November 2011

Post 39.

Today, a good friend of mine lamented over Facebook about the seemingly loveless reactions she sometimes gets from her teenage daughter. I feel such angst, the mom’s that is.

I’m terrified when I hear these stories and, I suppose, like most not-so-easy daughters, I’m desperate to do whatever it takes to make the relationship I have with Ziya different from the one I have with my own mother. It’s not that our relationship is bad. It’s actually reached a point of mutual agreement and it works as long as I maintain the boundaries that are important to me. But, I know what it took to get here and I’d like Ziya to be able to chart a different path. Like most mothers, I’d like to both appreciate my mother and do things differently as a mother myself, in an attempt to change patterns or establish greater honesty or recognise in myself the things that Ziya will both recognise and wish were different in me.

There are things I try to do with Ziya even now that I hope will begin to create a healthy foundation between us. I don’t know if they will make a difference, but they are little options I’ve chosen to attempt. I try to let her feel and express whatever she wants when I’m with her and I spend time with her without trying to overly determine our interaction. I think it’s oppressive when parents need a lot of validation from their children. I don’t try to make her perform for people. I hate when parents make their kids prove what they can say or do or spell. And I don’t invest a lot of control in her emotional reactions to me. That just feels like it leads to dramas born from hyper-sensitivity. Sometimes, I’m leaving for work and manically waving goodbye, and she’s basically concerned with other things like the oats stuck to her fingers. I let it go. I’m going to love her more than she loves me, I think that’s the case for most mothers, and letting her do her thing without taking it personally is going to be key to our sanity. I might as well practice from now.

But its early days yet and I know this all sounds theoretical – even to me. How can you love someone with all your being and not be hurt when they don’t reciprocally and unequivocally recognise you as the most wonderful person in the world too? For all its power, motherhood is rife with vulnerability and, in fact, there are few things that mothers want more than love, affirmation and acceptance from their children. That’s why for children, especially teenagers and sometimes especially daughters, withholding that reciprocity is their most inalienable weapon.

Friends and even Stone tell me to be prepared. There will be things I do that Ziya considers intolerable, and perhaps unforgiveable, even if I do my best. There may just be that period between 12 and 37 when she avoids some of my calls, shuts me out of aspects of her life, quarrels about my idiosyncracies, gets impatient about my flaws, rants about my reactions, rolls her eyes at my concerns, sighs about my stories, shrugs off my affections, and defines whole parts of herself in incomprehensible opposition to me. Even if I do my best, it won’t be perfect and I can’t control who and how she decides to be. Children revere their parents and hold them, mothers more than fathers I think, to virtually impossible standards. It’s easy for them to be disappointed, to see hypocracies, to resent failures, to think worry is a lack of trust in their judgement, and to find the demands of love too intense and overwhelming for them to balance with their own individuation and establishment of self to the world.

I’m as good a daughter as I can be. I’m extremely responsible and conscientous, but I’m also protective of my emotional self and I’m sure my mother wishes from me more openness and intimacy than I give. That’s the trade off and it’s taken me until now to figure out the balance I can sustain. Because I know the status of where we are in all its nuance, I know exactly what it will mean for Ziya to decide she is making the same choices in relation to me. I don’t want her to give what I give, but refuse what I do. I don’t want to be my mother, wondering but unwilling to ask and possibly to hear why she won’t give more. I know exactly how I’d like our relationship to be different even while I recognise that we will have our differences. I can only hope that, somehow, in the midst of career, money, family, mortgage and other craziness, I manage – with her willing cooperation – to get us there.

But, first, clearly I’m going to have to survive teenagehood. Not mine, but hers. I’m going to have to survive both her emotional sophistication and her naive callousness. I’m going to have to remember that she loves me no matter what, it’s just that there are stages and phases and lessons for us all to learn. Sometimes love sends you tumbling, caught off guard, like a Maracas wave. Sometimes, it gives you everything you need to feel full. Sometimes it teaches patience and reminds us that the heart can ache. Sometimes it makes karma seem too real to be just mystical philosophy. Sometimes, it toughens up the spirit and forces the mind to formulate an amended way. Sometimes, it leaves us unfulfilled, but that too is part of the story of loving.

My friend is someone I consider to be an amazing, inspiring, creative, caring, all too human mom. She’s raised two powerful daughters and I only hope I can emulate what she’s achieved. I understand how she’s feeling even though I’m light years away from those moments myself. I’ve been that teenage daughter. I see my own strong-willed offspring and I know it’s coming. But I also know that love heals, saving us from turning to guilt and obligation as a basis for gaining children’s understanding. Mother-daughter relationships can be intense, complex and rocky. Amidst the frustrating moments, I’m learning from my sistren to remember that love’s foremost quality is that it almost eternally endures.

Meanwhile, teenagehood eventually, sometimes thankfully for all, ultimately ends! 🙂

Post 38.

Out of the right window of the plane, the moon was full and radiant, and seemed to float at thirty three thousand feet, level with me. I read it as a good omen. I was on my way to my first American Anthropological Association meeting and felt a little overwhelmed by so many multiple panels, by my unfinished presentation and by the feeling of being out of the political anthropology loop. Also, this was only the second time that I left my baby for days at a time.

On the connection to Montreal, I realised I turned into one of those people in airports and other public places who smile giddily at other people’s babies as they project happy thoughts of their own missing ones onto these unsuspecting little persons. Last time I left her to go to London, I had to go through the trauma of being a breastfeeding mother away from her baby, unable to easily store her milk and in despair at the thought of dumping bags of such precious nourishment. So many people don’t understand it, they think if you can just make more why does it matter how much you throw away….I can’t explain it. I can just say what I felt and know its validity.

Here I am again. I don’t breastfeed as much so travel is less traumatic, but this time I’m hoping my milk doesn’t go dry after five days away. I don’t love breastfeeding as much as Ziya, but I’m not a neutral participant. My neighbor tells me she cried when she stopped producing milk. I get it.

Zi turned one on Tuesday, making me reflect on how much my life has changed and how much I have changed. We had a little cake and ice cream, just to say that moments of celebration are worth taking time for. The little party was low maintenance, low expectations, low effort – the kind of thing that stone and I would do. We are about the little gestures and the mundane moments that are special just because they are and because we are. It’s like getting married in the backyard. You don’t need much ado, you just need to be together, happy and willing to make each moment sacred.

I am now on my way back to Trinidad, about to fly in rain, my heart and hopes on getting home safe. Being away is such a mixed experience. Conferences are part of my job, but I feel a little guilty leaving Stone to manage for a week at a time without me, probably a few times a year. A whole network of people has to be organized for this travel to be possible. At conferences I can feel my brain working again though and remember parts of myself I hardly have energy for, the parts that get excited about theory, writing, reading, scholarship, ideas.

This time, I connected in a real way with other academic moms that I know and that was really good too. Moms who have to travel for weeks or months at a time to do fieldwork, moms who move to take up post docs, moms whose families go with them to new posts in new places. Moms who have partners to negotiate life with and children they have to raise and publications they have to write. Moms like me! All of them amazing and inspiring and encouraging in their own ways. Moms who remind me that our careers matter. Moms who got their books out somehow, pressing me to plan how I am going to get my book out, somehow, too.

I feel good. Rejuvenated intellectually. Supported academically. More focused. Stone seemed to survive. Ziya somehow slept eight hours straight last night. I was away just long enough to want to get back to them. I think that I might have stopped seriously producing milk. After a few days of expressing, suddenly there stopped being much. I’m a little sad about it, I loved those evening and morning breastfeeds, but life is about change and I know beautiful Ziya was given the best start I could give. Motherhood is clearly about just focusing on what happened, what worked and what was good, recognizing that what you can’t change, you just have to accept, reflect on and learn from.

I am excited to get back to my work again, just to prove to myself that I can meet my writing goals. Nothing inspires me like the need to focus. Forget the nation’s motto, discipline is my personal creed. So is gratefulness. So is love. I am on my way, not just back to Trinidad, but to revived ambitions and appreciation. I had a chance to connect to me. Funny how sometimes you have to go far just to find yourself. Funny how it’s in the midst of so many things to follow through on, that you can remember what makes you, you.

Post 37.

Today Ziya is one year old. I’m chuffed. She’s lively and happy, glowing and gorgeous. She makes jokes and can’t be easily fooled. She’s got her trademark skeptical look down cold, and she likes to do things for herself rather than having you show her or do it for her. She’s confident, communicative, generally unafraid and she’s clear on what she likes and doesn’t. She knows who is hers and loves to snuggle with us, clearly missing us even in her sleep. She’s growing in body and personality, and is suddenly all arms and legs, no longer just a baby.

My little amazing warrior of light. I smile all the time it seems and she smiles back with her whole genuine self. Sometimes, i wonder at the fact that I’ve never smiled so much in my life. She makes love spring fresh and full each day. Again and again, my heart runneth over.

I’ve become a person I never knew I could be, the kind of mother I only planned on becoming, without knowing if that was realistic or right or not. I’ve also become more confident, more clear and focused, more powerful, more grateful for life. That feeling of being a mother is both armor and vulnerability, spectacular and everyday. I had Zi basically because I wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant, to make a baby and to breastfeed, because I have a woman’s body and potentiality. Now that I know, I’m aware I had no idea at all what was in this place, beyond where I could guess. Motherhood is everything I expected and nothing I could imagine. I know I never made a better decision in my life.

For the last few days, thinking about my virtually three days of labour and hours of birth, I’ve felt like it’s all surreal, like when you win an award or finish an exam or you are about to take off in a plane or when your dream comes true. I can’t believe it’s happening, and it’s hard to be calm and excited, live in this moment and live in them all, all at the same time.

Somehow, I’ve managed to combine work and marriage and motherhood. I’ve not done it perfectly, and whether its missing spending the majority of the week with Ziya or not getting out my publications at work or being too tired for enough quality time with Stone, I’ve had to learn as I often do that I can’t do it all well instantly and simultaneously. I keenly feel these ghost wings, but I’m coming to recognise, if only by necessity and for my sanity and self-acceptance, that I’m born to put one foot in front the next, not to fly. I still wish I had four arms, but when I let things go its because I’m adjusting to the reality of not being that goddess, recognising as women and mothers have to, that we are both divine and only human.

I couldn’t have survived this year without huge amounts of investment, understanding, advice and help from my mother, my research assistant, my boss, my husband, my friends near and far. So many people have helped to carry my cares and burdens, enabling me to continue to stride purposefully ahead. It takes a village to empower a mother to raise her child.

What have I learned? In a sense, no words, just love. To be a better person and to try harder, to reflect and repair, to appreciate and be amazed, to accept and to not abandon ambition, to do my best knowing that it might only be enough to keep the basics together and to continue to evaluate what the basics really are. I’ve learned that few things really are worth stress once my husband is home and my child is healthy and I work for the feminist revolution, the rest will have to unfold as I can shape it and as it should. Above all, I need to be healthy in mind, spirit and body, and even if it’s a work in progress, it’s important work. I need to know honesty, love, aspiration and acceptance to be able to be mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, worker, feminist, woman in all their inter-related moments and forms.

Hopefully, one day, I’ll write and perform poetry again, paint T-shirts again, edit video blogs again and all the other creative parts of life I don’t have time or energy for, I’ll exercise and fete and engage in more activism, but life is about stages and phases, and I’m rocking this one as much as I can.

She’s been her own person here on earth just one year. I’ve been that person who became a mother just one year ago. I’m full of joy for us both. I’m here and I’m loving it, learning from it and living it in full, as much as I can. I’m taking each day as it comes, as much as I can. I’m trying to balance the ups and downs, as much as I can. I’m letting Zi teach me, as much as she can. We’ve got so far to go, together. I’m open to what each of us brings, as much as we can.

Happy first birthday beautiful baby Zi.
May you continue to blossom and become the person you are meant to be.
I could not possibly love you more than I do
I wish all the goodness of the world for you

Post 36.

Cunt! Yesterday my class and I collectively shouted out this word, twice. Right after we shouted the word ‘vagina!’, twice.

No, this wasn’t some flaky exercise in faux feminist power, or scandalousness or boundary-pushing for its own sake. And, yes, this is the kind of thing that my tax dollars and our oil dollars might be spent on as long as students continue to register for my class.

It was an exercise in consciousness-raising, in revealing power in language, in thinking aloud about how our silences will not protect us. Truthfully, as far as I can remember, this is the first time I got students to do this, wondering the whole time why I hadn’t done this before.

The majority of students agreed to do this by a show of hands and of course who didn’t want to say vagina or cunt didn’t have to. One young woman who said the first but not the second, said that she saw it graffitied somewhere once, asked what it meant and was told by her mom never to use that word – and she hadn’t since. Another one, who joined in the second time, said to me after class that she had never said the word ‘cunt’ in her life…and here she was saying it twice in one day, now realising that if anyone ever called her that, she would not be intimidated as she might have been, knowing the word’s original possibilities.

And, in fact, cunt historically meant the very opposite of its current patriarchal associations with insult, debasement, stupidity, failure and obscenity. What is now the worst thing to call someone (man or woman, for different reasons) was once a word denoting and synonymed with the sacred, spiritual, powerful, knowledgeable, gutsy, cunning, wise, divine (meaning God-like), life-giving, heartfelt and sustaining. Those meanings were destroyed and replaced by the ones we take to be normal, natural and timeless today. The very word that is unmentionable because it is so shameful and dirty, especially for women, is the very word that describes our sex. Surely, this can’t be right.

As any good university educator, I backed up my lecture with a great article called, ‘Cuntspeak: Words from the Heart of Darkness’ which traces the etymology of the word cunt, showing the violence that left it bruised and pariah-like at the base of its ancient pedestal. This was a violence implicated with the silences around sexual violence, with the shame invested in women’s bodies, with the hold patriarchy and pornography have on women’s erotic power despite Caribbean hype about phat pum pum, ‘waan punane bad’ and punani power.

I had a few minutes before the feminist advocacy organisation, ASPIRE, was to address my class about reproductive health and rights, and it seemed like we could, if only for a few seconds, collectively articulate a naming, emotion and power that would be impossible outside of my allotted two hours in the vast chamber of the LRC. Besides all that, it was the kind of thing that I teach Women’s Studies to be able to do, just cus I can, just cus it’s fun.

Fun aside and teaching aside, it felt good for me too. I’ve always loved women in the sense of having a basic admiration, respect and solidarity with them. Women somehow end up being my greatest heroes even if they are my younger sisters or my over-worked bosses or my mother or my friends who all seem extra-ordinary in some way. I’ve understood the injustice of the shaming and silencing, and the sacredness that they replaced. I don’t believe in the human-like deity called God, but if I did, it’s obvious to me that God would have breasts, womb and a vagina, which create and sustain life, and certainly make females the closest to God’s image.

Yep, any God worth her salt has a cunt through which to birth life. Anything less is, well, Man.

The experience of giving birth brings all this home. The feeling of life emerging through your womb, that process of starting something that takes you to the point where you think you can’t go on any longer, the fact of us all as Woman-born leaves me without question that female bodies, wombs and vaginas are to be given the freedom from degredation which they are due.

As long as ‘cunt’ is both a curse and part of my body, it can be used against me. And nothing that is mine shall be cursed. Nothing that has created and birthed my child shall be used against me. Nothing that makes me both woman and mother shall be used to disempower. Nothing that was once sacred shall be used to silence and shame.

And nothing can stop me, woman, mother, feminist, Women’s Studies lecturer from encouraging my students to shout ‘cunt’ in class when I know nothing else may shake their biases and their socialisation and their fears. I’ve got the degrees to teach. I’ve given birth in the drive-way. I’m mother to a little girl growing up in a patriarchal world. I’m a feminist who understands I’ve got the erotic as power to draw on. And, I’ve got a class of 100 students willing to shout.

What can I say?
All together now.