Having Kids and Selling Out

This week I’ve been listening to “How to Survive the End of the World,” a podcast by Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown. It’s fantastic. Check it out.

In listening to their conversations, particularly about child- birthing and loss and raising, I realized that I’ve been struggling with my identity as a mom and someone who cares about and works for justice in the world.

Having S. corresponded with a shift in my work and life. I was starting seminary with a hefty commute, my partner’s organizing job was getting way more demanding, and a baby adds a new level of financial and emotional need. I had finished my time at Vanderbilt, where opportunities to plug into social movements abound, and where, as a student, I had the flexibility to give time and attention to those movements.

The emotionally intensive facilitation work I really got into before and during pregnancy went to the back burner. For the most part, we can only afford to have childcare for hours during which we are working or at school, for me).

Social movement spaces aren’t always conducive to young families — it’s a lot of long days and evening meetings for a baby or toddler — and I regularly choose consistent nap time and slow evenings and dinners for my son over, well, just about any other option. Especially at the beginning, his sleeping and eating was so easily throw off track, and a bad afternoon nap meant lots of night waking, lots of exhaustion.

But is that just a list of excuses? Have I sold out?

There’s obviously part of me that thinks so, or I wouldn’t be writing this. But Autumn and adrienne have been reminding me that the small stabilities and consistencies for my kid are also a form of movement work. I chose the part time hourly cubicle job that pays the bills and frees up my heart and mind, so I can replenish those emotional resources to respond to a toddler with patience and re-read that bell hooks picture book 17 times. That is the work of dismantling the patriarchy, for him and also in myself.

I’ve internalized the devaluation of (traditionally women’s) labor that focuses on the home and child, even within a framework that explicitly values the feminized and vulnerable, that claims liberation for folks to be able to do exactly this work: raise a child with peace and connection, take time to tend emotional intelligence and body and family.

The movement work will go on. There will still be groups to facilitate. There will be books to write. There will be gardens to plant and protests to join and classes to teach and hospital visits to make — all those works I have loved to do and will love to do again. Not now doesn’t mean never.

And now I can choose to remember and recenter the truth that this little guy — and the small moments like this morning, drawing circles and singing “peace like a river” while putting on his shoes — he is my daily work of justice and freedom.

MLK Monday

Good morning! This is a real quick one, because my organizer husband is due on Jefferson St. in Nashville in an hour, representing his work on housing and transit at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day events and march, and I’ve got to get this toddler dressed and bundled up and down there as well.

I wanted to share again this resource I developed last year for families and churches to talk with children about Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr., and why we march today. Talk to your kids! It’s more important than ever for us to cultivate tools and intelligence around racial equality. Have more hope for their capacity to build a better world, than  fear for them in the one we’ve got. If you have questions or want reflect back on your experience today, comments are open!

Bitch, a meditation

In Nashville last weekend, there was a Friday inauguration day march, explicitly intersectional and put together by a conglomeration of groups whose concerns and members will be negatively affecting by the new president. Renters’ rights, refugee and immigration protection, and LGBT advocacy to name a few. S and I were running late (first we nap, then march) but caught up to the march as they walked across the downtown pedestrian bridge with signs, chants, drums, and even a small brass section. We were peaceful and law-abiding, with a significant number of marchers in reflective vests working to keep things moving and signal vehicles. We sang, “We Shall Overcome” and “Which Side Are You On?” We laughed and looked out for each other.

How many times that night was I called “bitch,” walking in my city with my baby, singing and chatting? Two times? Ten?

How many times have I been called “bitch?” From those first murmurs in junior high when I came back at a boy who touched me to now, leading meetings and challenging colleagues… how many times have I been called “bitch?” And why that, in particular? That word originally meant to describe a dog, used now to dismiss and dehumanize, to reduce me to animal property.

This week I came across this beautiful essay about the difference between a “nice girl” and a “kind woman.” This author was too gracious to offer the other term for a strong, kind woman: “bitch.”

Consider the (not unproblematic) white feminist embrace of “Nasty Woman,” our new president’s verbal attack on his debate opponent. I was not a wholehearted Clinton supporter, but this slur was not directed at a political rival, a debate opponent. It was an attempt to verbally diminish her right to be there. It was a slight to any woman with the nerve to question, resist, stand up, formulate independent thought, do the homework, and assert herself.

“Bitch” is for a woman with the gall to march and sing through the evening, bringing her baby and her anointing oils, all her vocations, into the public realm. “Bitch.” That one jarring, harsh syllable so discordant with the snaking line of determined and joyful people moving through the city like a stream, so wrong for a healer, so untrue of mother, partner, and friend.

“Bitch.” It would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous.

Vetiver, palo santo, geranium, basil, sage, grapefruit, bergamot

Tomorrow…

My baby boy has been this side of the cervix for 201 days. Probably 100 days of this I have talked to him about being kind; about using words in conflict; about how it’s ok to be afraid or sad. I tell him that want him to feel all of his feelings but that he’ll need to learn to express them in healthy and responsible ways. I tell him that his dad and I are doing our best and that’s the most anyone can do in this world. I tell him that he has been unjustly given power and he will have to learn how to give it away, and I tell him that we baptized him because he has also been given grace, which is very different, and also needs to be given away.
Tomorrow I might cry and wonder why and how, but then I will tell that little white man all these things again, and then we will march.

Talking with kids about Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have the great joy of working part time at St. Augustine’s Chapel in Nashville. It is a beautiful community of people who are actively seeking healing for themselves and the world.

We’re a predominantly white congregation, and in preparation for our participation in Nashville’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March, I developed this quick sheet for talking with kids about King and the Civil Rights Movement. For well intentioned white folks, it can be a struggle to know what words to use, because many of us were taught that to speak of race at all is a racist thing. The last thing we want to do is mess up and instill harmful ideas in our kids. But studies have shown that not talking about race replicates our white supremacist social structures about as well as outright racist propagation. So however muddy and difficult, white people of faith and goodwill, we’ve got to do our work around race, and we’ve got to start at home. Talk to your kids. Read the books. Head out to local MLK Day events, and for heaven’s sake don’t let that one holiday be the end of it. Keep an eye out for ways to plug in with Black Lives Matter. Pay attention to local legislation that might replicate injustice for people of color and the poor. Patron black owned businesses on purpose. Listen deeply to the world. Take your kids with you, and keep talking about it.

This is written with white families in mind, and I wanted to share on the off chance that it can be useful to your family or faith community.

A prayer for the mother of a white son

God, the loving Mother of all,

Thank you for this little incarnate grace entrusted to my care.

Grant me grace to show my boy deep tenderness, that he might show it to others in turn.

Sustain calmness and radical mindfulness in our home, that he might resist the temptation to prove himself by busyness and accomplishment.

Grant me the discipline and discernment to care for him and grant his desires without catering to his every whim, that he might appropriately deny his more destructive desires of body and power.

Bring clarity in my identity and persistence in my calling, that he would witness and respect the power and personhood of women.

Grant me empathy, that I might remember that he is but one beloved child among millions, all equally precious and deserving, and humility to recognize that even his precarious moments occur in privilege and safety.

Strengthen my resolve and attention in his formation, that we would both grow in the knowledge and practice of justice that takes place in the details.

Remind me that Jesus, your son, a brown skinned refugee child, killed by the state, calls me to divest myself of power and work for change, and raise this white son to do the same.

Amen.