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16 weeks | This moment is everything (The work is beautiful) | no. 0009
I know that my process as a mother exists in a privileged space. That my privilege is intrinsically woven into the fabric of my mothering, and that whatever I say is informed by this privilege. I say this because the topic of this week’s post peels back some of the layers of this privilege. This is something I have (un)consciously protected for some time, partly for my family’s privacy, but mostly for fear of scrutiny. But a few weeks ago, I did make a commitment to myself to always write from the most authentic and vulnerable space for Wednesday’s Bloom, and this conversation around choice, privilege, income, and definitions of “work” is what has risen to the surface. I know it’s the thing to write about when I start to feel hesitant about putting it out into the world. Again this whole experiment is born of a simple prayer, that all of this sharing and truth-telling will help humanity create more space for mothers everywhere to acknowledge, articulate, and celebrate the many shapes and functions of our mothering processes.
In the pitch black hours that is the start of his day, my partner, Oscar, gives me permission to talk about him as part of whatever I am writing this week. I am usually very careful to keep this transparency lens on just myself, but for the sake of sketching out (some of) how my privileged mothering is supported by our family process, I have to talk about him. Firstly, his name is not “Oscar,” but I have christened him so in the spirit of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Felipe” in Eat, Pray, Love. Names are a big deal to me, and I have been turning over in my head what to call my partner in my stories for several weeks now. This morning, while bouncing the munchkin on my hip from refrigerator to sink to stove, and then back to refrigerator to sink, I asked him what name we should call his father. I had only recently (as in minutes before), accepted that this seemingly awkward truth of my story had earned its light, and painting my partner into the picture felt a natural part of the telling.
Munchkin, in his new head balancing maneuver, pushes off of my shoulder to leverage turning around to face front. He likes being connected to the action. Right now he wants to see where the noises are coming from when I am preparing a bowl of leftover supreme. His plump cheek always feels like magic when it rubs against my own. I pause to savor the moment with him. And it is only a moment because in the next instant he jerks his torso toward the sink and leans down in a genuine effort to understand how it is that the faucet can make the water sing. It is only my firm hand that keeps him from falling in. It is also in this split second that I think I hear a name coming to me. I work out the details of the name’s energy with the munchkin. We go over the traits of his father and how the name needs to carry a similar energy. The name must feel open and luminous, must seem to take up a lot of space, yet still seem familiar and accessible to the everyday person. Must have the joint vibrations of being both fast and slow, both young and old, both idealist and realist. Lastly, it must feel enjoyable to the tongue, a pleasant interplay of the definite and whimsical sides of his father’s personality, an aural testament to his fixed and fluid identities. Oscar, I say to the munchkin. He makes no objections as he slobbers on an exposed stretch of my forearm. It feels good to have a name.
Long before the munchkin was even a thought, I sat outside of my favorite tea spot with Oscar and told him very plainly that I wanted to be at home with my children, at least while they were younger than five, (“five” being pretty arbitrary though), and I wanted to do my art. He said that’s what he wanted too, and he fully supported me being at home while he worked outside the home. We both were clear that negotiating daycare and maternity leave options did not make sense to how we wanted to experience a family process. And so we moved forward, as love will sometimes make you do, with an abundance of imperfect resources and an abstract plan (and I use that word loosely) of how his steadier income and my creatively well-intentioned (which you might also interpret as “sporadic,” or “visionary,” or “hoped for,” or “the best case scenario”) income, would mystically come together and be all we needed. Of course, we had no idea how to make it work. In fact it wasn’t until after munchkin was born and we were tangled up in chronic tensions, financial differences of opinion, and arguments that ended in loud silences that we revisited those initial intentions made over tea. We acknowledged that things—mainly the recurring small balance in our joint account after rent, utilities, and groceries— had changed. So, our process had to change.
We have arrived at the wilderness of our choices. There was never going to be a map for the way we wanted to do things. We are lost and found at the same time, walking in circles and crossing great distance with each belabored decision. We are figuring these knots out string by string. Munchkin often sits between us when we’re delving into the unknowns of what next? He interjects smiles, laughter, and squeals into our conversations, forcing us to take a breath as we sort out what will take a lifetime to learn. We take turns picking him up after he topples over, retrieving the blue ball from wherever it has rolled, interpreting his babble as a part of our dialogue. This week we are experimenting with meal planning and more efficient shopping strategies. It has taken us forever to get this far, but it’s a start anyway.
One thing to know about Oscar, he thinks he can do it all. I love this about him, and it drives me crazy. He is the king of over committing resources, and then moving mountains to cover the difference. He takes great pride in his ability to always come through for his family. So he basically promised me the world outside that tea shop, and I, feeling his heart was in the purest of spaces, chose to believe him. Now we find ourselves in an exhaustive dance, constantly pushed up against the limitations of reality, while pushing ourselves onward in an effort to trust the power of dreaming, to approach challenges with spirited innovation, to embrace the opportunities accessed through our unique skills and create this awesome life for each other and our son.
My family and close friends have witnessed the snags in our evolution. We are fortunate that there are so many people in our circle who care for us and want the best for us. They bring us gifts, buy us food, give us money, donate their own time to help us in many ways. Sometimes they ask how we are doing, meaning what’s the latest in the vibrant, tumultuous, and often humorous journey that is us. I tell them we’re getting better, we’re having healthier conversations, listening to each other more. A few days ago I was talking to one friend and telling her how much I appreciate that Oscar does what he does so that I can be home with the munchkin, that I could not imagine being away from him while he was in the care of someone else. I tell her that everyday I am grateful for our cozy home in a decent neighborhood, that the heat is on when we want it on, that I can breastfeed on demand wherever we are, that we are in no rush to establish a naptime or bedtime, that our days are wholly dictated by the munchkin’s most basic needs. She comments that she thinks Oscar is so amazing for working so hard to take care of his family, how major that is, how unfortunately many mothers in our community cannot depend on the fathers of their children to parent responsibly, and so have to work multiple jobs away from their children and do the mothering. I realize I don’t tell him thank you enough because I really do feel blessed that I can mother on my own terms. I also reflect on how intentional I was in choosing Oscar as a partner. Listening to her, I can hear that she’s describing to me all I said I wanted outside the tea shop. Then she says what has stayed with me, and partly inspired today’s post. She says, “as a woman of African descent, one of the most radical acts you could commit is to be a stay at home mother in a world that has denied women of African descent that luxury.”
I turn this word radical over in my head while going through a week’s worth of munchkin-mommy moments. It seems so routine, so ordinary what I do. But I start to like the feel of radical in my process. I decide it is quite extraordinary that I can feel whole and valued and productive in my work as a mother, in a society that has taught me to question my contribution to the family because there is no salary at the end of all this labor. Because I have a degree and mothering so far has not paid off any school loans. Because I know so many mothers who do more than me, and I sometimes wonder if the munchkin will ever think that I have not done enough. But through a litany of self doubts, I have still chosen to mother in a space of unscripted freedoms. And this freedom, ruggedly beautiful as it is, comes at a cost that Oscar and I have consciously chosen to bear. We live on one income, but munchkin is with one or both parents all day long. We have less furniture than you can count on one hand, but this allows us the chance to reinvent the space everyday. We have simple grocery lists, but every meal has become a friendly culinary challenge (some more successful than others). We have not once balanced a budget properly, but we save the receipts and talk about every purchase. Our wish list for the things we think will bring us a more consistent peace is long, but we are learning to find happiness in our instability anyway.
Just as I was getting acclimated to my radical mothering, another friend mentions to me that I need to start thinking of how to bring in more income. It’s not that I haven’t heard this from others who also love me and want the best for us, it’s not even that I haven’t had similar thoughts myself. It’s just that at the moment she said it, I pretended that was my story, even though it was not honest for who I am be(come)ing as a mother. I was actually feeling quite grounded in my mothering, and didn’t feel that my choices represented a lack, or that it was somehow economically unsustainable for my family that I was taking more than the customary six weeks this country approves for the new mother. I felt it was absolutely better that I was taking as long as I wanted to honor the fullness of my son’s birth and how it was transforming me. That this is what every mother deserves. Yet, with all my passion and grand awareness, I said nothing. Today’s post, an arduous telling slowly crawling out of my fingers, was sparked by me wanting to acknowledge that I cowered from the chance to celebrate my own process. And in this writing I am unwrapping my thoughts about why it didn’t feel good to lie.
But what of my friend’s suggestion about needing more income, anyway? Never mind the fact that I’m exploring intersections of mothering and artmaking already, and that new income streams will naturally open up as I grow into them. I wish I would’ve said something like: “This messy, confusing, bumpy, unconventional, and at times, financially-dubious path I’ve chosen for my mothering is perfect as is and I don’t need to look outside of myself to supplement it, even though I have the choice to do so.”
I can affirm such a truth because of my privileged experience as a mother. I have the space to question any narrative that assumes I need to be engaged in a different type of work in order to feel complete or be legitimized by a system habitually opposed to my liberties as a woman. I can advocate for my right to mother exclusively if I want to, without fear of violence, abuse to me or my child, or economic hardship. I can take my time and craft my artistic projects around my mothering. In my work, I can illuminate the calluses that have hardened on the hearts of many women who, unlike me, did not have supportive partners, families, or communities that respected their mothering processes. I can initiate possibilities through my art that imagine that mothering heart as restored. And it is because I am privileged that I feel such a great responsibility to use this opportunity to make room for other mothers to breathe. To cultivate safe spaces where women can unpack the many pieces of their mothering, rendering themselves more whole in the process.
This is such a long story, but this much I had to pour into Wednesday’s Bloom. It took me all day and now the munchkin and Oscar are sleeping. Everything is quiet except for the soft clattering of the keys on the keyboard. I feel like there’s so much more I want to say, but I have to stop for now and finally eat dinner, put the food away, turn the lights off. The two biggest rewards from following through on writing today’s post: remembering why it’s so essential to my mothering process that my partner and I work as a team. And that when I open up to tell the most honest story, I tap into my real healing powers. ‘Til next time…happy blooms beautiful people.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.