I store my memory outside my head.
I don't know how to explain this to people, to people with undamaged memories. The only people who have understood me have had more overtly abusive relationships with one or another of their parents than I did, but they understand.
They understand growing up in 'that didn't happen', a world where any given event might disappear into an oubliette of denial and revisionist history. Where there is this constant meshwork of things never said, things said and forgotten, things said and denied a day later, where a child could not begin to navigate, caught between child's memories and the need to have faith in a caregiver.
(I think of a beloved friend's little icon, a scan of words written by a parent who never said them, a proof of something ambiguous and complicated and now, just ... unable to fit into language.)
I learned to store my memory outside my head.
Email archives, now that I'm an adult: great huge piles of email archives. Even when having conversations in text leads to vast emotional blowups, which it can do - my liege and I communicate shockingly poorly in text, for example - at least I can verify, if to nobody other than myself, that it actually happened.
Notes, mementoes, small objects that are part of an experience. I still hold a faint woundedness in my heart from when my father lost the baseball bat my grandfather gave me. I, very vaguely, wish that the scars on my forearm from when I self-injured had not faded, because scars are memory, and I know I was there, and I have no proof but what is written in my mind.
Small objects that were simply present at an experience, all part of the defining context of childhood, a thing that hooks into a complex of knowing where I came from, knowing where I was, an entire sense of security built around the familiar and the known.
"Do you need this?"
"It's a candy dish."
It's mints set out for some adult party, lights and nice clothes, something to do with artwork. It's Christmas candies by the tree in the house where I was a child, me tucked around the back of things putting ornaments on the side of the tree that faces the wall, voices singing "Haul out the Holly" from Mame. It's an assortment of pretzel sticks, once, and I cannot for the life of me remember why.
It's a little piece of memory.
"I mean, does it matter? Is it an important, like, family thing?"
I don't know how to answer the question, but since it is just a little piece of memory, not bound to a person, a single important event, something seminal, just part of where-I-came-from like so many other small things and really I don't need all of these little pieces of memory do I, there's enough else that can serve, enough that I don't just ... have my childhood dissolve away into doubt, since it is a trivial piece of memory, I say "We don't need it."
I store my memory outside my head.
31 December, 2009
I store my memory outside my head.
29 December, 2009
This evening I started to inscribe Little Foot's name in glitter and glue on a glass ball. She has a lot of letters, so I merely did the first four, and will wait until it is safe to turn the ornament without smudging to write the rest.
Her name will join the names thus written on other glass balls in past years: the other three adults in my family, the cats' names, and the snake. Come this weekend, my father and his wife will also get to write their names in glue and pick a colour to sparkle in. This way is in its fourth generation at least, now: my grandmother, my father, myself, my child. As generations of humans before me have done, I take the trappings of my old religion with me when I convert. This is the meaning of my Christmastide.
Meaning is a delicate thing, and one does not always take away what was intended.
Perhaps my northern European bloodline appreciates the placement of an abundance festival in the dark of the year - before the worst of the cold, yes, but in the hints of the return of the sun. Perhaps this is so.
Perhaps I am so marinated in Christianity that I cannot give it all up. I would not be the only one.
But: I come back to the ornament, carefully written upon in glue.
If you spend the dark of the winter with my family, you get a name ball. Your name inscribed in glitter, on a glass or satin-coated ball. This is how it has always been, it was so before I was born, I hope it will be so after I go West. A catalogue of names, a litany of memory.
If you will be back in the dark of the next year, your ornament is set aside, awaiting you: none will put it up but you, for it is yours, the token of our collective memory, the sigil of your welcome. If you do not return - if the travel is too much, if the circumstances do not align, if you will come no longer - then we will put it up for you, and remember the times you were present.
I will make cookies and cake for the season, the one a matter of holiday duty, the other a thing of more general celebration, for when my father comes, because it is hard to be properly festive when it is just us and the constant onslaught of baby requirements, but for my father who raised me to these traditions I can go to the effort. Perhaps I will make a roast, I believe we have one kicking around somewhere. And these will be my offerings of abundance for the season more than anything else, the barest essentials, more important than wrapped-up objects to be presented as offerings to the other: I offer food and the promise of the memory of a name.
To be with my family at Christmastime is to be always remembered, to always belong. To always have a place. When I strip away everything else, I am left with this offered universe, written upon in glitter and glue, held always in company and community. That is the holiness that is written upon my heart in the chill dark of the year, when it might be easy to trip into solitude and isolation. This is the community that I build over time, out of fragile glass balls and glue and memory.
For your ka.
13 December, 2009
Raising My Boychick put up a post about what changes we would look for to make the culture safe for families. More or less. Noodling ensues, and I said I'd write it here because gods know I do ramble on.
This isn't a simple damn problem. The anti-family shit is deeply ingrained in the culture. (A Salon article about just some of the more overtly misogynistic bits.) I can look to Europe and see things that are better, though not all of them are what I would want.
After Little Foot was born, I had what is probably one of the best of all possible situations in this culture, because I'm a weirdo with a fantastic family. I could spent the first month of recuperation time almost solely recuperating - because I had three other people who were taking care of Little Foot while I could heal. Which meant that people could take basically an eight-hour shift of babycare and not be too shorted on sleep. And I could pull that off because of my family structure, because I had the luck to give birth near the beginning of the break between summer session and the fall semester, and because people took staggered leave so I wasn't alone with Little Foot until sometime in September. In among that we had a constant stream of visiting relatives who did some assisting in varying levels.
But note all the caveats in there. Most women giving birth do not have two husbands and their wife to help out. We had to stagger leaves from work, and if I'd given birth a week earlier ("on time") there would have been finals to contest with; later gets into the rolling beginning of the semester, and one of us is in grad school and another on staff at a university. And I think that having the four of us there was pretty much a bare minimum to maintain reasonable levels of sanity through my recovery.
I literally have no idea how smaller families do this without losing their shit.
On the other hand, I have no idea how I manage to be sole caretaker for Little Foot during the daytime during the week without losing my shit, so presumably people with smaller families are tapping the same wellspring that gets me through the day until I get relief as people drift home from work, from school, from classes, from errands.
The isolation of taking care of small children is inhuman. Much as I hate all those biological-essentialist notions that go along with How We Are Meant To Be, this is not how we are meant to be. I worked at home prior to Little Foot's arrival, and was more than content, as an introvert, to do so; now, I find myself feeling isolated and sunk into a morass from which it is difficult to escape. I walk down to the gas station to buy snack food solely to leave the house - with Little Foot tucked into a wrap if I'm entirely alone, leaving her in the care of one of her other parents for ten minutes if I have the help. Perhaps it would be easier if we had a second car and I my driving license, but I have no freedom to just go somewhere; even with help getting her into the car is a small project (check diaper bag, get jacket on baby, get wrap for carrying her at destination, get baby out of house, into carseat, buckles all done up). Perhaps it would be easier if we still lived in the city, and I could climb down the two flights of stairs, hop on the trolley, and go somewhere. But even so, my abdominal muscles have still not recovered from pregnancy, and carrying her for too long, I learned yesterday, means that when we extract her from the wrap I fold in half as soon as her weight isn't countering my muscle strain.
But how do we fix this? We can't put the culture back to a place where all the huge extended families are all settled in roughly the same place - even for those of us on good terms with our bloodkin have had reasons to move. Local crunchyparent gatherings have largely been scheduled during daytime hours in places I would have to travel to by car, as if all crunchyparents have one stay-at-home, and that stay-at-home can drive half an hour because they have a dedicated mommycar and no issues that interfere with its use. (I kind of fear noncrunchyparent gatherings, and haven't looked into them at all.) Subdivisions aren't communities, really, though part of that is my lack of any knowledge of how to really get to know my neighbors in any useful way. Childcare services are a bandage, whether it's an in-house nanny or dropping the kids off somewhere, and has its own intrinsic and complicated class issues.
But we don't see mothers (or other caregivers, but like so many things, this falls on the mothers) going about their daily business with a kidlet in a babypouch. Hell, we don't see those mothers going about their daily business - not shopping, not going to the park, I mean going to the office or sitting behind the cash register or whatever else - with baby shoved in a bucket carseat under the counter either. Employers who have in-house childcare are still a minority. The childcare work is invisible and unintegrated. It's done by magic invisible people. We expect the fairies to raise the children, and then we wonder why the children are fey, elf-touched, and unintegratable with the ordinary world.
It needs to be okay to bring the kids in to work, to have that part of life integrated with everything else. But that's not enough. Parents like me have to be able to not be alone all the time. Which means community building, and fucked if I know how to do that. It means stuff like commercially-zoned spaces within walking distance, parks, and spaces that aren't parent-and-child hostile: places to sit and nurse other than bathrooms, sidewalks that are broad enough to accomodate strollers without driving other pedestrians into the street, having public social gathering places that are open to children.
It also needs to be okay to have work have delineated edges. Every so often I hear people complaining about how parents get to take time to take the kids to the doctor, to their lessons, whatever, that parents aren't expected, necessarily, to do more than their nine-to-five, that there's this tidy cultural excuse that means that parents are only expected to do the work they're contracted for and can't reasonably be expected to do more. This is the sort of broken that's why I have a tag 'sixteen tons' on this blog. (And that's just dealing with exempt employees - hourly employees have a whole different set of problems to deal with, and one I'm actually less equipped to speak to despite having all of my life employment being on an hourly wage basis. Class is complicated.) It would be to everyone's benefit - not just parents - if work was not presumed to trump life unless one has a signed permission slip from overculture excusing our absences. (In a culture where only paranoia about swine flu makes taking time off for illness currently acceptable - despite the fact that infecting the office with that cold will cost a lot more than two days off - what the hell do we expect?)
And that's not getting into the whole needing to scrimp and save up vacation time to do parental leave. My lion had the flexibility to take time off and then do a week working from home; most people don't. We had more people than most to do staggered assistance for me. And, even with all that, I was still bleeding out lochia when I settled in to being her primary, and usually sole, daytime caregiver. And see above about the isolation thing, where I have it pretty good since every so often my liege is about when he doesn't have classes and can provide the amazing relief of "Could you pick her up so I can rearrange" or "Could you handle this diaper change" or "Could you mind her for five minutes so I can go buy a donut" - not even, usually, doing primary caretaker (though sometimes he takes her for the morning and lets me get some more sleep), more "a momentary hand with this makes my life an order of magnitude easier".
Most industrialised countries have longer maternity leave times. Some have parental leave that is available to presumed-both parents (adoptive or biological, even). (And even for families like mine where more parental leave might be wanted, those countries also have more than two weeks of vacation time available at all, which goes back to the whole work-trumps-life rant about being expected to work more than one's hours by default.) I don't know where other countries are on flex-time working and telecommuting; getting those widespread would be a help to more parents than me. (When my lion does a telecommuting day, again, my resilience goes up a lot.)
(And, of course, my health and Little Foot's depend on my lion maintaining that pretty nice job that lets him telecommute sometimes including for a week after he took vacation post-birth. Because of the way employment links to health care, and the way that one's quality of job therefore links to one's quality of life. And if there were an NHS here, how much of a difference would that make to people who have to work shitty jobs for the health care, or who needed prenatal care, or post-partum treatment? Who wouldn't have the money to hire the homebirth midwife we had or handle the not technically last-minute transfer to the hospital?)
And I think long-term, too, like the friend who was enraging me a while back (who apologised, by the way), and think, y'know, the time that people spend raising kids should count towards Social Security or something. I don't know if I'm as optimistic as one of the commenters on Raising My Boychick about some kind of parenting wage, but hey. That'd be cool. (Did you know that Norway counts breastmilk production in its GDP?)
Let's see if I can summarise this into something reasonably tidy:
* enabling community support, whether larger families, extended families, chosen families, I don't care, more people available to help with kids for more time
* walkable communities with basic stores and public spaces near residential areas
* death to the Company Store - shorter hours, more vacation, no expectation of overtime as default, flexible scheduling, telecommuting, available to everyone, not just to parents
* universal health care access (here, this'll make up some of the pain to the companies that are being required to treat employees better)
* recognition of parenting as ... I don't want to say 'economically productive' because I dislike the whole 'it has to be qualified as Real Work and quantified monetarily for anyone to take it seriously' shit, but somewhere in the direction of, y'know, noting this happens, we don't get new taxpayers from the aforementioned childrearing fairies
* parental leave available for all legally recognised parents (acknowledging that families like mine are unlikely to be accomodated here but), whether biological or adoptive
* integrating caregivers with the community, not separating off and isolating paid caregivers (more in-house childcare in companies, etc.)
How's that for a start?
11 December, 2009
When I was a child and trying to get to sleep, I would tell myself little fantasy stories all about the boy I fancied and how in a fantasy world he needed to be rescued and afterwards we would live happily ever after.
When I got a little older, I got uncomfortable with that because what if he didn't want me, so I would tell myself little fantasy stories that were only mostly about the boy I fancied and how ... etc.
When I got a little older, I built raw fantasy out of my kinks to soothe myself to sleep, with intricate gearwork constructions of bondage, domination, and service.
Once I had a sexual partner, I would assemble bits and pieces of fantasies out of things we'd done and extrapolations thereof.
Often, these would be kinked, playing with ideas, coming up with scenarios and notions.
... now, when I am trying to get to sleep, my mind is full of baby smiles. And holding her close, cradling her in my arms, and actually having the strength to not have to let go, back away, get a little space, and breathe so that I do not lose my mind. Actually having the infinite patience that is back behind the archetype, being able to pour all the love into her that she can hold.
I honestly find it more than a bit confusing.
And I would miss the sex dreams, if I had space left in my mind to have them.
06 December, 2009
01 December, 2009
And here is my response to The Adult Privilege Checklist, now.
When my mother was up visiting, she had a lot of commentary, as she will do, and one of the things she said was something scornful about Inappropriate Parent-Child Relationships, specifically that my father wanted to "give me a vote" in how family things were conducted.
I have no idea if he did this. I have no idea if she is correct that this fell into the weird dynamic he had with his mother. I have no memory of any such thing, but I don't believe I necessarily would have.
What I remember, though, is that I always felt that my father took my opinions seriously, even when he disagreed or thought that I was uninformed or not able to think things through. And I know that she thought that this was inappropriate, was "treating me like an adult", as opposed to treating me like, as I thought at the time, a person.
It frustrated me no end as a child to not be treated as a person. To know that my input was dismissable solely because of my age. I carried that resentment into my teen years, and it got sharper and more bitter when I saw adults doing things that I had never been idiot enough to do and still figuring that they knew better than me.
(I came to some sort of political consciousness during the Reagan Administration. One afternoon I drew Federal budget pie charts with made-up numbers, trying to figure out where I thought the money could go, because I was sure that I could make the budget work right. I never knew where to find the figures; if I had had the internet back then, I would probably have gone looking so I could make it work. This was naive - but it also came with this intense need to be taken seriously in my contributions, and a need to think deeply about those things that entered my awareness. Also, I was a weird, weird kid.)
I've settled into being a sort of attachment-parenty mum, and I think that's settled into the whole 'listening' thing that was what I wanted as a child. It's hard, when Little Foot wants to be held all the time, or when she's fussy and I can't figure out what's wrong, or whatever else, but I can't bear for her to feel unheard. I recognise that she didn't ask to be here, or to have a wet diaper, or to be maybe-probably-teething, or any of the other indignities of infancy, and that she has definite opinions about the world. (One of the latest appears to be "Cats are fascinating!")
And we talk a lot of theory about what's best for Little Foot. She's four months old and we talk about schooling already, and I wonder if I could bear homeschooling/unschooling/whatever her without going mad from the sheer pressure of parenthood (and look at my spiritual teacher/mentor, who likewise was not sure she could do this, but took up homeschooling her special-needs child because the school system could not serve him well). There's a maternity-and-childhood consignment store, and the gelfling (my husbands' wife) has commented we can bring kids there and say, "You get to pick one piece of clothing" or whatever, and everything is under ten bucks, and that addresses parts of the whole nonconsensuality of clothing thing. I plot out how best to raise her without my twitchinesses around food, whether it's possible to raise a child more socially ept than I am granted that I don't have skills to convey to her, and similar. I think about how to feed her, how to nurture her, how to make sure she's aware of her own self-possession. I remember the story of the little girl who snapped "SAFEWORD!" when people wouldn't stop tickling her, and think about how to teach that.
I cuddle her when she cries, which is not often, as we try to be attentive to her needs and she spends much time curled up with one parent or another. My lion currently has her downstairs bouncing on the exercise ball because she wouldn't go down to sleep and I took her last night; earlier I heard her laughing and burbling as my liege read his flash cards for school out loud to her (and apparently she was grabbing them out of his hands and putting them down in the 'done' pile, having figured out that the cards go from the pile on the left to the pile on the right in the game that Da was playing). As she grows older, she will grow broader opinions, she will think about politics and the world, she will be frustrated by, among other things, department stores and counters that are too tall to see over and shopkeepers who look past her when she has a question (to remember particularly persistent things from my own childhood).
There's a lot I can't plan for, because I don't know what she will have to say once she gets words to say it in. (Or signs. I've been doing intermittent bits of babysigns at her, though she's still too young to get it, just so there's context for her to get it from when she hits the right cognitive stage.) And I have to accept that, and remember that my first job as mama is to listen, not to force her into the space that is convenient for me to allocate.
She tells me what she needs, when I pay attention. The trick will be not breaking that.