March 2012

Post 51.

I had the most amazing meeting today. I was in a room with Ziya and seven grandmothers, just watching these amazing foremothers and forerunners lay the groundwork for generations of women who will come after them. We were meeting about the establishment of a National Commission on Women and, as usual, the discussion was all about strategy, next steps and the way forward. But what was amazing was being amidst the power in that room, experienced, capable, caring, fearless, skilled and hardworking women who were talking about their vision and how to make it happen. What an absolute privilege to be part of their history.

I was a little nervous about having Zi with me. Normally, she’s the bestest baby when she’s out. I could boast about this because when she misbehaves, it’s usually at home. She’s done more meetings that most 16 month-olds as well so I feel pretty confident about having her on the inside. Plus, she’s addicted to ‘boobs’ and easily zens out once she starts to breastfeed. So, once I breastfeed any and everywhere I need to, she handles being out and about like a pro. I fear the day (or night) I stop breastfeeding and don’t have the easiest solution to fussing at my fingertips.

Still, she wasn’t properly combed, I had broken my glasses and I was late for a meeting with the PM. Trying not to rush down the highway, I just hoped things would go smoothly. It’s one thing to have your baby at a meeting at Parliament, it’s another to arrive late with your baby, and it’s entirely something else if your baby decides to throw a tantrum for any reason. My mother had warned me that there might be a possible stinky pamper on the way too. Great.

Still, given the logistics of baby-sitting, and driving East to West and back again, this was the best option. So, mothering worker that I am, I put my child in some red shoes and put all my resources to work at managing to both pay attention to the discussion and to keeping Zi calm.

And it was okay. In fact, it was great. Before the Prime Minister came in, I listened to Minister Auntie Verna talk about how much she would love to spend all her time caring, feeding and spoiling her grandchildren, except there is the people’s work to do. The youth policy, the gender policy, the change to the marriage acts and more. At the last meeting, Jacquie Burgess had talked about how much her own grandson loved to spend the night. Brenda Gopeesingh, Hazel Brown, Ramona, Yvonne Bob Smith, Lisa Ghany – who first appeared a bit scandalised that against all proper protocol I had waltzed in with Zi and who later showed me little 10 month Leah who sleeps from 9pm to 7am(!) – and even the PM who reminded me so much of my mother when, beaming, she talked about the rejuvinating joy of spending time with her grandson. It’s then that I looked around the room and realised that all the women there were a generation before me. They were all that unmatchably wise kind of ancestor called grandmother. They also ran companies, ministries, women’s movements, NGOS and the nation.

While I held my breath throughout the meeting, just thankful that Zi was happy to quietly sit on my lap and scribble all over my notebook – and of course breastfeed in between – I also realised that all these women would have known exactly the challenge of juggling work and children. They would totally understand not only why I might have had to have Zi with me, but also why it should be okay to do so. We were doing work for women, work with women, and we all knew that the working world had to change to accomodate the ways that women do the work they have to, that is both the work of mothering and the work of movements, institutions, legislative agendas, policies, research, social protections and empowerment.

I felt so safe in that moment, so unselfconscious in a way I never would have – even as an unapologetic feminist – in a meeting of older men, unless they were the kind of men who wouldn’t blink an eye at the idea of taking your toddler with you to the boardroom. Those men are definitely out there, but I was nonetheless so thankful that women have broken the glass ceilings that they have, and can totally transform the expectations and assumptions of a space like Parliament without any of them needing to articulate this in words. I thought of the day when Parliamentarians could debate and breastfeed in the House or keep an eye on their grandchildren in a creche in a nearby room, in the same way that women for milennia have had their children and grandchildren with them while they do their work.

And, just as the meeting began with talk about mothering and grandmothering, so after the down-to-business stuff was done, conversation returned to extending maternity leave, the PM talking about having to study for law exams while her son cried and knowing through her own tears that she had to excel. Hazel heading to her car ever mindful of the first Shouter Baptist school about to open, and the lack of a safe and proper crossing for the children.

I never imagined I’d breastfeed through a meeting with the first woman PM while sitting next to tireless and history-making second wave African and Indian women’s activists as I participated and learned from just listening. I felt so lucky to somehow have ended up there. I looked down at Zi and wondered whether at my age she would ever have these moments of witnessing such women in action, not just on upper floors of high rise buildings, but wherever these women are. I hope she does. These meetings seem mundance but they inspire, and she’s been with me, learning from such women before she even realises that’s what is going on.

Post 50.

I suppose that what worries me is how much I make and how little it buys. It makes me wonder how anyone else out there does it. I worry about the costs of having two children instead of one and marvel at those people who have three or four without seeming to grow a gray hair over it. I worry about where my family will end up living given where we can afford to buy, which is virtually nowhere. I worry about what might happen the day something happens and my musician husband or I alone have to manage. I guess I wonder how come others don’t worry too. But then I read the papers and it’s obvious that many do.

In the last few years, the cost of food has inflated from anywhere between 10% and 50% depending on whether you are talking about fish, vegetables, fruit or chicken, and my salary has stayed the same. My new found approach to getting my act together about tenure, really since Ziya, is also about moving up in payscale. Housing went from possible to not. I’m willing to work hard to earn more, and now I feel I really have to.

I live frugally as it is, and have a sneaking suspicion that both those more wealthy and more poor than me invest more than I do in things from looks to drinks, phones to cars, nailpolish to fete tickets. I’ve seen people who earn far less than me insist on drinking Johnny Walker and walk around with $1700 phones. I’m not sure that I can do much different in the basic living department short of becoming a monk or a mountaineering hermit, and neither can Stone. We both indulge in extra things sometimes, but not much. We are two hard-working, carefully-spending people who still barely meet our financial goals. We make more money than many, but are still likely to not be able to get – or afford – a mortgage. Ironic huh?

I used to think I’d inherit this beautiful house where we live, then I grew up a bit and recognised I’d have to earn it like everything else. Everyday we think about how little we can afford it and wonder where we will go. I don’t have the benefit of living at home and having parental support, that pendulum has shifted now as it does for us all at some time and its now my responsibility to provide as much as I can. Then there is Ziya who probably won’t forgive me if I invoice her in 18 years for something that will probably add up to close to a million dollar bill. For all I know, she’ll still be at home living off of the groceries we buy and she’ll arch her eyebrow at my invoice and go off laughing while eating the lunch I’m still lovingly making for her.

Sometimes I wonder if my parents worried the same way, though surely they did even if I never really saw it then. But, thinking again, I was always aware of my mom as a single mother and I always worried about money. She was a top dresser, but somehow I would refuse to shop and become unbearable in response to my sense of the limits of her earnings. To this day, I don’t know how people spend money on shoes, belts, make up and the works, and not worry about their spending priorities. My dad and mom, for all the poverty they both grew up with, liked to spend on things they liked to spend on. My mom liked to look good and she did it well. My dad bought cars and to this day drives a gold benz. I don’t blame them, I didn’t grow up poor and didn’t do what they did to escape, and I don’t know what dreams they had and earned.

Most times I fantasize about winning the lottery. I know exactly what amounts I’ll need in capital for our parents to live off the interest, I know exactly how much Ziya needs and what age she should get it in order to live as worry-free as a trustafarian. I know exactly how much we’d save, spend and give away. Of course, because I hate losing hard-earned money, even small amounts, I don’t play the lottery. Another irony.

Sometimes I wonder if its worth it to work as hard as I do. It would be so much easier to relax and lime more, to not be so serious about my job, to live with letting so much more slide, to just be mediocre and happy if necessary, to smoke weed and service my husband and, you know, chillax, but I can’t. Somewhere inside I’m banking on the hope that if I work hard enough for what I want, I’ll get it. These days I’m focused on the challenge of getting a house. Life is unpredictable and complex though, and you never know what you will be yours at the end and what was supposed to be yours at the end.

I don’t know how my parents did it – and gave me all I had. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it – but I want to do the same for Ziya. Times like this, when I wonder about how we will ever manage, and whether our dreams are unrealistic, I can only shake my head at how desperate it must be for so many other women, mothers and workers out there. This adult stuff can be really tough.

Post 49.

This week I felt like a superstar.

I launched my first big research project this week, worth over a million TT, and full of exciting stuff I’ve been planning for months. I’ve got an amazing project coordinator so I’m not doing it by myself and the help that I get is just what I need. Despite a thousand small things going wrong – or not quite as I wanted or planned – if I looked at the fundamental things that had to happen, I can say that they all did and they all went as well as they could. My senior advisors were happy, my funder was happy, my project coordinator was happy, my boss was happy and I was happy.

I’m feeling good because I feel like I’m just at that stage of my career when I have enough experience to know how to envision things and logistically see them through. I’m past the junior years, but just at the opening of my senior ones in my field, and I feel knowledgeable, powerful, capable, confident, well-mentored and trained by the absolute best. It’s a wonderful place to be, one I’ve worked hard to get at after 20 years in the women’s movement, 17 years in my department since joining as a graduate student and after 14 years of university. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way at this age. I think it’s probably pretty common. Many folks spend the years from their early twenties working here and there at the things they are interested in and by the time a decade or more has gone by, there is no way not to have gathered some good skills. I still feel like I’m in my twenties (which is soooo 30s and 40s to say!), but when I realize I’m teaching students born when I was already in university, I know I’m not a yout anymore. So, what’s left but to appreciate the experience that all this time has brought.

Of course, this project is total added pressure, but once I don’t overstep myself (which is hard to pre-determine), my ambition kicks in under high expectations. I’m lucky to have been where I was when this project came up and I feel, as I often do, that I’m exactly where I am supposed to be, ups and downs and all. Naturally, right behind me is a network of support I thank the universe for daily. My mom kept Zi an extra day and when I drop her off there I know she’s in the best possible hands, my helper put in many extra hours – all with generosity of spirit and her smile, my husband took extra shifts to enable me to be out late nights and early mornings, my friends checked in to see how I was. I could have achieved none of this without them. Here too I feel simply lucky.

Zi decided to grow two new teeth this very week to add to the twelve (!) she already has, therefore got up anywhere between four and six times a night every single night, and spent hours sleeping on top of and attached to me. When I crawled out of bed like the walking dead to start the day, somehow I managed to do it without being grumpy, with my brain working in full gear and with me even wearing ironed clothes. How I did it, I still don’t know. I’m the girl who needed nine hours sleep to function. Now, I practically never get more than three continuously. I am too exhausted to do half the things I want to, like go to the opening of the Common sense Convois at a panyard in Tunapuna or do a 5k walk with the Ministry of Gender around the savannah or just drive to Maracas – things that are totally fun in my mind but impossible next to the option of staying home and lying about all day today. Anyway, what matters is that somehow, like most mothers, I just got on and did it. About this I felt good too and somewhat rewarded when, on Friday night, after I was near collapse at the end of a hard week, Ziya slept right through from 9 to 4.30am. Bless her little alligator self.

These past months, I’ve been stressing endlessly about how far behind I am on my publishing – and I still am. Don’t even ask about that paper I had for the professor, due two weeks ago. I’ve not even written to him in shame to say its not ready yet. I’ve also been constantly alert to the fact that neither Stone nor Zi get enough time with me. I know that both miss me and I’m scared I turn into one of those partners and moms who is always at work or working, always tired or pre-occupied and not as fun as I really can be. I still feel this way. And, as usual, I still stress about not getting myself to one thing or another in the women’s movement. But just for today, those sentiments feel far away.

Today, I’m just feeling good. I had the nicest ten minutes tonight with Zi, right before bed. We quietly read three books together and then she turned around and spontaneously gave me a kiss, then a few minutes later she decided she was in a big hurry to go look for her dada and it was all over. Still, if a choir of angels were going to leap out of the cupboard and sing, those would have been the right moments.

What more could I have asked for this week, an amazing few days at work that it took months to prepare for, a quiet weekend at home full of those moments that you simply can’t plan, and the sense of the present to appreciate it as it unfolds.

Now I’m off to listen to an album with Stone, something akin to what we used to do for whole days or weekends more than a decade ago when we first met. He’s probably got a good half hour of me ahead, nothing like days or a weekend, but it’s all I got. Monday awaits and I’m not sure this feeling of contentment, satisfaction and accomplishment will survive my entry past the door. I don’t really have any profound thoughts from the perfections and imperfections of this last week. All I am is grateful.

Post 48.

Last Sunday, I took Zi for a walk through Avocat River and for a swim by the waterfall. All determined to have her appreciate the cathedral that is our rainforests, trees and rivers, I was set on being the naturegoddessmother version of myself. The day was glorious…the waterfall cold! A freezing mist blew in all directions from the thundering water and while Zi was happy to bob around with me, it was obviously too intense for her. After, on our way back, I took her to a shallow part where the river merely bubbled along and where she could stand for herself and splash a bit. Of course, she’s just a baby and I’m totally starting way too early in my eagerness and sometimes I have to remember to take it one step at a time.  I realised this when we later arrived at the placid Yara River and little Zi was so much happier being able to play in the sand and at the river’s edge without courting waist deep currents as we did with her in my backpack on our way to and from the waterfall.

‘Sorry Zi’, I said to her, hugging her chubby, cherub body, ‘mummy makes mistakes and is learning along the way’. My friends pointed out that she wouldn’t remember this mild misjudgment – and she’ll certainly hoard memories of other ones – so it was okay. Still, it made me reflect, as I suppose you do when you become a mother, on the imperfection of your efforts, the necessity of figuring out the right combination of forgiveness and hindsight, the ultimate hope that whatever your decisions at the time, things will turn out alright anyway, and the hidden desire that your mistakes would be forgotten and your best intentions remembered.

Ah, if only it happened that way. I’m sure this is exactly what my parents, and many others, wish. This is certainly not what mine got, and i know I’m not alone. What would have made the difference? I think honesty. A big part of not knowing what to hold on to and what to let go of is based in having to protect your own experience of your reality in a context where, more than parents making mistakes, is the impossibility of having truthful, open conversation about them. Of course, mistakes are forgivable, but I guess what is not is the expectation that you have to pretend they didn’t happen or that you can’t talk about them or that you can’t point out when they continue to be repeated. As we all know, much of what families teach is silence, particularly around mistakes, misdeeds and misjudgments. And so the basis for forgiveness and letting go, which is open honesty that calls a situation for what it is and asks that it be acknowledged for how it was experienced and what its impact was, is often side-stepped for avoidance, lack of resolution, ever-present tension and conflict set to slowly simmer.

It was only my own excitement to be all natgeo with her that led to a small misreading of what was best of Ziya that day of the waterfall, but it doesn’t matter what emotion led to my action or whether she’d forget or was totally fine. What mattered was that I reflected on it with her and let her know I learned from the situation and would continue to learn along the way. Perhaps, it just that parents get into the mania of managing life, work and family and forget to do this or are too tired to pay attention or just expect you’ll live with whatever they do. But, I’d like to not forget that if I can and I’d like to create actual honesty between us, rather than simply love, obligation and relationship, and I’d like Zi to know that when things aren’t perfect, I know she’s doing okay because she’s made the effort, held up her end or brought in her strengths and helped us to get through it together.

One tired mama shouldn’t be doing all this thinking on one sunny day soaking in the waters of the north coast, but there are lessons to be had in every sparkling spring. At least these are the lessons that make me feel alive, inspired to do my best, filled with the kind of love that makes me want to be both real and positive at the same time and able to both communicate and let go. I am being given the chance to be a better person and all I can do is thank Zi for the gift, challenging, hard and rewarding as it is.

In the meantime, the paper I was to submit first two Fridays ago and then last Friday is still on my desk. Its delay is not from any lack of hard work at about 15 000 things on my part. I wrote the Prof the first time to let him know about the delay, but was too shame to do so the second. What can I do but write as fast as I can amidst everything else, and hope he understands that I might not meet expectations, but I’m making the most of every moment, and learning as much as I can, everyday, on every front, along the way.