What If We Were Just Really Nice To Each Other?

This week, I got sick. Getting sick is scary for me, it always has been. I have always gotten sick a lot more than many other people, and a huge portion of my life has been devoted to managing illness, trying to prevent getting sick, and trying to recover. As a working class person, my paycheck to paycheck lifestyle often works ONLY if I never get sick. But I do get sick.

I’ve never had a job that hasn’t threatened to fire me for getting sick “too much.” I’ve never had a boss who believed that I was actually sick when I said I was. I’ve never been secure enough in my life to not be afraid that I was one more illness away from some kind of disaster.

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This week, my favorite cat got sick. I’m not supposed to have a favorite cat, I know, and I love all of my cats and calling him my favorite is kind of a joke. But he is the cat that I’m the closest with. He’s the cat that “gets me.” He’s the cat I got first, the cat I got when I was single and living alone for the very first time. He’s the cat who has pulled me through breakups and illnesses. And he’s also the cat who keeps almost dying on me every couple of years.

He got sick, and I didn’t have the money to take him to the vet. It was scary and bad. A friend offered to loan me some money, and I took it, but even with that the emergency vet was too expensive. I was able to get him some meds and a checkup, and he was in better shape than I had feared. Now he’s home and he seems perfectly normal… but I am living in fear that the worst is about to happen.

This week, being a freelancer was extra difficult. I can’t go into details (obviously) but multiple clients are paying considerably late at the same time. This puts my family in a difficult position. And look, it’s the beginning of December. We celebrate Yule, and we celebrate in a pretty damn frugal way, but this is a really stressful time to suddenly not have enough money to make ends meet.

This week, the news cycle was absolutely hell on earth. This week, capitalism was still keeping us down, keeping us in our place. This week, politicians have been trying to push through awful legislation with no acknowledgement of the lives effected. This week, I still had PTSD. This week, I still had seasonal affective disorder.

This week has been really really fucking hard, y’all.

I am baking bread, and it feels like I used the last once of energy left in my spirit to knead the dough. I am trying to remember to drink water. I am letting my kid watch more TV that usual. I am staring at the yule tree in our living room and trying to notice how much I love it instead of how outrageously messy this room is.

And I have an idea.

It will not fix everything. It might not even fix anything. It’s probably shallow and overly simplified and it might even be stupid. But look, the only way I know to meet the level of evil and greed we are seeing in the world right now, the only way that isn’t the worst, is with radical kindness. The only thing I know how to do that is worth any good at all is just to be nice.

I think we do not give niceness enough credit, I think we have been dismissing niceness as “women’s work” right along with childcare and baking. I think we have been downplaying generosity and kindness in part because it doesn’t serve capitalism.

And I also think people have a right to their anger. I also think this shit is complicated. I also think power structures are real and scary an if folks need to protect their own sometimes, I get it.

But right now, for myself, niceness is the only fucking thing I have left. What if we were all just really really nice to each other? What would happen then?

Bake cookies for your neighbors.

Give money to people on the street.

Tell your family how much you cherish them.

Smile at babies.

Send someone a card, just because.

Check in on your friends.

Invite someone over for dinner.

Do something that isn’t normally your job.

Offer to babysit.

Say something kind.

It might not change the world. It might not do much at all. But look, the people in power are staying up all night to screw us over. Life is hard as hell, and this particular season is extra hard for many of us. This year has been impossible. We all deserve a little kindness right now, and thinking I might be able to be that for someone else is the most optimistic I am capable of being right now.

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Harvest Traditions, Seasonal Shifts

I’m learning to be ok with being horribly behind on everything. My therapist says that beating myself up for not being perfectly productive is a problem. She says “how’s that working out for you?” and I sheepishly admit that putting more pressure on myself makes me less capable, rather than more.

I have a three ring binder and a stack of paper in my dining room, which I keep meaning to make into a cookbook. I do not like cookbooks. I like to make up my own recipes, I like to refuse to measure my ingredients most of the time, and I like to memorize things rather than looking at a book. There is a problem though. At 22, I could keep all of my recipes stored in my brain, and call them up on a whim. At 32, there are a lot more recipes, and a lot more other things to remember. I find myself googling the recipes I started with, and then trying to remember my changes and improvisations from last time. So I got the binder so I could put them in there. My bread recipe that isn’t a recipe at all, my modified version of my mother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, and of course the pastry recipe that I look up every time I make a pie because for a second I think “there is no way we need that much butter, that can’t be right” (it is right, we do need that much butter).

The seasons have been changing. I have been working a lot, and trying to find time to do the household things I love. I haven’t started putting the recipes in the binder yet.

On October 31st, my family celebrated both Samhain and Halloween. We took time to recognize and honor our ancestors. The toddler really wanted to honor a dead rat and mouse he saw in the alley by our house the week before. So the spouse and I wrote down names on post-its, and the kid put a scribble on one to represent each fallen rodent. Then, a little jarringly, we got our costumes.

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I also started the process of putting our garden to bed, which has turned out to be a bigger job than I expected, even with such a small garden. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be better prepared, but who knows?

Yesterday was American Thanksgiving, and I could have really used the recipe book. Thanksgiving is a holiday that I feel complicated about, because while it is cozy to share food with family, there’s nothing cozy about genocide. I’ve been having a bit of a rough time lately, and I’m also a stress baker. So I made three pies, including a savory roasted vegetable pie, classic pumpkin pie, and dutch apple.

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You really do need all that butter.

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I failed to photograph any of the finished pies, because I guess that isn’t the interesting part for me? But they were both pretty and tasty. If you are curious, here is the recipe that I look up every time I make a damn pie, and then feel embarrassed because it’s so simple I don’t really need it. But I will never ever measure the salt or the sugar, and you cannot make me.

Regarding thankfulness and national holidays, here is what I had to say yesterday:

Thanksgiving was invented by Abraham Lincoln, at least as the National Holiday we know today. The Civil War had just ended. Some people didn’t want it to be over. The country was divided, and he wanted to do something that would inspire unity.
So he told a story, a story full of symbolism. He told a story about uptight Puritans and wild Natives setting aside their differences to share a meal. In this story, here were two groups of people, people so different on every level, able to break bread together. The story was also racist. You are supposed to identify with the Puritans in the story, and pat yourself on the back for how accepting you are of those who are less than you. It was also a story to inspire patriotism… By harkening back to the beginning of the country, and surrounding it in myths about sharing, it reinforces the idea that the United States is right and good.
The Puritans had many feasts of thanksgiving. The type of protestantism that they practiced involved a lot of communal celebration, and also communal suffering. If they did something that they were ashamed of, they fasted together. If they did something they thought was pleasing to their god, they feasted and gave thanks.
One such feast, one of the larger ones that is remembered by history, occurred after the Pequot Massacre. There is no nice way to tell what happened. The Puritans were at war with the Pequot. They hated the Pequot because the Pequot resisted them, they fought back, they tried to keep what was theirs. The Puritans believed that they had a right to steal land that was not theirs, because they believed that their god thought that anyone who wasn’t using the land exactly as they would use it wasn’t really using it at all. So there were a series of skirmishes.
And then, the massacre. They surrounded a Pequot village and burned it to the ground. They burned everyone, and yes, that includes women and children. The goal was genocide. The goal was to destroy them once and for all. Anyone who escaped the fire was shot.
The Puritans thought this was pleasing to their god. They celebrated the great victory. They threw themselves a feast.
We live on stolen and occupied land. We have the bounty we have not because we are good or deserving, but because our ancestors (for those of us who are white) stole and murdered and destroyed. I do not really believe in the idea of sin, and especially not original sin. But if there is a sin that is passed down in our blood, it is this one.
And as the United States continues to steal native lands, and continues to ask people to find “unity” with those who would see a return to more blatant forms of racism, it is clear that many people haven’t (or just don’t want to) learn from our mistakes. We still use native people as props in our stories. We steal their land and try to steal their cultures and pretend it’s all in good fun. We keep sugarcoating genocide, and we keep benefiting from it.
I’m thankful for what I have. But I’m also asking all of us, especially myself, to do better.

Today a friend brought us an artificial tree to put in our living room, and we put it up right away even though the fall decorations are still up. Now we are all set to make a valiant attempt at resisting capitalism in the coming season, slowly start decorating for Yule, and trying as best we can to prepare our home (and ourselves) for another Michigan winter.

Pass the vitamin D.

An Update On The State Of The Blog

If you read last month’s singular post, you know I’ve been having some conflicts about my identity within my family lately. I’ve been writing more, and even dabbling in some science writing (which is a huge plus for me, because sometimes I get to write about dinosaurs!) All of that means I don’t always have the time and energy for housewifery that I once had, and I miss it. I also don’t have the same time and energy I once had for this blog.

What you might not know is that I’ve also been having conflicts about what to do with this blog. It’s sort of embarrassing, to be honest, because for a long time the blog felt like the best thing ever. I talked with other writers about how, once they started writing for more publications, they felt lost as to what to do with their blogs. I explained that I never felt lost, because my blog developed a clearly defined purpose over time.

Well, I guess that clear definition has finally become fuzzy.

Or maybe I just stopped wanting to write about things here in exactly the way I had been. It’s hard to say. Either way I’ve been tired and busy, and I meant to post an update about the state of the blog one week after my last post.

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I am sorry. I know I am supposed to say “sorry” less (aren’t we all) but yet I am sorry I am sorry I am sorry. I am covered in toddlers and cats perpetually and I am behind on literally everything in the universe and I am so sorry.

Anyways, here’s the big announcement. I’ve decided to refocus the blog on something that is important to me: The Magic Of Housewifery. That’s right, I’ve chosen to combine my two conflicts into one super conflict! Maybe that’s a super terrible idea, we’ll find out, but it seems better than just letting the blog slowly fade into nothing. What does that mean for you, the reader?

+ MORE POSTS AND MORE FREQUENT POSTS! In an attempt to revamp my schedule, I’ve assigned myself one “housewife” day per week (it’s Saturday). On those days I’ll be doing household type things and not writing professionally, pitching editors, or filing invoices. I plan to try to update the blog on what I’m up to as often as possible, which should mean a lot more posts!
+ More recipes and other “mom-blog” type content! We’re gonna be talking about what I’m cooking, what I’m doing in the garden, how I’m (desperately, poorly) managing keeping our household in one piece with a two year old under foot.
+ More personal posts! Back when I was mostly writing personal essays, I gradually shifted the blog towards the things that (at that time) no one wanted to pay me to write about. Namely, the blog became a lot about ideas, and a lot less about cute kid stories and anecdotes. Expect more of that stuff to come back!
+ Less massive theory and idea posts… Long rants about concepts and ideas won’t go away, they just won’t be the focus in the way that they have been. Though truthfully, I don’t know that it will be a whole lot less than it is right now, just a lower percentage of the overall blog content.
+ Shorter posts… maybe… if I can ever shut up.

So that’s the plan, if I can pull it off. I’m going to refrain from apologizing yet again, even though I kind of want to. I’m excited to get started next week, and I hope you’ll be along for the ride.

Can I Really Call Myself A Housewife Anymore?

Sometime in 2016, I wrote a piece about identifying as a queer housewife. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever written, not by a long shot, but it was something I was feeling really intensely at the time and really wanted to talk about. The extremely simplified version is that I had, as a younger person, really wanted to stay home and raise babies and keep my house. When I grew up and became a feminist and realized I was a flaming queer… this didn’t seem like it was going to happen, so I set the dream aside. But having a baby FORCED me to stay home (in the same way it forces many parents, including many new moms and other birthing parents who aren’t ready, back into the workforce). And while I was forced to stay home, I fell in love with it, and came to identify with that word, housewife.

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The whole thing ended up sparking a bit of a debate about terms. Many people told me they preferred homemaker to housewife, as it was gender neutral and less derogatory. But the term “homemaker” has been tied up in a very particular brand of conservative Christianity, and benevolent sexism, for decades now. And besides, I wanted to be a housewife specifically because it was gendered work I was doing. Are there men who cook and clean and budget and organize? Absolutely. But my own housewifery made me feel connected to generations of women who cared for their families and homes. I couldn’t divorce it from that, and I found that I didn’t want to.

Anyways, I got paid for that article about being a housewife. I think I made seventy-five bucks.

***

This spring, my spouse and I made a rather huge change. Specifically, she cut her working hours, from four days a week to three days a week. This way, I could also work three days a week, and we would split childcare duties equally. With our toddler weaned, this seemed like the perfect setup for our little family. Now no one would be carrying the brunt of the kid-wrangling, we would both work, and both do childcare, and have one day off a week in common. In many ways, it was a dream come true for me.

I started freelance writing at the end of 2015 and very beginning of 2016, and I started really small. I was just bringing in enough money to take the edge off, the edge of living in poverty. I was really proud of my contribution, even though I try very hard not to assign value to myself based on money earned. For so long, I hadn’t been able to financially contribute to my family, and I had watched (and felt) us struggle to try to survive on one income.

Since then it has been a (more or less) uphill climb. But there is never enough time. I work nights. I get behind on projects. I get behind on the blog. And my work time always gets eaten away at, slowly but surely. My spouse and I may work the same number of hours… but one of us works outside the home (her) while the other works inside the home (me). When doctor’s appointments have to happen, it’s easier for EVERYONE to schedule them for my work days. And then I take part of the day off and scramble and it sucks. Often I work nights. Often I work too many nights in a row (because I don’t know when to give myself a break) and make myself sick. Often freelance payments come late which makes it feel like I’m working this hard for nothing.

The switch from two work days a week to three work days a week alleviated some of the pressure on me, but not all of it. And it also added more. The income I make long ago ceased being “extra” money. I am now responsible for a rather large chunk of our monthly budget. If I don’t work, we can’t pay our bills and buy our food, period.

And the switch also meant something else… it was the end of the housewife dream.

A lot of times, I am too tired to make dinner, so my spouse does it. The livingroom which I used to lovingly pick up on the daily… well there are dust on top of the toys left on the floor now. The exciting DIY projects are all left for… another day, someday, maybe one day. All of this is in the service of my career.

I’m not complaining exactly, but it’s like I accidentally morphed from a housewife into a career woman.

And here’s the thing. I’m not even sure how I feel about that. I love my job. I love the work I’m doing. I’m writing some really interesting and exciting things that I never would have dreamed of a few years ago. It’s just that some days, I would rather be making my own granola bars and tending my little garden, you know?

***

Not having the identity of housewife makes me feel a little bit like I’m floating. I no longer know what my roll is, I’m no longer entirely sure I fit my roll. The reality is, of course, that I desperately want to do both. I want to do more things than there can ever be time for. I want to make pie crust and write interesting and well researched pieces, and do creative projects with my toddler, and organize the pantry, and work on my novel. But I also want to be kind to myself and read books and watch Doctor Who. There isn’t enough time, and I’m getting frustrated, and I’m burning out. And I’m not the only one. Women (and other people, but largely women) are so often tasked with doing the impossible in not enough time, we are so often racing the clock, we are so often torn in a thousand directions and unable to feel anything but guilt.

I don’t have an answer.

But I do have an idea.

Stay tuned.

Weaned (World Breastfeeding Week, Without Breastfeeding)

This is going to get emotional.

When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I also knew that lots of people struggle with breastfeeding, and that I had basically no idea how it would go for me ahead of time. I wanted to believe that since breastfeeding is *natural* (I have feelings about that word, y’all) it would just work itself out. I wanted to believe that my body would know what to do! But I didn’t know for sure, and I didn’t know how it would shake out with work, and I didn’t know if I would love it or hate it. But I was determined to do my best. I told myself that I would breastfeed for a year, and then we’d check in and see what to do next.

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My body, the one that I wanted to believe would know what to do? Turned out it didn’t know how to give birth. I ended up being in and out of labor for a week, miserable and exhausted, and finally having a c-section. Then, we started trying to breastfeed. Latching was almost impossible, no matter how many times the lactation consultants showed me what to do, I couldn’t get my nipple into my child’s mouth without backup for almost two whole days. We kept trying. I was scared. I was scared the nurses would sneak him formula. I was scared he would actually need formula and that my body, the body that had failed at *natural* birth (there’s that word again) would also fail at breastfeeding. Then, somehow, me and the baby both started to figure it out. My milk came in, more milk than I had ever dreamed of. It turned out my body was really awesome at one thing: breastfeeding.

I loved it. I became obsessed. I wasn’t ready to try to process my feelings about the birth, so instead I just clung to the one part of motherhood that made me feel capable and whole, and that was feeding my kid. He was an enthusiastic eater, an I never once turned him down when he wanted a snack. Then, when he was three weeks or so, my gallbladder went completely bananas. In a hellish amount of pain (anyone who has had a gallbladder attack can tell you) I first headed to a nearby emergency room. After ten hours of medical neglect, milk streaming from my breasts like great waterfalls, I left that hospital against doctor’s orders to go feed my baby. When I had another attack, I headed to a different hospital, the same one I gave birth to him at, and this time I brought him with me. In excruciating pain, I nursed him in the waiting room. On a hospital bed in a tiny room in the ER, I took turns nursing him and letting my mother and wife bottle feed him, from my minuscule supply of pumped milk (remember, he was three of four weeks old). But when they took me upstairs to the surgical department, he was not allowed to go with me. And they put me on morphine, so my milk was no longer safe for him.

So for three days, I was in the hospital, with an alarm set on my phone for every three hours. When it went off, I would ring for a nurse and ask for a breast pump. They would bring it to me, and ask cheerfully if they should store my milk for me. And I would have to hold back my tears as I explained over and over again that no, every drop of my milk had to go down the drain. At his grandparents’ house, my kid finished my pumped supply, and then some donated milk as well, and I gave the ok for him to have formula. On the day he turned one month old, I had my gallbladder removed. The next day, I went home, and I had the ok to try to nurse him again. I was terrified it wouldn’t work. I was terrified he would not remember how, would prefer the bottle, that after all I would fail at this too and now I was going to have to figure out how to navigate the world of formula.

But by some miracle, it was easy. The only problem was that my oversupply had actually gotten worse, because I was so afraid of losing my supply, I had pumped more than I needed to.

We never had a problem with breastfeeding again. I lost my job, so I was home to feed him 24/7. At four months, he decided bottles were the actual devil, so we started occasionally giving him a sippy cup. At six months old, we started solid foods (via the baby lead weaning method) but if he decreased his nursing, I didn’t notice. On his first birthday we took him out for sushi and ice cream, and he ate all of it with enthusiasm, and then asked to nurse. The waitress wrote me a nice note about how I was doing the best thing for my baby.

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I didn’t dream of weaning him at one year. By that point, I was firmly in the “I’ll nurse him until he’s five, I don’t care” camp. He loved nursing, and I loved doing it. It helped me to feel useful, it helped me to feel connected to him, and it gave me much needed down time with an increasingly active toddler. He usually wanted to nurse more than I wanted to, and sometimes I complained about the frequency, but on the whole the pros outweighed the cons for me.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, when he was 19 months old, it suddenly stopped.

I still struggle to write about it. The details are that the whole family got the flu, and then he got his very first ear infection (which I also got). It hurt him to nurse, so he stopped doing it. Then he became terrified of my breasts and didn’t even want to see them. Everyone, from two lactation consultants to the nurses at the children’s hospital, told me the same thing. Most likely if he had been an enthusiastic nurser before, it was just a nursing strike, and he would come back to it as soon as he felt better. However, they all added, some children do self-wean at this age, and it’s perfectly safe and normal, and I should be ready for either outcome.

I was not ready for either outcome.

He never breastfed again.

When you wean a child, there is a huge hormonal shift that happens for the nursing parent. Typically, if you were intentionally weaning, you would try to do it slowly. But my child went from trying to nurse constantly on Friday (because he wasn’t feeling well) to not nursing at all on Saturday (because he couldn’t). My body was in shock. My hormones were out of wack. I was thrown headlong into a depression that was every bit as bad as postpartum depression, only now I had a toddler to take care of. The only positive to the experience was that it finally forced me into therapy. Slowly, my milk dried up. Slowly, the idea that he would never nurse again became normal.

I am not supposed to be sad about this. I am told over and over again that “at least you made it to 19 months, most people don’t do half that!” as though it were a contest. I am told that if he weaned then, he was ready, even though I know he weaned in sadness and anger and fear. I am told it is not about me. I am not supposed to be sad about a child weaning at 19 months, but I’m especially not supposed to be sad about it now, seven months later. It’s fine, he’s happy and healthy, we still cuddle and play and talk, he’s an amazing kid and I’m lucky to have him. Except I am sad about it. I am sad about it every single day.

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I am sad about it when I see my friends breastfeed their children. I am sad about it when they notice the look in my eye and apologize to me for feeding their babies in front of me. I am sad about it when he wakes up in the night crying and I feel helpless. And I am sad about it when he sees me change my shirt, and confidently says “oh! mama MILK!” because he still remembers. I cannot turn off this sadness.

***

It’s World Breastfeeding Week again, and I got invited to a march for breastfeeding awareness. Reading the invite I thought “oh, I am aware of breastfeeding.” I cycled through the familiar heartache, the pain that it ended the wrong way, followed by the self loathing and fear that I am somehow selfish for feeling this feeling. The invite specified that the event is for all, not just those who are currently breastfeeding. But I know I cannot go. I can’t handle being around that much awareness right now.

I was extremely luck that I got to breastfeed my kid for as long as I did. And it’s over. And I’m still sad about that, and goddamnit, I get to feel that.

So this is for all the parents who wanted to nurse but couldn’t. This is for all the parents who had to stop sooner than they wanted to. This is for all the parents who had to stop too soon. For everyone who had to switch to formula because of work, or supply, or sleep, or whatever… for everyone who feels messed up and messy about feeding babies… I see you.

If you are all for breastfeeding awareness, and your life is currently filled with breastfeeding images, and you aren’t breastfeeding anymore, I’m with you. If your heart is breaking wide open all over again, I’m with you. If you too are sitting at your computer, crying about the fucking concept of breastfeeding, and you think no one would ever understand this pain… I’m with you.

Maybe it’s true that we still need more breastfeeding awareness on a larger scale. But the rest of you will have to forgive those of us who are desperately trying to be a little less aware of it right now.

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Why I Really Am a “Mama Writer”

In the last few months, I’ve started to push myself to write about things other than, well, parenthood. There are a few reasons for this, one of them being the simple (but somehow hard to believe) truth that I’m a complex human being and I’m interested in lots and lots of things. Another was that I had been writing about parenting and parenthood at such a high volume that I pretty well burned myself out, and my life became a cyclical trap of writing about my parenting experiences almost as fast as I could, so that I could have just enough money to continue said parenting. Another is that I am not impervious to cultural pressures (again, I’m a human) and we as a culture just don’t hold a lot of respect for mama writers.

To be a mother and to write is already a bit of a challenge, and one you won’t find much support for in the world. Our culture’s attitudes about what motherhood should be (selfless, endlessly living, 24/7) aren’t exactly congruent with creative expressions. A mother’s time belongs to her children, and to take the time needed to write anything is to rob them of the precious time they are owed.

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Behold, my neglected first-born.

But to be a mother who writes about mothering is something else. Not only is this particular brand of mother selfish and horrible (just look at her poor children, cursed with a writer for a mother!) the writing itself is also the lowest of the low. Writing about parenting (but especially mothering) is considered to be of low importance and low quality both. I’ve experienced this, I’ve watched at parties as I answer the question “what do you do?” with “oh I’m a writer!” only to answer the question “what do you write about?” with “parenting, feminism, and queer issues” and watch peoples’ impressed expression turn to disinterest and even pity. I’ve had to essentially beg editors not to count me out just because the majority of my published work is about parenting and parenthood. I’ve dealt with even the most feminist of publications assuming that any writing about mothering is far too niche, and without substance. To announce that you are a mama writer (or worse, a mommy blogger) is like saying “I’m a writer, but not a real writer, not about anything that matters.” Writing about parenting (and again, particularly motherhood) is devalued at every single level. It is considered less creative, less work, and it fucking pays less than other writing. To identify as a person who writes about motherhood has been, frankly, demoralizing and discouraging.

And there are reasons for this devaluing! A lot of them come down to good old fashioned capitalism and sexism. Parenting is generally considered feminine labor, and it is generally unpaid, and therefore it is without value. This inability to assign a number value trickles into the way our culture assigns other types of value as well. Parenting just isn’t interesting, as far as our dominant culture is concerned. It’s on par with cleaning a toilet, only other people currently cleaning a toilet might have any interest in it, otherwise is is the unsightly work best left unseen.

(I’m simplifying, a little, here. Of course there is also the ever present force of benevolent sexism, which sanctifies motherhood in order to demand even more free labor from mothers and demean them in the rest of the world.)

Which brings me back to my own personal experience with parenting and parenting writing. I was burned out and exhausted and underpaid. I was under a lot of pressure to write more, and faster, and that pressure started to more and more often threaten my child’s privacy, which is something I closely guard to the best of my ability. So, I started writing about other things. I wrote about dinosaurs, and Harry Potter, and fine art, and it was honestly a relief. And as much as I told myself that it was just my own personal burn out, there was also the cultural pressure to be a “real” writer. I had watched colleagues ditch mama writing for other topics, watched their careers move faster than mine, watch the way they were valued more for their work that was about anything but raising up babies and kids.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Once I stopped forcing myself to write about parenting… once it wasn’t the only thing I was doing… I started to think about it differently. I stopped dreading it, I stopped resenting it, and I started to write parenting essays… for myself. Suddenly, I wanted to talk about motherhood and parenting and how we are trying to exist in the world with our babies. Because well, we do exist, don’t we?

On a macro level, it’s important to respect mothers who write and mothers who write about mothering. Just because capitalism is in love with devaluing us doesn’t mean it’s right, and it doesn’t mean we have to play along. Parenting happens to be a rich, complicated, and varied topic, and there is so much writing done about it that is high quality, creative, and beautiful. Furthermore, a lot of the writing that seems to be lower quality isn’t always because of lazy or incompetent writers… it’s because of a system that favors fast, emotional, sloppy, writing over everything else. The machine needs to crank it out and get eyes on it, and so it does. I’ve had thoughtful and nuanced pieces I’ve written chopped up and edited to become overblown, hyperbolic, and nearly unreadable. This is business, and this is how business gets done. But we don’t have to be complicit, we can choose not to follow their lead, we can give respect and take respect for the labor that we do (both parenting and writing).

On a teeny tiny personal level, I can’t help but think about how I became a writer. I wrote once that having a child made me into a writer, and that’s true in a purely technical sense. I gave birth, I lost my job, and four months later I got my first freelancing gig. I had an opportunity to write for money, and I desperately needed money, so I took it.

But there is something else. Something that ties me to the idea of giving respect to this work, something that makes me angry that I ever wanted to divorce myself from it for greater respect from the world.

I have always wanted to mother. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you, because we hadn’t been dating more than a month when I explained my intentions (which were to have a baby, and kind of soon). This isn’t something that all women feel, of course, but for me I was a little girl pretending to breastfeed a doll under a bush, and then I was a young woman angry that I would have to wait to become a parent. I was the type of person who read parenting blogs for literal years before I was a parent myself, and I even wrote two essays for Mutha Magazine before my wife and I started trying to conceive. Parenting wasn’t just something that I did, or something that I wanted to do, it was my dream.

Is it any wonder, then, that’s I’m a mama writer?

It wasn’t just that I started writing because I was broke (although it was also that). I started this blog while I was pregnant, because I found that I needed to write about pregnancy in a way I didn’t need to write before. Making new life made me reflective, it made me need to parse out the complexities of life, and it made me angry about injustice. It utterly and completely changed my relationship to the written word, and it gave me things to say that I never could have had before. So, I started writing about it.

First, I wrote here. Then, I starting taking $50 an essay for my thoughts on motherhood, in order to enable my family to afford the luxury of a terrible apartment. I’ve grown as a writer since then, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve written about a lot more than “just” mothering and parenting. But first and foremost, that is probably the kind of writer I am.

Even if it isn’t worth very much to the world.

Being a working class queer woman, I’m already used to not being worth very much to the world. I can deal with this. I can deal with being a mama writer in a world that assumes that means that I’m lazy and incompetent and somehow not “real.” Patriarchy’s gonna patriarchy, and the dismantling is slow and grueling work, and I’m doing it anyway.

What I cannot deal with, what actually hurts, is watching other mother writers sing right along with the patriarchal line about this work being meaningless. If someone doesn’t want to write about parenthood, obviously that is fine for them. But let us please be careful not to degrade each other for doing the work that our world considers less important. Us mama writers are getting plenty of shit already, we don’t need it from our colleagues as well.

 

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Capitalism Offers Solutions For Imaginary Problems: Baby Clothes Edition

This morning, when I observed my morning ritual of trying to drink the coffee faster while checking social media (I know, I know) I saw a video being shared about baby clothes. The video documents Vigga, a Danish company that rents out baby clothes in order to reduce waste. The owner of the company (also named Vigga) explains that when parents have a child, they are forced to participate in the “buy and throw away society” because babies grow so very quickly and constantly need new clothes. Renting out the clothes seems like a positive solution, and is presented as both eco-friendly and money saving. Notably, while I saw it shared by a handful of people on my personal feed, none of the people who I saw sharing it happen to be parents themselves.

I mean, obviously some parents do like it, because parents do use this company. If they didn’t, it would have already folded.

(FOLDED, clothes, get it????)

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But most of the parents I know would have no use for such a service, and it certainly wouldn’t save them any money. The reason is that while we’re all aware that our kids (especially the really young babies) only use clothing a handful of times, we’re not throwing them away when they’ve outgrown them, and most of us aren’t stashing them in the attic forever either. Instead, we pass them around our communities. In a weird coincidence, I learned about this company on the same morning that a piece I wrote on the joys of handed-down kids’ clothes went up. In that piece, I took for granted that swapping baby clothes was a practical solution that parents would engage in, and focused on the less obvious emotional elements of taking part in that kind of community.

But let’s please talk about the practical aspect for a quick minute.

Reusing baby clothes isn’t new. Once upon a time, mothers made most of their babies’ outfits by hand, and you can best believe that with successive children they weren’t about to sew new ones if the old ones would do. To my knowledge, this has always been the norm. In my own experience, I’ve spent very little on clothing for my kid. When I was pregnant, we received a mix of used clothes from folks with older babies, and new things from family members who went out and bought stuff because they really wanted to. During my pregnancy, we had very little money, and we purchased one onesie, which we found on clearance, because we happened to have three dollars and it was very cute. That’s it. The next time we bought clothes for him, it was because we wanted to, and it was at a thrift store. I believe he was three months old, and we spent about fifteen bucks on a bag of baby essentials in his current size.

15+3= $18 over a three month time period.

In contrast, after watching a more detailed BBC video, I learned that Vigga charges $55 per month for their service.

55×3= $165 over a three month period.

I don’t bring this up to shame anyone who finds a service like this attractive. I don’t bring it up to shame people who saw the video and thought “what a cool idea!” and his share. I bring it up because this is a perfect example of a thing that global capitalism does that ties into everything this blog is about. Because here is a place where communities have — and have always had — a perfectly good way of addressing the issue that babies, in fact, grow out of everything too damn fast. Communities are so good at addressing it that it in fact is functionally not really a problem. As long as parents are connected with other parents, as long as we’re willing to talk to each other and share resources, we’ve got the baby clothes issue pretty well handled. But of course, that isn’t profitable.

Capitalism is about placing profits over people, always. Capitalism pushes us to buy new clothes for our children when used ones will do just fine, and then it turns around and markets used clothing to us as “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” as long as we are willing to pay for it. It presents this as a solution to the problem of our constant purchasing and tossing of baby clothes, as though it were a new innovation to reuse things that aren’t worn out. In fact, what this is actually doing is attempting to replace the community with yet another monetary exchange.

Which both benefits from, and feeds into, nuclear isolation. It is saying “you don’t want to buy brand new clothes, because that would be wasteful. Don’t reach out to other parents though, instead pay $55 and this company will clothe your infant.” There is nothing innovative about that, it’s just a shift. The same way that childcare has been shifted out of our communities and packaged and sold to us (and no, I’m not shaming anyone who puts their kids in dare care, we all have to live in this world, you do what you have to) they are now trying to sell us the very idea of sharing.

I can hear the objections now. “Well, what if you don’t have any friends or family with older children from which to get clothes?” First of all, if that is the case for you, I’m extremely sorry. This level of isolation is, I believe, dangerous. It’s also constructed in order to keep you in a nuclear family unit that makes it easier to sell you shit, which is basically the thesis of my entire blog. Building communities is hard work, but it’s our only defense. But even if a hypothetical parent just logistically couldn’t find community to lean on for clothing in that way (let’s say you are the very first of your friend group to have a child, and you’re a stay-at-home-parent, and you don’t have the energy to try to meet anyone new right now, and you’re estranged from your family of origin) there would still be other, practical, “sustainable,” solutions. Buying the kid’s clothes at a thrift store and then donating them would probably be cheaper, and they could be donated at a shelter, thus helping a family in an even tighter spot. There are also mom2mom sales, which literally exist for this purpose.

If people are buying all of their infant’s clothes brand new, and then throwing them away, it is because they chose to do so. Maybe they chose to do so because they were comfortable enough financially to do so, and felt it gave them some sort of status. Maybe they chose to do so because they’d be too embarrassed to ask their friends and family for used clothing and no one in their circle has offered anything. Maybe they chose to do so because they enjoy hand picking each and every item of clothing. But ultimately, this is a choice that some people are making, and it’s a choice that is made because capitalism has sold us the idea that new is best, used is shameful.

A few points that are important to mention: Vigga is a clothing company, they make the clothes. Apparently they’re committed to using more eco-friendly methods of garment production, and so for them this is them shifting to a more eco-friendly distribution method as well. From that perspective (the perspective of the company trying to make a profit) it is a solution, and it’s a little bit better than the alternative. It is also possible that by highly systematizing clothes sharing, they’re getting more total wears out of a particular garment before it is discarded… but I feel like we can’t know that for sure (I’ve received hand-me-down clothing for my child that were literally older than I am). Also, because they make the clothes (and they’re cute as heck) what they’re selling isn’t just the idea of sharing clothing, it’s a particular aesthetic. This is high end, luxury baby wear, presented in a subscription box system that also implements reusing (which allows them to really use those buzzwords! SUSTAINABLE!). At it’s core, Vigga is a luxury product being sold to privileged parents who have chosen to opt out of community based clothing sharing because they are financially able to do so.

This is exactly the kind of “solution” capitalism loves.