Post 172.

One day I woke up and realized that I was twice as old as the university students I teach, cast as too serious about school work, obedient to an institutionalized hierarchy and long past any connection to rebellious irreverence.

I thought about this when a student came to tell me her essay was late because she was too busy with activism. We were on break, during a guest lecture that challenged gender studies’ students about academic feminists’ commitment to more than our own professional advancement, to the everyday needs of women’s lives and to social change. Why laud writing books when we should be helping communities prevent another abuse of a woman or child? What was achieved by articles instead of direct action?

With the guest lecturer’s questions resonating in her mind, the student felt she was on strong footing to school me on the truly radical politics of a late essay justified by on-the-ground civic involvement.

I laughed quietly because she reminded me of myself when I had that heady certainty that those older than me had given up the revolution for work wear and girl shoes, monthly salaries, and the class privileges of Babylon. She thought I had sold out, not continually redefined subversive commitment.

I told her the story of my University of Toronto lecturer, Guyanese Arnold Itwaru, who assigned us an essay on our Caribbean identity. Weekly, while reading Kamau Braithwaite, Franz Fanon, Eduard Glissant and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o outside of class, I’d tell him I couldn’t write the essay because I had no nation language, only the colonizer’s English, and only equally foreign forms such as poetry, prose and plays to substitute for the alienation of academic writing style.

Given that class was all about decolonization, and we were so inspired that my nineteen year old friends and I had stopped eating with knives and forks and forever forsworn jackets, I was sure Professor Itwaru would understand I was wrestling with the whole point of essays and education.

Indeed, I had called up my mother from my dorm room and asked her if she wanted me to get a degree or get an education. Any parent or person over nineteen knows exactly what she said.

I had also just challenged my college’s insistence that we wear academic gowns every night to dinner in our dormitory dining halls. Trinity College, at University of Toronto, took and still takes that tradition seriously. Naturally, I wasn’t down with wearing no symbol of academic, colonial elitism on my post-independence, fervently brown-is-beautiful shoulders.

The college said to wear the gown or get kicked out. I said me and my Iranian comrade sistren would go to the press about racism. They said ok, the college will collectively vote on your right to refuse in one week’s time, wear the gown until then. We complied by painting ‘fight the power’ and ‘oppression’ in red, with our hands, down the front of the gowns, and walked in to eat with young Marley as our life soundtrack. Turns out, we successfully argued for a decolonial right that was non-existent before, winning by three votes in a packed room. In May, Professor Itwaru accepted the paper that was due in December, and gave me an A.

Now on the other side of youthful idealism, that is being seen as neither youthful nor radical, I appreciate that scholarship can save lives, and that reading and reflection can enable better activism. Education is both a practice of discipline and freedom, I told my student. I understand why my mother wanted me to graduate. Now, write that essay.

Post 151.

I’m revising my book on citizenship in Trinidad, building on Indian political theorist Partha Chatterjee’s distinction between civil society and political society. It’s helping me to explain how Trinidadians both in and out of the state navigate authority. Brought home, this is how I’m thinking his distinction applies.

When governments make decisions for us, without proper consultation or process, they ignore fundamental citizen rights. Often, state officials impose such authority to enable continued rapid growth of corporate capital. We can see this in everything from aluminum smelter agreements to lack of sufficient regulation of quarries to highways and rapid rails planned without necessary studies to the proposed privatisation of Chaguaramas. De-fanging institutions, such as Town and Country Planning or the EMA, are vital to enabling elite expediency to triumph over transparent, people-centred development.

Having undermined civil society, how then do governments appear participatory? Direct benefits, baskets of subsidies and poverty-removal programmes. These control specific population groups by identifying them as targets of government policies. Men with a history of crime get hand outs through sports. Muslims and Hindus get a cheque on Eid and Divali for diversity. Victims of tragedy get new mattresses and food directly from a Cabinet minister. Ex-Caroni workers get deeds a week before casting their vote. Here, the role of the state and bureaucracy is to transfer resources, not to represent our rights. Ordinary people are thus simultaneously marginalized and managed.

This strategy fragments benefit-seekers and divides potential opposition. All we notice are bags of goodies thrown from budget speeches, platforms and public appearances. Asserting claims to a life of worth and dignity through unions, associations or citizens’ groups becomes so much harder. Popular mobilization instead happens through fleeting, temporary and unstable forms of political organization such as marches, rallies, protests, and vote-trading.

These forms are not directed toward fundamental transformation of structures of political power. They are mostly matters of water and electricity provision, and jobs and so on, meant to make sure that those who can’t be absorbed into economic growth won’t become socially dangerous. Meanwhile, institutions, from the hospitals to the Police Complaints Authority to the Auditor-General, edge closer to the tipping point of collapse, leaving us to marvel at how little justice is protected in a system that works best through contacts. This brings us to political society, where we may forego participation for populism and invest more in politicians than in democratic institutions.

Today, thinking as just a citizen about such politics, I wonder how those groups desperately trying to secure due process can actually win. How can Tacarigua residents protect their public, green space from the stadium Anil Roberts decided they would have? How can Chaguaramas citizens say no to Bhoe Tewarie’s vision of a coast handed over to the private sector? How can Mon Desir homes be protected from the Housing Minister’s commitment to illegal asphalt-laying without the reports which should be publicly accessible?

The upcoming election season will precisely aim to extend this displacement, seducing us from being national citizens to target populations who substitute benefits for rights, disbursements for representation, and love for the leader for true equality. This is how power works in political society, where bigger budgets replace good government, and we are all disciplined by and negotiate in relation to our access and dependence.

There’s a book to be written about our politics, but there’s also exercise of authority that we have to collectively change. It means connecting with each other across our diversities, ideologies, issues, pro- or anti-government analyses, and communities. I hope to contribute to how that unfolds in practice and theory.



Post 127.

On Saturday, at Central Bank, I gave a talk on why we should end sexism and homophobia. The talk explains why ending them would improve life for everyone, and is aimed at those in power. It’s pitched to all the people who think that they are not hurt by sexism and homophobia, and to those people who don’t want to be treated unequally. The talk includes statistics, legislative review, stories, quotes, cool pics and performance poetry.

Shout outs to my students are the sub-text of the entire presentation. The slide background was the awesome logo for the student feminist group, ‘Consciousness Raising’, which was active from 2007-2009 and was the first group to come out of my women’s studies class.  They held campus marches for two years for International Women’s Day and International Day Against Violence for Women. The words in their logo are ‘solidarity’, ‘freedom’, ‘take action’ and ‘change’.

The students I quoted in my talk also formed groups such as ‘Support for Change’, in 2011, to advocate for the national gender policy. They run Facebook discussion safe spaces like ‘Womantra’.  They start campaigns of all kinds such as a Port of Spain and UWI slutwalk action to show that women’s sexuality in no way justifies rape. They initiated the CARICOM-targeted campaign to end homophobia and transphobia. These students are also active in the gender studies-led Break the Silence campaign to end child sexual abuse and incest. When people ask for feminism, these are its young leaders in their actively expanding numbers. Women and men working in a wide range of movements. Rock on, radical university youth!

Among the coolest things I showed was the picture of my Introduction to Women’s Studies class of 2013. This is the seventh year that my students have done popular actions on women’s rights at UWI, in a course first taught in 1982. These are the people doing movement engaging and building, and I got to put their faces in her/history. My students this year were open-minded, thoughtful, ethical and courageous. It’s wonderful to see a politically conscious, Caribbean feminist generation coming out of UWI.

I hope the PNM, in its upcoming Parliamentary critique, doesn’t miss this kind of national contribution, particularly in light of the party’s anti-choice and homophobic prejudice, simply so they can score political points. We will see.

I struggled a lot with the words in my talk. In Caribbean feminist academia and activism, there is lively debate about whether to use words like ‘equality’ or words like ‘equity’, or even ‘transformation’, also whether to use ‘homophobia’, which actually misrepresents the issue but is at least commonly known, or whether to use ‘heterosexism’. I also wrestled a lot with my talk’s absence of direct reference to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered persons and women, though it is hard-core anti-sexism activism.

There is a lot of talk in the country, not all of it constructive. The TEDx Port of Spain 2013 event featured an inspiring line up of speakers, including Etienne Charles, Attillah Springer, Wayne Kublalsingh, Rondel Benjamin and Keegan Taylor, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Father Clyde Harvey, Erle Rahaman-Noronha, Debrah Lewis and Dominique Le Gendre. In about a week, Google TEDx POS 2013, sit back and check them out.

There are also past talks by Sunity Maharaj, Verna St. Rose Greaves, Christopher Laird of Gayelle and others. My talk included Episode 4 of my ‘If I was Prime Minister’ series, started in 2009. For Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet, it’s a must-see.

It’s also for those with homophobic religious beliefs, or who care about children, the economy and creating safe communities. Watch it with an eye to the leadership we will need beyond 2015.

Post 116.

Teaching started at UWI this week.

Students come to class with heartbreaking experiences of everyday violence, neglect, anxiety, pain and disappointment. Adult and young women come having left abusive relationships or still living in them. Both young men and young women sit in front of me having survived child sexual abuse and still in situations where they live with it every day. People come as single parents, having risked illegal abortions, as gays and lesbians fearful of homophobia, and from families with too many harsh words and too little listening or love. A few come without any home. Some are young and sheltered and ready for the world, many walk in with their wounds, fragile but steady.

As I stand looking at them on the first day of class, sometimes I want to abandon the course outline, the grades and the pressure because as we systematically explore power, domination, inequality and silencing, I know it gets too much for some. When I listen to their stories, the pores on my arms raise. Not because of the trauma they carry, but because it hits me how much wise and strong they are, beyond anything I can teach, and I’m humbled by how much I need to make theory useful for further healing their reality.

Once, one wonderful woman in her twenties came to find me. She had been left at an orphanage by her mother and had been raised by an adopted grandmother who recently died.  After that, other family members began to deal drugs from the house, which is not uncommon in Trinidad and Tobago. She moved by an uncle who tried to molest her, saying sometimes there were things she would have to do. She had just experienced her second miscarriage, and been abandoned by the baby’s father. He had been concerned not only about her as a burden, but as a stain to his reputation because they had conceived out of marriage. Now he wanted her to hide her truths. She was staying with friends and had to move. Still managing post-partum depression, she dreamt her lost baby crying on mornings, experienced black-outs and was trying to find her feet on her own.  She was in crisis despite looking young, polished and professional, and starting a new term of school.

When these are your students, what do you do?

As I stand looking at them on the first day of class, sometimes all I want is to push them to get the grades, pressure them to do the work, give them something to focus on and at which to succeed. In giving all to their education, there is a way they learn focus, discipline, acceptance and self-love. They learn to discard some of what has locked down their spirit. They learn that, although it is not easy, change is always possible, for each person differently.

I expect students to earn their degree and I’m prepared to give my all to them. I help them to learn to read critically, write analytically and understand how knowledge can change the world. More specifically, my job is to help them learn to apply and reflect on feminist theory and the lens it provides to their own and others’ lives. I’m focused on course content and assignments and I expect my students to be too. Yet, over the years, I’ve repeatedly discovered that that can just be too much.

It’s like this in schools everywhere in the nation.  I teach the curriculum, but hope that each year my students also gain the power they need for both liberation and transformation.   

Post 74.

Permission to make the choices you do sometimes comes from the most unexpected of sources and in the most unexpected moments. By permission, I don’t mean that you need or are waiting on someone else’s approval. I mean that something clicks in your head just when they say what they do, and that click creates the sense of resolution or acceptance or even just acknowledgement that you were seeking from yourself.

In a recent conversation with a man, I was talking about how much I wanted focus on my career, even apply for a fellowship abroad, but how much I was pained by the way it would inconvenience and separate my family, and reshape their whole lives around my own priorities, even if just for a short time. If I went away, my mom and/or husband would have to come to help with the baby. This may not be the ideal situation in terms of how either or both of them may have pictured their lives. I’d have to find comfortable, affordable lodgings for either or both, we’d have to budget for a cut in income if my husband stayed with me as household and parenting support and/or an increase in expenses as I looked after the needs of my mom, as she would be fully dependent on me while she helped to look after my needs. There’d be some unsettled feeling as we all settled down in close quarters in our different and not necessarily always compatible ways, and I’d feel underneath it all not only somewhat selfish for calling on everyone to make a sacrifice for me, but also more than a little responsible for making sure either and/or both of them could be happy and not frustrated, resentful, neglected or lonely.

Yes, these thoughts were related to my aspirations and their implications for unwanted shifts and changes in my family life, but these only became significant, requiring consideration and negotiation, because of my dependence on my mother and/or husband to be willing participants in looking after my (our) baby. I might have been able to go off on my own before, but now I couldn’t do it alone with Zi and leaving her wasn’t an option. I clearly want both family and career. Was being selfish or unrealistic to want it all? When I made the decision to have a baby, did I also make a decision to not want or go after some of the things I would have before?

I don’t get this at all, this man told me. His parents were both academics and when his dad went away to get his PhD, his mom looked after their three children born all about a year apart. When she had to get her PhD, he did the same. They both went on fellowships throughout their careers. Neither considered the idea of that one should sacrifice more than the other or that one deserved more than the other or that one was more responsible than the other.

If his parents could do this, if his mother could move forward without thought of the consequences for his father’s personal, economic and career sacrifices while he was the one there and fully available to care, then forty years later, why couldn’t I? After all these decades and such everyday empowerment, how come I was still wrestling with these dilemmas?

Without knowing it, the man in this conversation gave me permission to go ahead. Or, maybe it was his mom and dad that gave me permission. I didn’t need them to decide for me or to give me their approval, I needed to do it myself. This man took for granted that these were his mother’s rights, and seeing them through his – and her – eyes, I saw my own too.

The very next day, a fellowship that seemed perfect for me arrived in my inbox. Without thought to how anyone else would manage, because, well, they would just have to, I decided that if this was what I wanted, I would apply and I’d just have to be eternally grateful but also guiltless to my mom and/or husband for the support they gave and which I deserved as part of the give and take of family, commitment and love. My husband would have to figure it out and grow as a person if necessary. My mom would have to manage even if I couldn’t meet her needs. I know I’m there for them and they would have to know I needed them to be there for me. Or, like an adult, I’d have to myself figure out how to do it alone, with my child, and I’d have to grow as a person and manage even if my mom and/or husband couldn’t be there as I thought they should be. 

This leads me to the second time in the past weeks that I heard that click. Today, while meeting Penny Williams, the Australian Ambassador for Girls and Women and a mother of four children, a student asked how she coped as a diplomatic in a profession generally unfriendly to family. She said, I guess the answer is, you just do some things badly.

Not a profound statement, not a loud click, but there it was. I just had to make the decisions right for me and accept that I would make mistakes, I would make choices that I later question, I would ask for more than I get, but most importantly I had to not give up because of fear, guilt, concern or love before I even tried. This was essentially it, I might do well at a fellowship but badly at family one year, I might be the mom, daughter and partner that I always wanted to be, but have to defer tenure twice. I have to give myself permission to try, to suceed and sometimes to maybe or maybe not make my mom and/or husband – and/or baby – happy.

No one could apply for that fellowship for me, no one else could apply these ideals to me, but me.

Post 70.

What a difference a year makes. When Zi was about ten months, she spent the first night away from home, by my mother, and, while Stone dropped her over, I was left alone at home for the first time since she was born. Amidst exhaustion from work plus breastfeeding plus sleeplessness, I still found the energy to miss her. Well, no more!

Today she left with her dad to celebrate her grandfather’s birthday with the family. Amidst exhaustion from work plus breastfeeding plus sleeplessness plus having-a-fractured-cheekbone , I happily waved them off as they left, feeling no longing at all for either to immediately return.

There were dilemmas of course. Stone’s mom had personally called to ask me to come over, reminding me that last year I also found some reason not to come. I like Stone’s family and genuinely wanted to go, but the only times Stone voluntarily takes Zi anywhere for hours at a time is when he takes her to see her grandparents. These are, therefore, the only times that I am left home alone. Such times are rare and precious. After a long week at work, it’s hard to trade them for another day on the road, out of the house, among people, responsible for Zi, and unable to ignore everything and everyone for a few hours of quiet freedom.

With my freedom, of course, I planned to fold and put away a small mountain of clothes, sort and organise a large molehill of toys, finish writing an overdue essay, wash the dishes, feed the dogs and generally tidy around the house. Before Zi was born, I similarly used to go around compulsively tidying. Any stranger walking through might have mistaken our house for a minor hotel because things were always in straight lines and neatly in their assigned place. Well, no more!

The clothes sat depressed and unattended, the jumbled toys made claustrophobic pleas that were ignored, the essay slummed with a motley crue of low-priority tasks, and the tidying sighed in despair all over the house. I didn’t care. Such a difference, after only a year.

There were dilemmas of course. I felt guilty that I could have been using my time more productively instead of lying about reading. I kept thinking that if I did all my chores while Zi was gone then I’d be able to spend better quality time while she was here instead of putting her aside to put away clothes during our few, just as precious, weekend days together. I’d be a better mother if I got all this stuff done now, I thought. ‘I’m tired!’ I then thought, ‘rebel!’, although it was not clear who I was rebelling against as I’d have to eventually face up to the clothes anyway.

When I was childless, I didn’t have to value my time because it was all mine. When I had Zi, I was willing to give it up, seemingly endlessly. Well no more! When Stone called to say they were on their way home, my first instinct was to think, ‘already!’

So much for love.

‘Did you get anything done?’ he asked. ‘Like what? No.’ I said ambiguously, and pointedly, deciding I would write history as if I spent my freedom revelling in time spent without clearly set or achieved goals.

Thus passed about three hours of learning how hard, but yet necessary, it is to say no to family, chores, work and even your own obsessions with cleanliness in order to give yourself a few minutes to do nothing at all, guiltlessly. Miss Ziya? Miss Stone? Hah! No more!

I suppose I’m right on schedule with most moms. What I’ve actually missed is time for me.

Post 55.

Chatting outside of class at the end of the semester, a student asked me if I’d post an example answer for the exam to help him study. I told him I was really busy, but I’d see. He responded that instead of gossiping in the night, I could make the time to do it. Gossiping? I get home at 7pm, feed my child and breastfeed. I fold clothes and answer emails for major research projects, I take notes from books I’m reading. I wash dishes, pack lunch, write my diary and plan for my child’s future.

Obviously, he was joking and I knew that, but we not bredren, we doh lime and we wasn’t throwing block talk on no corner. Women are being tested when forced to confront sexism. Unapologetic feminists, like myself, are always being watched in these moments: Can we, above all, take a joke whatever its message? Do we quickly resort to anger, fulfilling nothing but the most predictable idea of who we are? Are we articulate enough to explain what our problem is, to not become emotional, to adopt a cool pose in the face of such violence?

This student’s comment was not only his small way of rebalancing the scales between us, it was also a moment to test my truth in the face of a male privilege he could draw on without trying. In the time I’ve been teaching, I’ve come to learn that students will tell you the most unexpectedly sexist or homophobic things, things that make you wonder if you’ve been in the same course with them, even at the end of twelve weeks in a gender studies class. That’s not ideal, but it’s life. Learning is a process, consciousness-raising takes time, everyone is walking their own path, and each of us has to choose our solidarities for ourselves. I just took a breath and let it slide.

This second year, Jamaican student was bright, critically-minded and I liked him. Like many of the men I teach in Gender Studies, especially in Men and Masculinities classes, he’s working through discomfort with the material and with me, a woman, as his teacher. Some students prefer that men less qualified than me teach what I do. I’m guessing because they think men will be less biased, which is based on the assumption that women are completely biased when it comes to men and not vice versa as well as the idea that women best understand women, but men can understand everybody. It’s also based on the fact that men are seen as being authority figures in a way women are not, even if they know less about a field of study. Go figure.

Still, I’ve had male students come back years later and say that, though they were uncomfortable with feminist critiques of patriarchy in class, later on when starting their football group they refused to agree to female cheerleaders. Either women were equal sports-players or they weren’t, but they were not going to support the men from the side. And, usually, by the end of a course students have a more nuanced understanding of how ideas about women and men work unnoticeably, and they are questioning assumptions they came in with about the course material, about feminism, about gender,and about me.

Yet, there are always surprises. This young man’s comment was one. Another student waiting to speak to me was so offended, she insisted he apologise. I watched the scene between them play out and listened to his apology, delivered with a laugh like he was still joking. Why don’t you go over to the male Head of the Math Department, I suggested, and make the same joke with him and come back and tell me if he finds it funny. He said he had made a joke with a male lecturer before about all the time he spent in the gym. Well, that’s not what he said to me. He said I was home ‘gossiping’. This was something he would never dream of saying to a male lecturer as a joke. He’d know it wouldn’t be considered funny, it would be risky, and it would seem like disrespect. He acknowledged this as we stood there. So, why feel he could do it with me?

There’s an important lesson here for all the women struggling to advance in education and employment. It doesn’t matter how much schooling you have. It doesn’t matter how much institutional power you bring. It doesn’t matter what kind of position of power you occupy. We live in a patriarchal world where students such as this one can draw on the rich historical authority of stereotypes and prejudices to trivialise and belittle you, simply because you are not a man. We live in a world where women face comments and views men never will, on the streets, in our homes, at our jobs despite our education, job titles or institutional position. There is nothing we can do to individually earn this respect, this freedom, which comes to men without them trying. It can only come from creating a world where those demeaning preconceptions are not available. Where they are available, they must carry no sense of right to define how women can be spoken to and spoken about.

There’s an important lesson here too for all those folks who think that women have won, that women and men are treated equally all the time everywhere, that women have everything they could want and that sexism is a thing of the past. It’s not. It’s present, it’s powerful, it comes in skin teeth and straight talk, it comes behind your back and to your face. As little difference as I clearly make in twelve weeks, my work in this world is to ensure that one day, for some young woman, mother or worker like me, it does not come at all.

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 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.

Post 47.

I’ve spent this Carnival home with Stone and Ziya, my first Carnival at home in many years. It’s been wonderful. I’ve been dog tired and jetlagged, life has been hectic and these last couple of days has given me time to rejuvinate and spend time with them both, without rushing. Today was one of those days I was glad to be home with the hours stretching ahead. Zi slept well, ate well and on time, played, coloured, walked, talked, read and breastfed, and I got a proper afternoon sleep, one of the rare luxuries of new working motherhood. The rest has been vital to me to as, following up on my last post, the Professor I just met gave me until Friday (!) to send him a publishable paper. Goddess alone knows how I am going to do that between Wednesday and Friday, but I’m going to try and I need the energy to do so. I’m heading back to work on Wednesday feeling calm and good, something I really needed. I don’t know how I’ll do successful working motherhood with another baby, but that is off the cards until after tenure, that’s for sure.

I’ve been thinking about Lynette’s words about wanting it all and, instead, having to come to terms with what is possible. It’s true, it’s like I want the career I would have had without being a mother. Yet, I’d like a family and I haven’t come to terms how the trade-offs work. I am also annoyed at the trade-offs and aware of how much work it takes to transform them. Take tenure for instance, the fact is that women who make a baby should be given a two year reprieve from being assessed for tenure. If I had had that, I wouldn’t be feeling the pressure I do to match up to expectations (my own and others) that really don’t reflect the reality of my situation. In some places, women do get a year, but the truth is that two is really more fair.

In the first trimester, I simply could not function as I used to. It wasn’t a choice. I was exhausted. Like valium-unable-to-keep-my-eyes-open exhausted. One time after needing to sleep for what seemed like three days straight, I asked my doctor for a ‘sick note’ I could take to work to justify my absence. I got that classic reply, ‘but you are not sick’ and was refused a note. How do other women cope? Apparently, they just do. I did too, but it was like there was no acknowledgment, in the public sphere of work, that a pregnant working body simply cannot function as a normative working body does. Yes, I wasn’t sick, but what was I to tell my boss? I was sleepy? No! I was pregnant, something that falls between ‘able to function at work like a machine’ and ‘sick’, something for which you could get no note, something you could only negotiate individually with your employer in the hope they understand, something you might not yourself anticipate or understand, but something that slows you down, makes you cut back and cuts down your time and capacity for balancing it all, including writing.

The thing about that first trimester is that you don’t look pregnant and you might not want to tell the world – or your office – yet. So, the escape of later semesters when you ‘look’ pregnant can’t be relied on. At that point, people can see a baby and their concern is fleshed out by that visibility. Unlike later months when you can get doctor’s leave – usually to protect the health of your baby, in your early days you appear like any other woman’s body and have no excuse. It’s like the time on a plane when a flight attendant asked a woman who wanted to change seats, ‘how pregnant are you?’, as she assessed the validity of her request. Sitting there, I thought, you are either pregnant or you are not. It’s funny how without the baby to visibly justify your condition, your needs become so less valid. Really, women should get the right to a set number of days of pregnancy leave throughout the nine months, including in the first three when it can be worse than later on.

My second and third trimesters were better and in the third especially I put in full long hectic, frenetic days. But then I felt my baby was past the vulnerabilities of the first trimester when no woman can simply push forward as she might otherwise without wondering if it will have any repurcussions for her body, womb or baby inside. I also had a super easy pregnancy where I could work without unrelenting exhaustion, pain, nausea or who knows what else other women go through. And, like me, those women have to somehow just manage and make it, often in conditions much less negotiable and more demanding than my own, in a body that is growing another human being, a body that cannot be compared to a male body or non-pregnant female body. It’s life and women everywhere get on and do it, but that doesn’t make it okay.

So, you’ve got this body that for nine months, in various ways, can’t be pushed as you normally would. Then, you’ve got the first year of the baby, perhaps exclusively breastfeeding every two hours or so night and day as I did, for the first six months. When was I supposed to be writing then? Women do it and it’s definitely possible, but should it be expected? And, I couldn’t even get my brain together when Zi was still waking up at 11pm and 2am and 5am as she did up until about November. I’ve gotten maybe ten full nights of sleep since she’s been born, most of them when I’ve gone away to a conference, somehow still returning tired at the end. I’m supposed to work, mind my baby, not sleep and write? This is why altering assessment for two years, and not just one, makes sense. It cuts women some slack, recognises the reality of their bodies and that of their babies, and simply acknowledges that, obviously, there is no other way to level the field. The only other option is to continually make women choose between their families and their livelihood or to make the standard higher than they can reach. I guess this is the place where I feel I am.

As I talk to more and more working mothers, I come to appreciate their choices and sacrificies, what they have chosen to let go of for their children or their sanity and the potential drag on their career they come to terms with. I now understand those women who come to conferences and don’t go to all the panels, because when else might they sleep, dance, write, take a walk or not have breakfast standing up at the kitchen counter. I understand more how women give up on being terrified about what it says in their assessment, because they have chosen not to work on weekends, that time the private sphere deserves for itself. I’ve just not quite understood as yet what all this means for me, amidst all the circumstances that are individually mine.

How to come to terms with the new you that can no longer do what the old you worked so long and hard to be able to do? How do you know what’s the right place to set the bar? What does it mean to not want it all? Knowing that I won’t be seen as ‘behind’ where I should be would really help. I’ve mentioned it to my union but, as with everything else for women, so much work remains to do.