doing. I was really excited at the news of a new baby, and right away we started talking about natural birth, breastfeeding, and just so many other things that we agree on. And then I asked, "So, have you thought about how you will educate your kid?" Honestly, I was feeling pretty smug thinking that I knew the answer already, especially since she is a mother with the option to stay home with her child if she chooses. I was just so sure I had won her over with my living testimony of how great homeschool is. But no, she plans on sending her child to public school. She thinks the system is all right; she enjoyed her experience in public school and is satisfied with the education that she received. I was pretty disappointed-I had all these visions in my head of this group of radical moms and our kids all hanging out together doing amazing stuff all day long. It wasn't at all easy for me to digest this piece of information. I just figured that anyone that had the privilege of staying home with their kid and the knowledge that there is a viable alternative to public school would choose the alternative. I had been dividing people into two categories: people who recognized the system for what it was and therefor hated it or people that couldn't see it for what it was and therefore were content with it. It was hard for me to distance myself from my passion and conviction to fully comprehend and respect my friend's choice, but I'm there now.
    It really was a bit of a kick in the ass to realize that I was yet another blind idealist. I had been walking around with this idea that I had discovered an ultimate truth, writing and talking about my experiences every chance I got in order to turn people on to that truth, and obviously I had placed a lot of expectations on other people in doing so. Otherwise I wouldn't have felt so disappointed at my friend's decision, regardless of the fact that I made the decision to homeschool because I thought it would benefit my son, not because I wanted to test a theory or live up to a political ideal. So a big part of what I am doing right now is a sort of concentrated effort to mellow out and really enjoy what I am doing in my life without projecting what I think is the right way to be living onto other people, and even though I do worry and have some disappointments regarding my lack of interest or activity in my community or world politics right now, I feel like laying low and figuring this sort of stuff out is really important for me. When I look back to collectives I've been in involved with in the past, I know that I personally made a lot of mistakes in dealing with people, and so much of what I feel I did wrong was because I such a relentless hold on my own convictions about our purpose and how we should operate. Now, there isn't anything wrong with having strong convictions, but sometimes convictions are only rock solid and relevant in theory ... applying convictions to real life situations-especially when the situation involves more than just yourself ... well that is another matter altogether. One thing that pisses me off about the government is how so many decisions that impact my life are made by people that don't have any inkling or concern about what people like me and you want or need. And yet I have spent a whole lot of my time in the self appointed position of Big Brother, thinking that I knew what was best based solely on things I had assumed for myself.
    I totally don't want to be that kind of person. I see it happening around me all the time; people placing expectations on their kids and their allies and the general populous that aren't in keeping with the promotion of autonomy and respect for all people. There are just so many little ways that we alienate and disapprove of each other because of everything from eating habits to religious preferences. Everybody has convictions, we have our ideals-but how do we keep our ideals from making us out to be intolerant assholes? There is nothing at all progressive or radical about getting so stuck in an idea that we are unable to relate with other people or work with them or respect them because of it.
     When I do assume a more active role in my community, I want to be able to work toward a common goal with others without demanding it be on my terms or catered to my ideals. I want to raise my son without the expectation that he has to be or do anything he doesn't want to simply because it will satisfy me or match my moral code. I want to keep writing about education alternatives without the underlying goal of trying to convince people that the way I do things is right or better, but simply because I love what I am doing and want to share that feeling rather than sell the idea.  I want to have friendships that aren't based on what meets my approval or mirrors my own convictions/lifestyle-I want to know I have picked my friends because they are interesting, unique, and even challenging to me. So while I feel like I have mellowed out regarding pushing my own convictions/agenda on people, I've been more critical of myself in order to achieve this. I've been working hard to keep myself in check, so to speak, in order to be more understanding and tolerant and open. And this, too, has contributed to my current happiness, as I'm not so subject to disappointment and frustration lately.
     I just don't think any of us can progress individually or as a society if we don't let go of our expectations of each other. It is just not mentally healthy, this constant battle of wills, and it doesn't jive with creating a truly diverse and simultaneously autonomous society. And a lot of time, letting go of expectations can just mean giving people the benefit of the doubt. You can inform people with your zine or your songs or your actions, but when they don't come around to your way of thinking, assume they are making the right choice for themselves rather than to wrong choice to you. Don't take it personally, don't let it get you down or make you jaded or angry. I like this quote by Joseph Campbell (a scholar of comparative mythology), which is simply "Follow your bliss." Do what you love. Share it with others, but remember that it is YOUR bliss.
   Spring is here in Arkansas. We'll be here, following our bliss: Making art and music, working in the garden, riding our bikes, having picnics and potlucks. Living and learning all the time. Take care, everyone.
Candyce/1122/S. 20th St./Ft. Smith, AR 72901

(address from 2002 - current info in 2011 not available - ed)