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.