June 2013

Post 104.

Once upon a time before time, Sky, with her omniscient open gaze, the soft fall of her horizons and her tresses of tangled clouds, became torn between her two great loves, Sun and Moon.

Each morning, Sun woke to greet Sky with his smile and to watch his radiance mirrored in her eyes, and she knew she could plan the rest of her days around the laughter and friendship that filled his steady gentle rise and warm setting embrace.

Moon had none of Sun’s stability. Some nights he glowed full, taking her breath away. Others, she could find him nowhere and she wandered inconsolable in the darkness. He was secretive, unpredictable and a loner, but he compelled her like the tides, unable to stop himself or her from being drawn together.

Sun and Sky’s sacred union had been blessed by ancient stars, wise with knowledge of the universe’s origins, stars that had long since closed their eyes and reincarnated. All had seemed like it could last an eternity in such perfect balance.

Then came Moon. Shadowy and cool, he sent to Sky midnight winds that rained night-blooming flowers, led her by hand through the constellations as he whispered their meanings, and drew his silver touch across her skin to wake her from sleep. Sky discovered light and depth in herself that she had not dreamt existed. She could hardly imagine how many hours she had limited to rest, and how she had been content without the nocturnal desires and powers that now made her feel whole. She came newly alive, stretching her spirit, and her heart began to quicken at dusk as it did at dawn.

Sun rose and did not recognise Sky had changed, that she had grown beyond bright morning blue or evening blush. Unlike Moon, he could not see her cobalt luminescence. He could not fathom how to walk the labyrinth of space with Sky breathing by his side. Comfortable being her centre, he was lost in the new expanse of her world. Sky soon realised, with love and sadness, how partially he would belong. Awake while he slept, she sighed, seeing how much of their union she would spend feeling alone.

That night, she would have fled to the arms of the moon if only she could find him, but she met only silence. Waiting amidst a dense blackness taught her that he would not be there when she needed him and that both were powerless to change his course.

Sky tossed with disappointment and longing, caring nothing about the thunderstorms that raged across the earth. Her cherished Sun kissed her soul each morning without fail, but could never reach beyond his dusk. Moon penetrated a self left abandoned by the sun, unfurling an intimacy she could no longer live without, but would inevitably have to.

Should she wake with the sun and forget the moon? Should she give up the day to soar at night? What were her choices when both loves had already set their paths?

She could not have both. By himself, neither Sun nor Moon was enough for who she had become. Each continued to shine with unique, ethereal splendour, giving all that he could, yet unable to fulfill the entire hopes of Sky’s heart.

Look toward heaven and you will see.

Sky still reflects on Sun and Moon in their distant realms, wonders who to reach for and how not to reach for the other, keeps secret the wishes she is not allowed, and quietly continues her boundless passage above our own little stories of troubles and joy.

Post 103.

On Wednesday last week, Labour Day, I took Ziya to Yara River on the North Coast. I use every opportunity that I can to teach her that our islands’ true value is in their pristine rivers, primary forests and undeveloped coasts, and the diverse life that they support, and consider it invaluable work that I can’t usually do during the week.

One day when Ziya is older, I’ll take her to Fyzabad with me to appreciate that other aspect of the nation’s terrain: our history of continuous labour resistance from the day that empires defined indigenous women and men, and then later arrivants, in terms of profit and not as people.  

On the one hand, Zi needs to learn that enslaved and indentured women, and later 20th century women like Elma Francois, Daisy Crick and Thelma ‘Sister T’ Williams, have always been on the front lines of workers’ organizing. They had children, they earned their own money and they led mass movements of women and men. On the other hand, I also want her to be aware of how the labour of family and community mothering is a politics of struggle against sexism and capitalism too.

As I looked at a Labour Day picture of today’s union leaders, I wondered about the negotiations of women workers like myself. Every leader was male. None had children with them. None of them was a young woman with a baby like me. No doubt women and mothers with babies were there that day as they have been throughout history.  Still, that picture says something worth unpacking about the options and choices for combining labour, motherhood and leadership.  Acknowledging this, unions, in their support to feminist movements of women and men, cannot get weary yet.

It will always be important for workers across every sphere, from farmers to domestic workers, shop clerks, housewives, teachers, nurses, sex workers and more, to publicly organize for their legal right to decent work, decent wages, equality and equity, and collective bargaining.

It will also always be important to recognize that the work associated with nurturing of our families is about labour as much as it is about love, and it includes inequalities as much as it does fulfillment.

As I stood in the OWTU Hall learning about the life of Thelma Williams, I was intrigued at how many there were women from her Spiritual Baptist community, rather than union men. Male leaders, including members of my own generation such as Ozzi Warwick and Akins Vidale were there, but the numbers spoke volumes about how the building of family and community, and the work it takes to sustain them, are also enduring achievements. Commemoration of this grandmother, also ‘grandmother’ to a movement, made me reflect on the way that collectivity, consciousness-raising and contributing to justice should both make room for and bring together all of our many identities. Just from those gathered in that hall, you could see that Thelma Williams was nurturer, prayer warrior and also labour fighter.

One Labour Day, you ‘home school’ your daughter about healthy ecosystems and river fish. One Labour Day, you take her to march in Fyzabad.  Both are necessary for women to give the work that we do the recognition, status and value that it is still due.

Post 102.

Having not grown up in a two parent household, it’s a whole new experience for me to reflect on Ziya’s experience of living with both her mother and father. Understandings of how children connect to their fathers, which should be obvious to me, are only now part of my own learning as I observe the ways she relates to her parents and constructs her idea of family.

Her connection to me as her mother is intense and intimate, even overwhelming for us both. That has resulted not only from the kind of quality time I’ve consciously devoted, but also to from more than two years of continuous breast-feeding and, therefore, physical attachment. Yet, when we are reading books, and I point out the mummy lion or hippo, or when I tell her about my plans to take her on an outing, she’ll insist on looking for the daddy lion or asking whether daddy will be going on the outing too.

In her world, both mummy and daddy are present and necessary, and they are together. While she loves spending time with each of us, she loves spending time with both of us more. This isn’t the kind of daddy-struck adoration that seems to characterize girlhood. She’s invested in our nuclear family beyond the influence of socialization and even my own expectations of her capacity at two years old.

Dads are a vital and irreplaceable part of children’s lives, but some part of me thought that mummies could also be enough if they gave their all. Politically, I also don’t want to reproduce anti-woman views that argue that all families should have a mother and father living together, and that each must be playing some rightful role, for children to grow up fulfilled and functional. Heading their own household by choice or necessity, and with dads participating to various degrees, women have raised happy, productive and contributing members of our Caribbean. Dads can do the same too, on their own if they have to. Moms and dads don’t have to live in the same house to wisely cooperate for their children’s best interest. Even daddy-struck girls can figure out how to get on with life in the midst of separations, and how to renegotiate love across new family formations. Don’t doubt that they, we, survive and thrive.

Nonetheless, I see how Ziya would be confused, unsettled and heart-broken at the loss of having both parents with her. It makes me think back to myself at two and the complex, formative emotions that I forgot existed in me then. It makes me realise, not that break-ups are bad, because they can definitely be for the best, but how much adult partnerships define children’s sense of self, safety, stability and social space. When Ziya wants to know where the daddy hippo is or decides that two of any animal represents a mummy and a daddy, it’s a visceral statement that your relationship profoundly matters and is accountable to someone else besides the two of you.

Seeing us through her eyes has made me more greatly appreciate the role Stone has to play, whether we stay together forever or go separate ways. That role and its significance is his responsibility, not mine, to treasure, nurture and ensure. Still, I mature as a mother from recognizing that Ziya will have different feelings about and experiences of motherhood than I did. I improve as a partner from openness to learning anew about fatherhood and its value. Ziya is not the only one growing. She’s making us, as individuals and as a family, grow too.

Post 101.

This week, listening to 30 year old memories of the Grenada Revolution, all I could think about is the legacy of forgetting. My generation feels almost no connection to the vision of the revolution, the sweat and solidarities of the women and men involved, and the reverberations of pain that rippled across the entire Caribbean when gunshots, assassinations, US occupation, and fear, secrets and loss marked the end.

Being as intimate with that history as we are with the long plot of Game of Thrones or the personal sagas of the Kardashians could change us all. Claiming Cuba’s attempt to strike out against passivity about our economies and lives would help us realise that what happens in Chaguanas West matters less than what deals our Ministers sign, without a study to stand on, for highways to be built or tar sands to be mined.

Party school wouldn’t be about the history of the party but about the history of political attempts to free us from the kind of development that creates more who have but, inevitably, many who will not. It would be a place for establishing adult education at night in every school or mobilising community campaigns to grow the vitamins we need in our backyards or advocating for an end to criminalization of young people’s same sex desires in the law.

The Youth Arm of the UNC or the PNM wouldn’t be limited to election campaigning or proving loyalty to the leadership.  Imagine if those very youth learned about the bloody resistances that mark the country from Sangre Chiquito to San Fernando. They would start roaming the nation and the region to fill up on lessons of how politics can be and has been done differently. Party schools that teach them etiquette, correct dress and their leaders’ biographies would be rightfully empty.

If the Women’s Arms of the parties were even once taught about the role that women can play beyond waving flags, you think housewives would be running around in hot sun securing votes for a parliament and a Cabinet that remains indecently, overwhelmingly dominated by men? Knowing their power, these women would rise up and say no to inequity at the top because party school taught them this is what they do. They would wield the names of women from Elma Francois to Jacqueline Creft like a bilna and a balisier, symbolizing to their parties that it is these women’s struggles that they came to continue.

For all their participation in their political parties, not a PNM or UNC Women’s Arm activist can stand on a corner, while Celine Dion or Bryan Adams blares from the loudspeakers, and ex-tempo about how women and men from little two by four countries dreamed for more and then fought for those dreams until big stick diplomacy beat them into their corner. This is why today’s leadership will not organize for all out regional self-determination. Caribbean people have not recovered from the economic and political punishments and pain of Haiti, Guyana, Cuba and Grenada.

What can my generation could do to remember Grenada, plan a new revolution that promises never to leave women behind and invent a regionalism that fits our realities thirty years later? I know young feminist women and men from Guyana to Barbados to Jamaica. We can mine our islands and our seas for more than oil, we can mine them for memories. All those still alive, who are holding them safe and close, are just waiting for us to ask the right questions. I’m humbled by how much there is for us to know and to still achieve.

Post 100.

Considering that last week’s anxiety was about how little time I spend with Ziya, it’s ironic that this week I’ve been thinking about how every mother needs to make time for herself. Those first two years, all my energy and every last second was given to working and mothering, and I still felt that neither was getting enough time. With hindsight, I can see how those efforts were unsustainable.

At some point, you start to feel like you need to get away, you need something for yourself, you need to make time just for you even if it means that someone else – your husband, his parents, your mother or your babysitter – is filling in for what should rightfully be your shift. Your options may be guilt or self-preservation, but chances are that some minor or large crisis in your sanity, relationship, health or capacity to manage everything eventually compels you to choose.

I was meditating on my choices while walking through a river and climbing the cascading terrain of a waterfall in the hills of the Northern Range, enjoying having no responsibilities for anyone or anything beyond the next step. It was really a day I should have spent with Zi, a gift of extra time over a long weekend, and I felt like I was neglecting her, knowing how much she misses me, and knowing that someone else was with her when I should have been.

Still, I had made a choice, if necessary to be even less of a present mother for now and the next while so that I wouldn’t neglect the chance I needed to kneel in a crystal river flowing through an ancient forest, and to reconnect to the quiet spirit inside of me. Some go to church or mosque or temple. My cathedral’s walls are towering trees, scattering leaves like psalms in the wind. For me, streams are calls to prayer that draw you closer, promising to wash away unconfessed sins, and the open sky is an orhni resting softly over my head as I revere the elements of the earth and find stillness within.

I had realised that I couldn’t be a good mother, worker, partner or even person if the combination of job stress, marriage commitment and sleepless motherhood had pushed me beyond my current reserves. Some women get their hair and nails done, some take evening classes, some splurge on desserts or clothes or rum. If I didn’t walk these clear waters, whether deep in Chagaramas or in Cumaca, I’d look for escape or rejuvenation or a brief suspension of reality however it came.

I’m not sure if it’s like this for all of us, but I think that many women will give until they are empty before realising that looking after themselves though it may feel selfish, and taking a long view of relationship, responsibility and reciprocity, is an absolute necessity. You want to do your best in every moment, but it’s also important to see your investments beyond just the now.

When I sacrifice time with Ziya, I wonder if I’m setting up a bad pattern, whether one day she’ll think I didn’t spend enough time with her. However, if I don’t forgive myself for those decisions, I’ll miss why my instincts propelled me to them. I’ll also miss the lessons that will enable me to share with her the predicaments of womanhood, and its perils, pressures and growing pains.

Luckily, that day, pristine waterfalls help me to find, not my old carefree self nor a new and more perfect maturity, but an understanding that healing is found in steps in-between.