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33 weeks | Skirting poverty as an experiment in model parenting | no. 0026
Our ends are not meeting.
This we feel/see/know in many ways.
In the darkest hour before daybreak, I listen to the soft hum of the munchkin’s snores. His arms stretched and carefree. His fingers loose. This means he’s in a deep, untroubled sleep. Sometime within the hour he’ll want to nurse again. He will turn his head toward the breast, secure a latch on his own, and not disrupt any part of his rest.
But for these few moments before that, I have this pocket of time. To lie here on my back, stare up at the ceiling, dig into the crevices that are my most tucked away thoughts. Time to write. Besides, I am too worried to just close my eyes and try to dream again.
The potential crisis for our family splinters across the screen in my mind. It could go so many ways, this thing. I try to think about what’s the best that can happen, even as the accumulation of my worries seems to crowd out room for faith in miracles. Still, I do what I’ve started doing since the munchkin was in my womb. I anchor those unraveling threads of hope to the mechanisms that allow him to breathe. His lungs, his heart, his blood. We do have a healthy child.
I ponder our options. I use the word options sympathetically. A holdover from those years I spent meditating and believing passionately in the art of conscious creation of all the things you want in life. It seemed a much more workable formula when I was a single person. Now, I am more than just me. There’s my partner. There’s our son. A beautiful unit with three heads. Each one wanting to show the others what it is that is really important to consider when crafting happiness. It takes time to grow a vision. But we snag our hearts on this truth anyway. That these options are not choices anyone should have to make.
Still, this is me, though. Trying to make sense of the urgency that dictates that things must change.
I have worked hard to protect the sacredness of the munchkin’s first year of life. To be with him all the time. To hold him as much as possible. To wear him on my body at home and when we navigate public spaces. To cosleep and nurse through the night. All these choices are shaped by my calling to be a mother. To make my child’s introduction to life outside the womb as gentle and supported as possible.
I have committed to exclusively breastfeeding him so that his immune system is as strong as possible, his brain and neurotransmission as stimulated as possible. His sense of self as rooted in love, support, and abundance as much as possible. I have also done this to be economical. To think, all the money we didn’t ever spend on formula and baby food. Oddly, it doesn’t feel like savings when it was never there to begin with.
I cook beans. Lots of beans, usually with rice or potatoes. I make bread because it thickens meals without the use of many other resources. My partner makes big salads or green drinks. Occasionally there’s chicken or ground turkey when we have extra. My family has been very generous to fill in the gaps at times. But even they are not in a position to be as helpful for much longer.
I insert my writing time in between mothering and being what some would call, a homemaker. This means my thoughts come parceled one or a few at a time. Lately I’ve only had time to just write Wednesday’s Bloom. And every week I am kicking myself for not doing more. But when? For letting the stories pile up, their characters getting fuzzy and wandering out of context. The book(s) I’m working on is currently still a glorious placeholder in my imagination. Still, I act as if these creative projects are in motion. Because they are!
My art space in our home is a colorful corner by a window that faces east. The light helps it seem more spacious. Two dolls, a metallic butterfly, flowers, various spirals, scarves, my books, journals, lab notes, character maps, markers, crayons, colored pencils, the week’s library finds, a painting, pictures of me as a little girl, pictures of me as a woman, a dried gourd from Trinidad, my earrings, a platter that houses my bangles, a square of stained glass, beads I intend to make into a necklace one day. All this tucked and stacked so that at least I can be close to the spark. My assorted muses and works in progress, a sight to behold while nursing. Mainly all these great ideas are growing weary waiting on me to have time to give them feet and flesh.
This freedom to be with my child on my own terms is not free. The cost is literally absorbed in the muscles on my partner’s back. He carries this load to and from his work outside the home. Some days are better than others. Some days are rougher than others. Progress is not always tangible, or rewarding in the ways that bring a lasting peace.
It occurred to me some time ago that we are very near poverty. Being a one-income family is taxing all sensibilities of sanity at the moment. We have evaded official despair because we have access to a family network that is living above the line of survival. For this we are grateful, but still we know our best chance at sustainability has to be a net we build together. Something strong, and with a lot of give.
We are dreamers, artists after all. We have a child. We want him to have siblings. We also have family straddling the continents on each side of the Atlantic. We need to spend time in all these places. We both have brilliant, innovative programs we want to facilitate and produce for our communities and in the world. We need capital. We need a higher credit score. Being poor won’t do.
I drop an egg on the floor. We can’t afford that! Ten different things I could’ve used that egg for parade through the thoughts underneath my frown. Thankfully my crawling munchkin snaps me out of lamenting what’s been lost. I have to clean this up before I have a bigger, messier problem on my hands.
Now I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I am making breakfast and continuing to tap this week’s post out on my phone. As on many mornings, I’m having oatmeal. It’s cheap, nutritious, and makes good breastmilk.
I set the phone down on a potholder and open the app with my incomplete paragraphs. The words are where I left them. I am pushing myself to write while the momentum is flowing. And today’s topic is challenging to talk about. But if I just keep writing, I’m less likely to censor myself. Deep down I know I must keep going, trusting the process as hard and scary as it is. Think of the mothers. Somewhere there is a deep listening for my stories. Somehow, some way, I believe these words I write are weaving us down the path to, among other things, genuine financial wellness.
The munchkin plays nicely on the floor with the toys I’ve put in front of him. He finds joy in maneuvering through the legs of the green chair. This should buy me some time.
I know poverty is a dense and charged word. I’m not talking about experiencing poverty from an abject space of impending eviction, or fearing the lights will be turned off, or being without medical insurance for the munchkin. I’m speaking about the fringes. The subtle poverties that exist in the form of a chronically rattled spirit, one that is everyday questioning the soundness of your choice to be at home with your child. In moments of extreme tension– like the strained minutes you’ve spent debating the best way to divide whatever is not enough, your last attempt to make what is unmet appear to be in balance, before finally conceding that a major something will just go unpaid– there is this frantic wondering if your insistence on giving your baby the best start in life is the reason you have so little.
It’s so much more complicated than that. Or is it?
Still, innumerable specifics aside, our issues are in no way remarkable. Most every parent I know is stirring through their particular brew of impossibilities.
The munchkin is now nursing himself to sleep. And I am trying to translate what I’m feeling into words as quickly as possible. I need to cook and we have somewhere to be in a few hours.
When I ask myself why, in the face of financial hardship, we have chosen to do things this way, I have this recurring visceral memory of an auction block. Of a mother separated forever from her right to nurture and raise her children. I have all these stories coded in my DNA. Of mammies who could not care for their own children. Of children who never knew their mothers’ touch. Of women who could not control who entered and exited their bodies, who made and unmade them mothers. I am from these children. I am from these mothers.
Not so long ago did all my blood run through generations of chattel slavery in North Carolina, Jamaica, and infinite parts unknown. There is an epic memory that lives on through me. One of loss and separation, of stolen people and buried languages, of ruptured mothering and fractured family. This is not my imagination. This is my history.
Now I have a child. No, I cannot undo the tragic parts of my story. But I can live out the invisible dreams of a shattered millennium. All those mourning mothers weeping in my blood. How many? Too many to count, really.
And this is not just the past. In this very century, in this very country, mothers, black mothers who I have met, have told me in their own words that they feel broken and discarded. That they are living a sort of half-life, their children having too become lost to them. By way of their addiction, the system, the violence, the poverty.
When I look at all this that has happened in our world, and then I look at my child, it seems so clear what I must do. As a mother who is able, I hold my baby to my heart, keep him with me all day, and commence to figuring out how to move through the world just like that. This is always how I saw myself mothering.
Daily, I say prayers for the babies, for the children, for the mothers, for those among us that are being unheld. I say a prayer too for the mom who is back at work after a fleeting 6-week maternity leave. I say a prayer for the mother who feels awful every second of the day she must leave her child with a caregiver she doesn’t feel fully comfortable with. I say many prayers for all the mothers, fathers, guardians feeling their dreams for their families constricted by life. This is the other labor, I see. The one that lasts forever.
Weeks back I first wrote about how my mothering is rooted in a privileged space, and how this impacts my process. But it’s not just privilege I feel when I reflect on my ability to care for the munchkin on my own terms. It’s also a serious responsibility that humbles me continuously. That the small ripple that my intentional mothering makes in the world can be felt for years to come, be a comfort to years gone by. A gentle offering to honor those untold mothers who were, and still are, denied their right to mother.
I have travelled all over in these words today. I said too much to feel complete in what has become a collage of questions, of confessions. But this is an ongoing inquiry anyway. There are still turbulent awakenings ahead for me. Uncomfortable truths I’ll have to accept as I grow deeper into the mothering and our familymaking journey.
It’s true we’ll keep experimenting. We have to. As deeply connected as I am to all my prayers for a liberated mothering process, our net is not yet wholly functional. And there is real pain when things fall short.
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.