Monday, May 17, 2010

My Child Takes Up Space

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My little Mayhem is at the stage where he has something to say about everything.  Every time the phone rings, he asks if it’s a girl or a boy and if he can talk to the person.   Inevitably, I ask would you mind saying a few words to him, because he clearly just wants to be included and he has that right.

His father and I do not believe in the seen and not heard philosophy and this is a good thing for Mayhem. When he is speaking, not only does he expect to be heard, he expects that you take his concerns seriously.  He may only be three feet tall, but he is full of personality and I adore that about him. 

Etiquette is still something he is learning, for instance, when we called to wish his uncle happy birthday, Mayhem loudly announced, “happy birthday, you’re getting old eh”?  This cracked me up to no end I must admit. 

What I don’t have time for are people that seem to see him as some sort of inconvenience or burden that I must suffer with.   It’s easy to focus on the wonky things he has done, like dipping his penis in rice just cause, or clogging the toilet by flushing his fathers cologne, or the times when he is over tired and has had enough -- and proceeds to full out tantrum mode; however, recognizing what he adds to the world is something that easily gets over looked. He has good days and bad days because he is a person and not because he is a spoiled child.

Mayhem is precious in his innocence.  His imagination takes him places that I cannot even conceive of, and each day he teaches me something about this world. Parenting is not a one way street, in that we continually pore ourselves into our children without return.  It is a relationship like any other that requires give and take to be good and fulfilling for all parties involved. 

I can trust that Mayhem will honestly tell me, no Mommy that skirt is not right for you.  He will laugh and dance with me.  He will pick endless dandelions because he loves to give me presents.  He will cuddle me and give me tons of kisses all the while saying I love you mom.  And he gives me the greatest sense of peace.

I love that he takes pride in his achievements like dressing himself or wiping his own bum.  Just because I can already do these things, does not make his achievements less than.  It is an obstacle that he overcame and I do not celebrate to encourage him to do better, I celebrate because it really is a milestone for him.  While these achievements are inevitable for an able bodied person, it is still a skill that he worked hard to achieve. 

In so many ways we devalue the contributions of children because they are vulnerable.  They cannot vote, they cannot protect themselves physically and they don’t earn any money; this is often reason enough for us to create ways to exclude them from our social world.  Mothers who take joy in talking about their children are not taken seriously, for example, the derision often aimed at mommy bloggers. We are expected to constantly keep a division between our families and the so-called real world.

We can only create the divisions we do because we do not value children.  This is why people can openly declare that they don’t like children.  Can you imagine someone saying, I don’t like Blacks, I don’t like gays, or I don’t like people who are disabled in a liberal space without being called on their bigotry? I have heard everything from they make me uncomfortable, to I just don’t know how to relate to children to excuse the exclusion and the “othering”.  What is this but a justification of adult privilege? 

Take a child to restaurant and really look at the kiddie menu, chances are it is filled with crap.  When I took the boys to Red Lobster and they ordered Mac N Cheese, what they got was a quarter of a box of Kraft freaking dinner.  I mean really….How about just creating smaller portions of an adult meal?  Is that really so hard?  Children are considered difficult and before we give them the chance to experiment, we give them crap. 

For mother’s day we went to a Sushi Bar and while they were not fans, they tried quite a bit of it.  Just like adults, children are individuals with likes and dislikes and to put them in groupings like homogenous little robots once again speaks to our desire to just make them disappear from our spaces.  Quite often the concept that they are little people is seen as radical.  Yes, we are obligated to protect them and guide them, but we are also obligated to allow them to take up space and participate in our world.  This is how we create good citizens, they is how we create good people.

 I think that what bothers me is that as progressives, we struggle to make the world better without acknowledging who we are making it better for.  I understand that for many feminists that mothering is seen as a restriction, because let’s face facts: women earn less when they have children, and have a difficult time achieving their educational goals, but this is not the fault of the child, it is a manifestation of how warped our system is.  We hold the emotions that mother feels to be so incredulous that the idea of a woman crying at work because she missed her children is something that we actually felt that we had to debate. Well I am one of those women.  I had to work Destructions first Christmas and yes I went into the bathroom and cried.  I feel no shame about this nine years later, because it was a manifestation of the love that I share with my children.

Recently there was a child hate fest on Feministe, that I simply had to withdraw commenting on because of all of the adult privilege.  What really needs to be recognized about children is that they don’t have the capacity to act in the same way that adults do.  This does not make them lesser beings and we need to find a way to accommodate them, even when they make drinking a latte a less then comfortable thing.   There seems to be this belief that if a parent does not act the moment a child starts to have a tantrum, that they are a terrible parent.  People have different ways of parenting and if it does not conform to your method, it does not necessarily make it wrong.  As long as the child is no immediate danger, quite frankly it is not your business and I don’t care how much you spent on a meal at a restaurant. My children are not going to grow up with the idea that going to McDonalds is eating out because you think that their presence detracts from the ambiance.

I am tired of the single women who seem to feel the need to act against those of us that are mothers. I get that you didn’t make the decision to parent, and in fact no one is asking you to communally participate, but what you do need is show  tolerance.  Most women will at some point become mothers and the disdain that you now show may one day be aimed directly at you.  When a child starts flipping out there isn’t a parent that hasn’t been there at some point.  I will often look at the parent and offer some kind of sympathy, and the look of gratitude almost always breaks my heart.  You see, parents are used to being socially disciplined for not controlling their children, as though kids are somehow these little robots whom we program before we leave the house.

I don’t understand how you can possibly take on the label of feminist and then  declare that you hate kids.  When I see things like this, I know that I made the right decision to take on the label of womanism.  Womanism fights for the rights of all women and since motherhood is an important factor in the lives of millions of women, the idea that we can and should discard the fruit of our womb is ridiculous.  Motherhood has been the inspiration for some of the most radical forms of women’s  activism.  Whether it is taking to the street to demand better working conditions, or taking the time to teach children values that elevate women to the status of equal, fight homophobia, racism, and ableism, motherhood has the potential to create a brave new world.

Just as I advocate for others, I am going to advocate for my child.  He is small and he is defenceless but that does not mean that he does not belong.  When you complain about the few tax breaks and social programs that parents with children receive, it make me realize that your real concern is not what is best for others but what is best for yourself.  Every person in their life will be in a position of need and if you cannot find it in your heart to embrace the wonder that is childhood, you should not expect sympathy in your time of need. Your adult status gives you no more right to communal care and concern than my child.  Since he cannot say so for himself – I, will fight for his rights and I defy anyone to stop me from allowing him to live his life and explore this world.  Your comfort, and peace and quiet does not now, or ever will, trump the right of a child to participate in our social world.