May 2013

Post 99.

It’s a dilemma. Often, though not all the time, when Stone is putting Ziya to bed, I can hear her yelling for me. I asked her why she prefers me to him when she is going to bed and she says that it’s because I sing her songs she likes. These are songs I’ve written over the years, songs he doesn’t know the words to. He plays her a whole range of beautiful music, but he’s not a committing-words-to-memory kind of guy, and she likes to sing along. She also tells me that she misses me and that’s why she cries when I’m not there, although he’s doing everything right and he’s a great dad, and you think it’d be enough.

What to do? Leave him to sit through her bawling for me, knowing it’s important that she learn to be content when I’m not around or go rescue them both, and myself from sitting upstairs stressing that she just wants me and wondering why I’m holding back from running into her little arms. It’s hard. I wait awhile before going, but inevitably I go because I miss her too and I completely connect to why she misses me. All moms know that one day such dependence and desire is going to melt into autonomy and less affection as children grow and establish their individuality and boundaries. I know it’s important that she have strong relations with her dad, but I also adore that I’m still her final comfort and her closest love. I’d feel more like I’m being selfish if it wasn’t so much to simply cherish.

All this missing means that I work hard, really hard, but I’ve stopped wanting to go much further in my job than where I am now, at least for now. Moving up may mean more seniority, influence and pay, but it would also mean more responsibilities, longer hours, greater stress and less time for Ziya. What would be the point of that? I feel like I’d just look back on these years spent advancing a career and only be able to focus on how quickly this time in her life passed, never to return. How many memories of sitting in meetings and sending emails do I really need? As a mother, can you ever make enough memories of time with your baby?

This isn’t a family-career quandary. I’m not choosing one over the other, but aspiring to both. I also already know – or maybe I’ve decided – that investment in my family beats my career priorities hands down. The predicament is how to handle this understanding wisely, given that work and family are each important for women’s confidence, power, contribution and identity. Each must be charted in a way that makes personal sense. That may mean investing less in your job that people have come to expect or making imperfect decisions in your family because you want to squeeze every drop from those moments when you are able to be present.

I’m not lying, sometimes I could shed unprompted tears that I spend so little time with this swiftly unfurling little sprout or that being tired from work compromises quality time at nights and on weekends. Sometimes, just as I love my job, I also know that I need to be absent so that Stone and Ziya figure it out together, without me. Still, when she insists that no one else matters, rightly or wrongly, and only because I’m actually able to be there, I am also guilty of making sure that love up from mummy can’t be replaced by anybody.

Post 98.

Just as you think that fourteen years of relationship has led you to that point where the original excitement has settled into routine, your husband buys two turntables and you remember what was insanely cool about him in the first place. You remember that even though you were both surviving on virtual shoestrings, the guy could mix music into a cocktail that made you thirsty for more. You remember that although there was barely enough room, in fact, not enough room for a desk, a cupboard, a bed and a chair, there were still two turntables, and in even in cramped conditions, music flew free around the room and out of the windows. You remember, as you now dance with Ziya while her daddy throws tunes and you watch her make her first, totally two year old scratch, that CDs were once scratched, filtered, remixed and pitched in DJ sessions played just for you.

You thought it was the toasted cheese sandwiches brought to you at midnight during those tough years of working full-time while finishing a PhD or maybe the Monday morning mix tapes sitting by your keys and ready to turn up as you turned on the car or maybe just some one-on-one connection that felt calm and safe, but really it was the two turntables, because now that they are back, you realize you only married the guy to get the DJ, put him in house and have him for yourself.

With fourteen years of hindsight, you look at your life now and wonder if that was shallow or youthful or such a typically girl thing to do, and despite age, maturity and present lack of a social life you still understand why all good DJs  – even bad ones – have groupies. You had it bad for a boy with two Pioneer turntables, and you wonder if it was him or them, or both, that made you fall in love.

You sit looking at those two Pioneers with their blinking lights on either side of the mixer, while Ziya’s daddy puts her to sleep in the next room, and you think that all those books about keeping romance alive in marriages and all those TEDx talks about the psychology of long-term love really miss the main point. It’s not so much about planning dates or remembering to communicate or making sure not to take the other for granted, it’s really just about finding that one thing that you knew and then forgot did it for you. That thing that might have gotten lost amidst work and bills and mortgages and traffic and tiredness. That thing you wanted to take home, turn on, rock out to, feel young with and love.

I remember now. It was a DJ, two turntables and music sets so smooth that, like the songs, everything seemed to happen right on cue, one year seamlessly blending, in pitch, bpm and key, with the next. Funny how two turntables that took you back fourteen years could do what no conversation and mutual effort was now going to do. I guess there is that one thing in every relationship. Imagine when you see it spinning in front of you.

Post 97.

More than a decade ago, when Lauryn Hill’s first solo album came out, she was my heroine. The woman could write, fling lyrics and vibrate your heart strings with her voice, and her music blended the personal, emotional, feminist and political with a head-pumping mix of passion and power. A whole global generation of us in and out of relationships, in long term love affairs with beats and rhymes, and searching for inspiring female icons in mass media, re- and re-played that Mis-education album to articulate youthful heartache and healing, and to survive coming of age.

I have flat mates from UWI who I’m still apologizing to for running that album on continuous rotation while I dug myself out from weakness to strength and from despair to confidence. There are songs from that album I can’t listen to anymore because they can’t escape that time that I managed to. There are also songs that still say exactly what I would to people in my life today.

That time in music followed an era of unapologetically feminist bands, singers and musicians, who broke through sound-proofed ceilings and walls that kept women’s music off the radio.

The turn from politically-radical rap to gangsta hip hop, and Britney and Beyonce pop, mostly let in those female artists willing to shake some ass rather than those who knew that unless women shook down Babylon, only race and class would be rocked free while we remained everywhere garlanded in chains.

Mainstream music gives girls too few resources for remaking the terms of what it means to be smart, sexy, good, bad, angry, emotional, vulnerable and even ahead of the game. We have to search beyond the radio dial, actively remember and even invent the soundtracks for running tings our own way.

At that time, the Ten Sisters poetry movement, a group of us singers and spoken word performers, came together to, like Lauryn Hill, interrupt air waves with women’s words that were more complex and critical than what we hear. Ten Sisters included feminist and non-feminist women, straight, lesbian and bisexual women, mothers and grandmothers, atheists and Catholics, Indians, Africans, part-Chinese and full calalloo. From Lisa Allen’s ‘Isahvibes’ to Paula Obe and Annessa Baksh’s ‘Ten Sisters’ to Dara Njeri’s ‘Speak Easy’ to Gillian Moor’s ‘Songshine’ to Sister Ava’s tireless commitment to the Rapso movement, these women mothered Trinidad and Tobago’s vibrant spoken word culture for more than a decade. Yet, like Lauryn Hill and that earlier phase of US feminist music, it’s easy to forget their impact and to wonder what happened to them today.

Hill made six children, confronted continous adultery, fought for her artistic freedom against the music industry, and had to live in a world where racial stereotyping about Black women makes them easy prey. Separately, each of those could be too much for any sane person. Together? Are you going to judge? Being powerful can be hard. Being a mother can be overwhelming, Backstage beyond the microphone can be unforgiving. To see someone so path-breaking not be able to hold her family and her struggle together is terrifying. It’s any woman’s everyday nightmare to publicly appear to fail.

Hill remains my heroine because real life heroes are also only human. Maybe she went crazy like gossips say, maybe the world makes us all crazy sometimes, maybe women are more easily labeled crazy for not handling societal and patriarchal downpression the perfect way. For me, there’s no vicarious juice in her imprisonment. She’s a voice from a time when I came into my own power. As they learn the rewards, risks and re-education of conscious girlhood, that album still remains one of only too few for our daughters.

Post 96.

People like to see you when you are out and say, ‘how come yuh didn’t bring de baby?’, but be assured that the question is only rhetorical. People want to see the baby and like the idea of waving hello as she walks about, but they also expect the baby to be a quiet, well-behaved, obedient and unnoticeable at whatever meeting, function, panel discussion, awards ceremony or other event you are attending. In short, they want to see the baby, but not be disturbed by the baby. What you need to do is bring a hologram of your baby with you, someone that waves and smiles with the volume on low and with a pause button and a set projection space on the back wall.

I’m not exaggerating; other moms of two year olds know exactly what I mean. In a Caribbean society ruled by the tyranny of manners and respectability, even sweet grannies, loving friends and empathetic feminists don’t want your child talking too loudly in the corner or running about too much if the event requires some level of decorum and propriety. I’ve experienced this time and again, until now I don’t take her places where I know that I’ll get a combination of sympathetic and stern glances if Ziya behaves in public like, well, a two year old.

The other day I was at an event discussing Caribbean writing, Ziya was walking up and down the aisle, eating food in my lap and asking for snacks to carry around as she explored the space. She was all ‘children should be seen but not heard’ par excellence. Yet, every time she walked toward the front where people sat on a podium talking, there was a panicked rush to shoo her to the back again as if a two year old walking about in front the speakers, dead silent, is too distracting for adults having a conversation with themselves and the audience. As if the majority of what people do in our lives is not done with children running around us, as if in earning awards through our life work or writing Caribbean books or meeting to plan world change, our lives are nonetheless intersected by and even inspired by children; ours, our families’ and our communities’.

Women hardly had the luxury of literature without having to write with children around them. Virginia Woolf rightly knew we needed a room of our own, but women got on with it anyway. Mothers who earned their livelihood baking or sewing did so with their young about them, that’s why Caribbean women’s poems talk about mothers at the sewing machine both working and nurturing their families. Caribbean people can, in fact, talk about whatever – whether it is politics or literature – with children being children around us.

We do it fine every day and we should figure out how to do it even in fancy moments and settings because that’s how both we and children learn how to live in all aspects of the world together. I get not taking Ziya everywhere with me. Some women can function at work with their babies and more power to them because I can’t, but until I get that hologram version, I’d be nice if people either accepted that even a ‘good’ child is not a still and silent being or stopped asking ‘why yuh didn’t bring de baby?’. Moms like me know it’s impossible to have it both ways.