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35 weeks | Mommy on board | no. 0028
On the day the munchkin turns 8 months old, I also introduce him to another side of my life. My dancer, artist, community advocate, and now, newly-appointed board member life. This is a lot of change to fold into just one day, considering these other parts of my identity have been relatively dormant since sometime in my first trimester of pregnancy. But here we are, walking into a meeting room with a large conference table, a loaded baby bag, and the munchkin’s curious eyes peering over the straps of the carrier, roaming the space for potential adventures. Who knew?
Well I didn’t. At first that is. It was weeks of talking myself out of pursuing this really exciting opportunity before I actually applied to join the board of directors of Dance Metro DC, the dance service organization for the Washington, DC metropolitan area. It instantly resonated with me to give back to the creative community in this way. I really felt that I was in a unique phase of my journey and dance career. Serving on the board seemed like an optimal endeavor as I committed to the work of re/discovering my (postpartum) body as a dancer. Also, my unorthodox journey as a movement maker and facilitator has given me invaluable insights into how the human family experiences dance in infinite and nuanced ways. I knew I could bring a different type of voice to the conversations about intersections of art, community access, dance advocacy, and programming. All of this stimulated something in me that had been quiet for what seemed simultaneously like an eternity, and a split second. I felt both far and near to the dance world that awaited me as a board member.
Still, I was initially hesitant about taking on such a major responsibility when I was so young in my mothering. But just two-thirds into the first year of the munchkin’s life, and I see that mothering will always mean juggling myriad vitalities. (Yes, I made an executive decision to pluralize that word. And no, this “board” thing is not going to my head!) I know there will continue to be seasons of turbulence as I integrate new roles, evolve through others, and even shed those no longer relevant to my be(come)ing.
Today, my family arrives early to the orientation for new board members. The munchkin is going to spend the first hour actually hanging out with his dad. They’re going for a walk to visit some of his father’s favorite spots downtown. Before they set out, I nurse the munchkin, hoping that he eats, gets tired from all the excitement on the street, and then comes back in ready to sleep nicely for the rest of the meeting. (Of course, this is not what’s going to happen!) I realize I am a bit nervous even as I feel sure this will be a great first meeting. Underneath my pleasant greetings to the other new board members is a definite rush though. That inescapable sensation that comes when you’re at once confident and completely overwhelmed.
In my mind, I totally fumble my opening. When it’s my turn to introduce myself to the group, I get as far as “Hi, I’m Binahkaye Joy and I’m a ____”– before everything becomes a sudden, dense fog. Who am I again? It’s been ages since I had to actually present myself professionally. I am grasping for my words, and piecing together a haphazard string of dance incidents from my life. I think I mention Trinidad, and dancing in public spaces, and dancing with communities. In hindsight, I see I left out the whole part about growing up dancing in DC! But honestly, it really is like I’m watching that extremely awkward scene in a movie and wishing I could just fast forward. Only problem of course, there’s no film rolling. This is live and when it’s finally the next person’s turn and their bio flows out smoothly, my brain is inundated with all the things I didn’t say about myself and the work I’ve done with dance. As if headquarters just got the memo that I need the file called “my dancing life” brought up from the basement.
I text my mother because I have to vent about how I just flopped on the intro round. She responds with a supportive message in all caps telling me to “BREATHE” and that I should relax because there will be all these other future moments to share who I am with these people. I try to do what she says, but I am also doodling and making notations in my journal. Inside I’m chanting, “Get It To. Ge. Ther!” I mean, it wasn’t absurd to think I’d be a little rusty at talking about who I am. But goodness, I didn’t think I’d struggle that much.
My moment for redemption comes about 20 minutes later when we’re discussing something else. I jump into the dialogue by asking if a particular collaboration has ever existed between our organization and another entity. It’s a great big ahaa moment for the room as everyone starts to consider the opportunities my idea creates. Illuminating this point to the team makes me feel a thousand times better. A little less scatterbrained, a lot more capable. Slowly, I feel that thing I’ve wound up so tightly within me start to come undone. You are needed here too.
The munchkin comes back with his father and is wide awake as ever. When we reconvene with the full board at the table, I attempt to nurse him to sleep. He is too interested in all the new faces and this unfamiliar place to stay on the breast. I realize then that I’ve brought no quiet toys for him. The one rattle I managed to throw in the bag before heading to the bus will be too disruptive. I hand him one of my bangles to chew on. This entertains him for 30 whole seconds before several rounds of throw-it-on-the-floor-so-mommy-can-pick-it-up ensue.
After a little while I try again to convince the munchkin that he is in fact tired and hungry. He doesn’t buy it though. So when the second round of introductions are underway and it gets to us, my breast is somewhere between partially latched and partially exposed, the beautiful munchkin smiling up at me with a milk-laced grin. Authentic self it is! This time I don’t even try to sum up my bio. I give our names, tell everyone it’s his 8-month birthday, and then smile to the woman on my left to take the mic. After everyone has spoken, the director of the organization thanks me for bringing the munchkin, and reminds everyone that this is a child-friendly space and that little ones of all ages are always welcome.
It was never a question in my mind that the munchkin would be with me at the meetings. Because of course, we’re nursing on demand, and the “baby’s gotta eat,” among other things. Even though I had not put much thought into other people’s feelings around me being present at a board meeting with my child, it was really wonderful to have an official statement made in support of the needs of parenting board members. It set a tone of inclusivity for mothers like me who intend to create, work, and live with our children right beside us.
The munchkin is not even close to being sleepy. I’m amazed because with all the extra activity in his day, he should be welcoming a solid nap right about now–
“Abb dabb yaaah daaah gguuugg yaaah!”
The person speaking pauses in the middle of his sentence as everyone takes a moment to smile at the munchkin. He takes after both of his parents in that he loves when all eyes are on him. Still, I am trying to lull his attention toward something that inspires him to reflect silently. But I have so much to say! I get up and bounce him on my hip. Then I sit on the sofa behind the table where everyone is talking. This is a good move, I see. He plays around, attempting to climb up the back and the arms of the couch. We do this for a while before he’s clearly not any closer to settling down. During this time I acknowledge that I’m missing some of what is being said. Thankfully, the board secretary is recording everything in the minutes and I’ll be able to go back and read the particulars.
I abandon the idea of trying to feed him again (it’s actually impossible to force feed breastfed babies I recently learned). Instead, I remember the carrier and decide to put him back into it. Two minutes of his babbling are soon eclipsed by his undeniable need to sleep. He snores softly and I rock him a few more minutes until I’m certain he’s fully resting.
I sit down and rejoin the group. We’re in a spirited discussion and I’m following the points being made with a sharpness that was not quite there at the beginning of the meeting. I am trying to name that thing I’m feeling, but I’m also just really enjoying this hearty dialogue about dance, and artists, and new projects, and everything. It’s like tasting something you used to eat all the time after not having it for so long. It’s familiar and new to you all at the same time. That’s what this dialogue is feeling like. And it is absolutely delicious!
The more we talk, the happier I am that I made myself apply to the board and that I brought my son with me to my first formal board event. There is something akin to pure bliss when you are a mother and you can still be your whole self wherever you are. This is the element of my mothering process that I will always want to protect, and that I often write about so passionately.
When we adjourn the munchkin wakes just in time for my new colleagues to tell him how cute he is once more. He is now finally hungry and so I nurse him before setting out on the long, rainy, rush hour, bus commute ahead. I snap a picture of us breastfeeding and send it to my mother who has still been texting me encouraging messages this whole time. I can’t help but think, with the munchkin nursing, and the chatter of new friends around me packing up their things, that, wow. I do feel so at home.
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.