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42 weeks | The value of things unseen | no. 0036
And just like that, I am working outside the home again. I think no one is more surprised than me at the sudden, abundant turn of events. I am saying yes to the work, because it feels good to be reconnected to sharing my gifts as a movement facilitator. It also feels right to be activating more income streams for our family. In my mind, I had a few more months to only focus on my munchkin though. Things change.
I have always wanted to preserve this sacred space of the munchkin’s first year of life, by going slowly, by being home with him, by nursing exclusively. I am grateful that we are less than a dozen weeks from his birthday and his father and I, with the support of a very kind family network, have managed to make this possible. To say this has been challenging is an understatement. The financial burden, the emotional turbulence, the mental exhaustion of being a one-income/one-parent-at-home household has had a very tangible strain. It has been felt through the many things we have grown too familiar with. The harsh words that fly out after too little sleep, and even less understanding. The silences that then replace those words with even darker shadows of resentments. The breaths held as we check the bank balance. The private defeat inside our hands when the last egg we own slips from our fingers and down to the floor. But what is the cost of loving a child?
Somewhere, deeply rooted in my intuition is the knowing that all this intentional togetherness in the munchkin’s infant year is essential to his optimum development as a human being. The hours, upon days, upon weeks that we spend in each other’s space are weaving the threads of his cellular memory with a radiant tendency toward love. Taking the time to fully honor our transition from womb to walking cultivates the munchkin’s fertile brain with the substantive imagination that humanity so desperately needs. Even more, watching his mother care for him with such devotion from sunrise to sunrise, normalizes the sense of responsibility he has to make the world a more welcoming, joyful place for everyone. To me this is extremely valuable work. And I have to ask myself, when considering the possibility of leaving my son to work for someone else, what is the true value of my time in relation to the minutes lost between me and my child.
In the beginning when the munchkin was just months old, I learned quickly that the invisibility of my contribution to our family was most perpetuated by our very flawed and capitalistic system. But this is where we live, right? Many a night when my partner would come home and talk about the stresses of working out there in the world, I reflected on how there is so much language in our society for his brand of work, for his role as provider. Underneath all the frustrations of even his longest days, he did not have to then go in search of justifications for what was making him weary. It is thoroughly rooted in our culture that work that is monetarily compensated for is inherently more valuable than work that is not. And even though the munchkin’s father sincerely appreciated my role in our family–specifically that his son was at home with his mother and not in daycare– the dominant narrative that his type of work deserved more consideration than my mothering work still seeped into our tensions.
How was I supposed to capture and quantify what I did? Why did I feel I needed to box the infinite nature of mothering into the inadequate dollars and cents that would (supposedly) prove that I too was shedding blood, sweat, and tears to grow our familymaking? I cringed when people would say things to me like, “so when are you going back to work?” All I would hear was, “so when are you giving up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be with your baby so that you can go and make some small amount of money that will never add up to the investment you are putting into your child?” Who does that?
Even you sometimes.
I started looking to the munchkin in these moments of confusion because I really did run out of answers after a while. The truth was that the more I advanced into my mothering work, the less I could justify leaving the munchkin, for anything. I reasoned that my caring for him was a matter of life and death when you actually put it up to the light. I began to speak up about the urgency of my work that the world had grown so used to dismissing. I found other mothers like me to talk to about the vastness that was all our work. How can we take up even more space, mothers? I saw that the propaganda for products and services that claimed to be viable substitutes for mothers who work away from their babies could only prevail if I actually believed the lie that my mothering-at-home-and-everywhere-else work was nothing vital in the first place. If breastmilk could be switched out with formula, if my loving hands could be duplicated by a paid caregiver, if the soothing my presence provides to a fussy, fretful infant could be quenched with a mere pacifier, then surely I am free to go to work at that real job. If enough of us attachment parenting, breastfeeding, bedsharing, babywearing mothers shut-up about what it is we do all day with our babies, it will be easier to keep fooling people into thinking that their children aren’t at all affected by the systemic mandate that parents be absent from the people they love the most for at least 8 hours a day.
On the other side of all my advocacy that we do all we can so that the munchkin and I can be home together is the incessant, blaring siren of bills soon due. It takes money to have a place to live, food to eat, utilities to stay running, fare for the bus, shoes for our feet to take us to the bus stop and places beyond. We did not have some well-configured plan as to how everything would come together. There are parts of this journey that have been painful for mother and father. There were tolls not intended to be paid, but that had to be paid, and so they came from our flesh and bone instead. The sacrifice stays with you.
After the argument, we talk in the refreshing space left behind in the wake of our honest confessions of disappointment. We ponder what we can do differently next time, what pieces of peace we can salvage in the now. We make a point to acknowledge that we have both been trying to do our best for our child, for each other.
Just as we were reaching yet another impossible fork in the road with what to pay/what to delay, I found myself surrendering to a dance in one of my favorite parks with two new friends. It was a spontaneous dance session and the first time I had facilitated any movement since before having the munchkin. Instantly, I realized how good it felt to be in that space, sharing movement in the community again. The munchkin was elsewhere in the park with his father. I was able to just focus on the people in my dance circle who wanted to know more about my process of the space activation lab, a dance experiment evolving as a series of questions that engage our awareness of our bodies and the space we are in to further the journey of inquiry.
When I got home I noticed my thoughts were flowing from the few minutes I had been in the sun dancing. It amazed me how fluid I was in guiding them through an experiment I was improvising (I usually craft my movement menus well in advance of a lab). That night I dreamed I was dancing in two shows at once, and I had to figure out how to get in and out of costume for each performance. Then somehow I ended up in a hotel where I needed to stay during the run of the show. They assigned me Room #22. I woke up, looked at the calendar and picked the date for the space activation lab. Immediately, there was a positive response and folks expressing excitement over me returning to movement facilitation work. We’ve missed her too. Exactly one week after posting my event, I get a call from a woman who wants me to facilitate an interactive dance experience for her audience of, oh…only about 750 people! She tells me the parameters and I determine that I can easily be there with my munchkin– and a space advocate, someone (usually daddy) who holds space for me by being present with the baby while I am on stage.
In the days following that first job offer, I have been presented with no less than five different, perfectly aligned opportunities for me to work as a movement facilitator, with the ability for my son to be onsite or very close by so that we can nurse as needed. I am overwhelmed, nervous, and in a space of discovery as everything about my process is so new now. What used to take me hours to prepare for now takes days. At the back of my thoughts there is this other deep knowing pushing me through the tough parts of adjusting to a slight, but profound, change in our rhythm. The people need you to dance. I sense the strong presence of a community that has been a vital part of my evolution as a dancer and movement facilitator. I am noticing all the connections being made with other mothers who are eager to tap into their postpartum bodies in more meaningful ways. I feel I am on the verge of awesome collaborations, working with people who value my willingness to share some of my precious, irreplaceable mothering time as the love offering it is to humanity.
Something opened up for me during that dance in the park. I found the beginning of a gentle way forward. Much of the work is still scary. There is no blueprint for my process, this ongoing dance to integrate my art into my mothering work. Everything is an experiment, remember?
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.