momlife

What is Work? Why At-Home Work Matters + New Essay in MUTHA Magazine!

What is work? Why do we value one type of work and not another? What are we teaching our children about work?

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“It’s All Hard Work,” my recent essay published in MUTHA Magazine, explores the day-to-day of raising a kid, teaching, homemaking, and trying to find peace in the middle of it all, which can feel like a real challenge sometimes given how much work there is to do. And this is how I feel with a partner who does laundry, shuttles pets to the vet, drops kids off at daycare, and even cooks. Can’t imagine parenting with a partner who doesn’t contribute like this!

But the sad truth is, many people around the world still believe that at-home work is “women’s work,” despite the fact many women work outside the home. More insidiously, this line of thinking enforces the gender binary while erasing the male, transgendered, and nonbinary folk who contribute to the housework and/or stay at home with their children. It also perpetrates the false idea that gender somehow affects a person’s ability to wash a dish, fry an egg, or change a diaper.

IMG_0324Another false idea that too many people still believe: at-home work doesn’t contribute to our economy. What bullshit! People who do this at-home work are enabling other people to do their work; no one can focus in an office with unsupervised toddlers running around, no one can wear smelly clothes to a meeting, and no one can complete any kind of work without eating. If someone else is cooking for you, washing your clothes, and taking care of your kids, you’re presumably also more rested and thus able to work better, as you aren’t doing any of this extra work for yourself. Stay-at-home parents should be getting paid for their contributions; the fact that they aren’t isn’t a reflection on the person but rather on our society. 

But an even bigger reason to call bullshit on the economy argument: people DO get paid for this work! 

Enter the intersectionality of sexism and racism. Our society devalues at-home work in part because the home was historically the woman’s domain while the professional world was created for and by men, but we also devalue it because of our country’s history of slavery. Our collective definition of work, and of worth, is based on a set of systems and beliefs created and held by colonists, mainly rich white men who owned slaves and thought  \black people were not even fully human. When our founding fathers wrote our constitution and created our legal system, they were not thinking about how to protect and value all types of people and all types of work. They viewed childcare, dishwashing, housekeeping, etc, as chores that were beneath them and therefore to be completed by those who were also beneath them. To earn money for this type of work was unfathomable. Even more unfathomable was the master of the house contributing to this work.

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In our post-slavery, post-Civil Rights era, things haven’t changed all that much. Most housecleaners, nannies, dishwashers, etc are BIPOC and/or immigrants. Most are working for white people of a higher socioeconomic class. Most are paid under-the-table without any benefits or protections, some not even earning minimum wage.

I’m not saying that all white men are racist, that they’re all in a position of economic stability, that they never work in any of the jobs I mentioned above. What I am saying is that our society’s racist and sexist ideas about work are learned. They are woven into our economic, legal, and politic systems and passed down generation by generation. When I observe and listen to my four-year-old child, it’s clear that he finds at-home work to be valuable, to be worthy, to be completed by every member of our household. The idea that this work is undignified and should be relegated to women and/or BIPOC is not innate. This means that we can unlearn these ideas. We can also stop teaching them to our children. But that alone isn’t enough. We also have to try to fix the damage that’s been done.

To start: tip service workers better, including those who clean your house, wash your clothes, prepare and serve your food, and take care of your kids.

Other ways to act: support organizations that demand fair wages and protections for these workers. Present your kids with a model in which everyone contributes to at-home work. Analyze our country’s inherently sexist and racist systems and elect people who will change them. Dig deep into yourself and examine your own biases. Write about it. Talk about it. Change it.

Another idea: read my essay in MUTHA. 😉

Two-Kid Full / Two-Kid Tired

Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to have two kids. It was just one of those things; I wasn’t going to be fully satisfied until it happened. And now I have them, and they’re amazing, and I am so full of love that my heart explodes a little every day.

But holy shit I am also so exhausted. Like, layers upon layers of exhausted. My head hurts. My eyes are sticky. My muscles are sore, and not from the core-strengthening and cardio my body craves, but instead from the repetitive use of the few muscles it takes to hold a 15-pound creature in the exact same position every day, to the point that my bicep now clicks and my lower back tingles. Throw in the neck aches from breastfeeding and the torturous routine of sleeping in three- to four-hour spurts, and I am wrecked. Yet I still have to perform at work. I still have the unignorable urge to write and sing and create new music. I still want (need!) to be a regular person who does things like go out with friends, have sex, and watch Netflix without passing out immediately.

I know it will change. I know it will get easier. I know I will one day look back and think of how quickly it all went by. It already feels fleeting, like time just passes through me and constantly catches me off guard.

And yes, I am very much enjoying the squishy cheeks and squeezy thighs, the sweet cuddles and easy giggles, my four-year-old’s sense of humor and his passion for dinosaurs. I am especially enjoying my two kids together – witnessing the love they already share is one the best experiences of my life, and I get to have this experience on a daily basis.

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But despite this, it also feels like I will never feel rested ever again. Like my body will always hurt, my mind will always be foggy with exhaustion, my life will always be centered around children and their needs. I am content, but also, it sucks sometimes. So just let me be in it, let me whine, let me wallow a little, or else my easily-accessed hormonal anger will flare up and I’ll say something I won’t have the energy to regret.

*****

P.S. I have no idea who created that hilarious and accurate meme, but if you do, please leave the source in the comments.

P.P.S. There is so much spit-up. Just so much of it.

Reading Rec: Not Your Job by Norika Nakada

xrayI’ve read “Not Your Job” by Noriko Nakada multiple times now, which is highly unusual for a person like me who believes poetry is meant to be heard. But there’s something magnetic about the way Nakada shares a specific, personal moment between herself and her daughter while simultaneously capturing the universal experience of parenthood, particularly its fierce love.

The poem also touches on weighty societal issues – the power of gender stereotypes, the pressure to be beautiful, the importance of a face – without straying from the story at its core. Line breaks and white space create an intriguing, physical shape out of the words themselves that only adds to the poem’s magnetism. Highly recommended for those who enjoy how a few choice words can send a brain mulling all day long.

Poem and photo originally appeared in Mutha Magazine on December 11, 2018.

Happy 2019 + New Publication in Gateways, an Anthology!

I’m thrilled to share that a revised version of my essay, Our Mothers Have a Way of Shifting the Universe, has been published in Gateways, an anthology of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction from alumni of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Click here to order your copy!

As I reflect on 2018, I can honestly say that I am ending this year in happiness. The first half of it (and pretty much all of 2017!) was hard and painful, but things have balanced themselves now, and I feel that my family is finally emerging from our period of darkness. And despite all the crazy challenges this year brought me, it also brought more creative publications than any year before, and this makes me ecstatic.

Of course I’m grateful to every editor who has seen something in my words and deemed them worth publishing, but I am even more grateful to all of you who read what I write and encourage me to keep going. Part of my creative process is motivated by an impulse within me – a need to express, to tell my truth, to attempt to answer to some greater calling – but a huge part of it also comes from the joy of communicating with y’all. Knowing that you make the choice to sit with my words, to think about and even respond to them, is such a gift. THANK YOU.

I’m eager to see what 2019 throws at me, and I sincerely hope you stick around for the stories. Happy New Year to all!

Grappling with Thanksgiving

I love turkey and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I love passing on family traditions to my toddler. And I especially love sandwiches stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers. But y’all, we have got to stop with this ridiculous story about the Pilgrims and Indians becoming friends over an ear of corn and living happily ever after.

I get that people want one good meal with their families, just one day of eating and drinking and not worrying about everything else. But it’s not like we’re doing this on a random Thursday afternoon. We’re doing this on a national holiday based upon a colonial myth that enables the horrible and ongoing mistreatment of indigenous Americans. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy the day, but maybe while we’re eating our turkey and cranberry sauce, we should also consider discussing the truth about our country’s history and how we can take action to support present-day indigenous communities.

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My idea is not perfect, but as a parent of a three-year-old, I’ve decided to focus on learning about the Tuscarora, a Native American tribe based in New York. The website I’ve chosen to use as my guide offers facts about things like their traditional foods, toys, and hunting tools, how they fled from North Carolina to New York because the British attacked them, and what their lives are like now. My plan is to read these facts aloud, pass around some pictures, and talk. Then, after exploring these materials, I’m going to pull up this list of online stores run by Native Americans and pick out something with my son. We white folk too often purchase “Native-inspired” products from places like H&M or Target instead of giving our money directly to the Native American artists who did the inspiring in the first place – many of whom are living in poverty despite the fact they’re making the authentic versions of the products we seem to want.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for many things, including the opportunity to learn about our Native American neighbors, to spread the truth about our history, to use my money to support an amazing community, and to hopefully inspire my son to do his part in making this country a truly more equal and accepting place.

Huge thanks to Jen Winston (@girlsupplypower) for inviting Native Americans to take over her Instagram site this week and educate and motivate people like me. Check out Allen (lilnativeboy), Urban Native Era, Corinne Oestreich, #DearNonNatives, Tranny Cita, and Cleopatra Tatbele for more info on how to support Native Americans.

Photo credits:
N085/365 Corn Doll by Helen Orozco

Living / Screaming / Trying

Love wins, we say, and I believe it. But hate is powerful, too.

When my anger over the sexism I’ve simply swallowed in the past week, past month, past year, past lifetime, bubbles up and makes me want to scream, I look at pictures of my dogs until it passes. Often, animals exhibit more humanity than we humans do.

But now I’m thinking I should be screaming more often.

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I am raising a son. My God, I have a son. There are so many things he must know and do. There is so much work ahead of us.

I wish it were a better world.

Is it enough that I am trying?

This Fine Life

“She started shakin’ to that fine fine music,” I sing along to the record as Lew and I dance hand-in-hand around our living room. He’s smiling brilliantly, hopping back and forth on his tiny toddler feet, throwing our arms up and down in an arrhythmic expression of joy. I’ve always loved to dance but never before motherhood did I just burst forth like this.

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His ecstasy is contagious and in spite of all the freedom motherhood took away, being a mother has also freed me. We lose ourselves and I feel so full of love, love for this song and this kid and this life, and I don’t understand how my breastbone and thin skin manage to hold
the hugeness of my heart.