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Is it getting old? My husband feels like some of the activism and fervor for “women” is diffuse, unfocused, maybe a little misplaced. I’m paraphrasing, and will come back and clarify if I misspoke. But I understand that position. American women, speaking generally, have so many freedoms, today. Opportunities their grandmothers would be dazzled by, and that women in many other parts of the world will not see in their lifetimes. Yes.
But one thing I’ve found to be a huge obstacle in my white, middle-class life as a mother is this: I have become the one in our family that engages in hours upon hours of unpaid work; work that is unseen, unmanaged, receives no raises or accolades, and is mostly solitary. I know I complain about it a lot, and am a real bitch for doing so, since it’s something I can “afford” to do—many women don’t have partners who make enough money for them to stay home and do unpaid work for the family (take care of children, make meals, etc.). Most of the poorest women in the world do heavy shares of unpaid work (taking care of children, the family, food, housework) WHILST returning to paid work. I’m lucky, and feel rich most of the time. But the fact that my work is difficult…and yet does not get the kind of honor, in our money/career-driven society, that paid work gets, has been hard for me to process.
I’m not sitting around wishing I could get medals for wiping butts and picking dirty clothes up off the floor. I’m not cleaning the fifth mess of the day off the kitchen floor with gritted teeth, so bitter that I can’t get a raise for this. I don’t walk into the tenth cloud of the day of baby whining, baby songs, baby questions, baby toys, and baby-throwing-a-crying-fit-in-the-middle-of-the road-while-cars-are-waiting-for-us-to-cross, jockeying inwardly for First Prize in Enduring Brain-Deadness. Nope. I’ve moved into what I truly believe is a healthy appreciation for the work I “get” to do. I’m finally mentally and physically healthy enough to find that the joy of being a mother is simply enveloping, simply transformative—thank God. Bye, PPD.
HOWSOMEVER. It is impossible for my husband to understand the work I do all day, since he hasn’t experienced it firsthand, and since I can’t explain why taking care of a baby/toddler should be so difficult that I just can’t get to the sixth kitchen floor mess, or clean the bathroom, or get to the dishes in the sink, there’s a lot he just can’t understand about my daily work. I’ve done a terrible job of trying to explain it to him. Not because he doesn’t care or want to know, but because I just find it hard to articulate why this job is so hard. And I’ve been unwell enough that we now have a track record of pretty awful fights originating with this very issue: Why is the house such a mess? What did I do all day???? Marriage 101: Fights with the purpose of showing that one’s work is more difficult than one’s spouse’s work are unproductive and there is no moral high ground to retreat to when things get loud. Make a note of that.
So a lot of the work I do at home every day continues to feel invisible to everyone in my life … but me. (And I suck enough at Peaceful Joyful Parenting that the idea of this being my & my daughter’s “secret life” doesn’t really do it for me, either.)
But when I come to today—International Women’s Day—and re-watch Hillary Clinton’s iconic “Women’s rights are human rights” speech, and remember that billions of other women are walking our common path, doing paid work for public view, and unpaid work that’s hidden deep in the underground of history, I can do my work with a sense of community and support. Even if I don’t participate in the strike. I can honor and advocate for societal changes that will support women and the work we do: like paid parental leave, which will benefit fathers too, who need it and often don’t get it. Like equal pay for equal work, and a recognition that mothers can and should contribute their skills and knowledge to the “workforce,” with more help from employers. Like childcare not COSTING A SHIT-TON and basically being unaffordable for most people. I could go on. These are causes I stand up for.
Today I’m working: I’ll be taking care of my daughter at home this afternoon. Probably doing some cool stuff like looking for our favorite snails under our favorite snail-hiding rocks. I’ll be working for a couple hours at my place of employment (notice how this phrase implies that anywhere I’m not being paid, I’m not working? Thanks ‘merica.), Care of the Earth Community Farm, which is owned and run by a woman and her husband, and is shaped and buoyed by her generous vision and principles—I’m inspired by her and her husband every day. I’ll also be doing some unpaid volunteer work for a nonprofit, Nourish Knoxville, that does excellent work and is steered by another hard-working and visionary woman. These women, and all women who do good work, I want to honor today…with my work.
And yes—it is the job of a feminist to honor women, and work for equal rights and opportunity, and it is also a job of feminism to recognize the value of ALL peoples’ work, including that of people of color, lgbtq people, fathers, indigenous people, veterans, etc. When there are days to honor the paid & unpaid work of another group, I want to hear about it, and participate. It’s not the job of feminists to ignore other groups who need recognition. I always feel like that goes without saying, but I think I’m wrong about that. There’s so much pushback that I’ve experienced, in the past couple of years, against “feminism” that I do see the need to be as clear as I possibly can about what I mean.
Go forth and strike; alternately, go forth and work. Either way, know that your work has iceberg-like value: only 10% is on top.
P.S.! A shout-out to the women who organized and continue to run the childcare programs at First Presbyterian Church and Washington Pike United Methodist—these programs run (so lovingly and well!) on a shoestring, and have impacted my life deeply. More generous women for which I am SO thankful.
Recovering from a “survival mode” period in life is something you want to be gentle about. I’m becoming more and more open about my experience of postpartum depression & anxiety, these days, in an effort to understand it more, myself, and I’m surprised to hear myself using phrases like “suicidal thoughts,” “panic attack,” “intrusive thoughts,” and so on. I can admit that I lied (without meaning to) on the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale (test they give you after you deliver, when your head is still spinning and nothing feels normal, and you’re supposed to indicate if you feel normal—obvs I have some thoughts on this test).
One of the things depressed people deal with is “lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy.” Asking a woman with a brand-new newborn if she’s interested in activities that she used to find fun, is strange to me. Like, no. Right? Or was I even more delusional than I thought? When you have a new baby—I guess especially your first—you’re suddenly in (allow me to borrow a concept from Netflix’s Stranger Things) “the upside down.” Yes, things around you look familiar… but they’re not familiar. Because everything in your head and body has made shifts that you don’t understand, but that make you feel like a strange version of yourself. I could write a few more paragraphs on these physical and hormonal changes alone. But since everything has changed, your perception has to change, and your focus, and your brain is struggling to find what’s familiar and de-code what’s unfamiliar.
After my husband’s partial week (now that I think about it, I’m not even sure it was a whole week—I think he was at home for some of that week but had to be working) at home with us, he went back to work and I was at home with the baby, feeling like the world had flipped. No I wasn’t interested in reading, or hiking, or writing, or sewing, or watching movies, or cooking or baking or calling friends up or putting real clothes on. But I thought that was “normal.” You hear this all the time about moms with babies: “He’s/She’s my whole world!” —followed by heart emojis. But I didn’t feel bonded with my baby—I just felt glued to her and urgently attentive to her helplessness, every cry felt like a dark and evil mystery to be solved. I also didn’t know that I didn’t feel bonded with her. I didn’t know what was normal, and what wasn’t. I even asked friends about some of these things, and they nodded, like it was normal. Of course I didn’t go into detail about some of the uglier feelings. Because I did have a deep fear that I was failing this enormous responsibility.
But life moved on, and I still never wanted to return to all these fun and creative pursuits I’d loved in my previous life. I thought it was sleep-deprivation, exhaustion (and there was that).
But there have been such beautiful moments of freedom and clarity, here in the last six months. I’ve pulled out of “the upside down” and am only having a few flashbacks, a few dreams about what life used to be like. To be honest, I wish it all could vanish. I don’t even want it all as writing material—I don’t want to have lived it, I don’t want to re-live it by writing about it. (But writing this blog wasn’t so bad.) Now, I can say with HUGE gratitude that my life is coming back together in ways I prayed for. I’m creating again, and exploring the city with Mary occasionally (instead of holing up in the house all day), and doing some yard-work and bird-watching. I’m planning gardens, and showing Mary all the bugs that live underneath rocks (she is blown away by snails and roly-polies especially).
Maybe these early mornings, still new to me, are the beginning of the end of the puzzle: sitting at the dining room table with candles burning while the sun comes up in front of me—this is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I loved this through college and afterward, through grad school and afterward. Mornings are sacred circles of holiness that I have always wanted to touch before entering the day. Two years of sleeping till the baby is up have been lame. But mornings are back. And I’m back. Here’s to surviving things you weren’t sure you could.
I’m up early again this morning, early enough to light candles on the table and have them glow richly against the walnut (veneering?) tabletop. And the horizon was a thin band of rose and pale blue, the rest of the sky was still dark. I’ve decided—once again—that as long as I can, I have to keep getting up this early.
I wanted to talk about how I’ve been inspired by American politics and this election particularly, to quit pretending I can’t influence the world around me. I’m at the most limited I’ve probably ever been—more than grad school or recovering from surgery, even. Having a kid and a husband with a chronic illness will do that (not to mention I’m still recovering from PPD/PPA). But I look around at things like the president, the conditions under which he was elected, the enormous protests and demonstrations that blew up after the election, the confusion and debasement of public discourse, the rising violence against people of color and immigrants, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report of the tripling of American hate groups, and I think, “I have to do something this time.”
So I’ve started volunteering an hour and a half a week, until I start back at work in April, at a local nonprofit that serves local farmers and connects people in our region with them: Nourish Knoxville. Small, diversified farmers (and small farmers MUST diversify to make it, these days) are vulnerable to the changing winds of public opinion, government protections (to a lesser extent), and most of all: climate change. I may not be able to make it to the Climate March on Washington this spring, but I’ll be doing what I can, where I am.
I’m also going to dedicate 2-4 evenings a month to volunteering as an adult literacy coach/tutor with another local org., Friends of Literacy. Another problem I see in the world around me is a lack of knowledge about how to read widely & critically, and research information to see that it is true—many simply don’t have the resources or time. Again, lack of resources and time that a sense of powerlessness can really aggravate. Immigrants and non-native English speakers are part of this population. But even among natives, a large percentage of Tennesseans haven’t finished high school, and another large percentage finished but life swept them off their feet and they never got a chance to develop their learning skills so that they could grow into adulthood with self-education along for the ride. I want to help. I think this is going to be fun. My older sister has been doing this for a while in Nashville, and I’ve been inspired by her to give it a try.
Lastly, I’ve swept Black Lives Matter and many conversations about race in America under the rug, these past few years. But now I’m inspired—again by the new administration—to listen. If there has ever been a time to choose to listen, it’s now. As a white, middle-class Southerner, my life is astonishingly separate from the lives and concerns of “the black/POC community” in my city. So much of the South is still segregated. I used to look at that fact and shrug, thinking, “nothing wrong with like communities sticking together.” But I’m seeing now that those with an amount of social and economic privilege are often the ones (if not always the ones) who should be listening first, and asking questions later. I’m aware, to some extent, of the lasting results of Jim Crow and the residual stereotypes and fears from the terrible centuries of slavery and abuse and repression and deprivation and denial. But as NPR & PRI ramp up their coverage, here in the last few years, of racial disparity in American, I’m learning more about the concrete actions that result from those residual stereotypes and fears.
I’m learning that discriminatory housing laws and rules about drawing local district lines (“redlining,” “blockbusting,” to name two such—google them!) are largely to blame for the segregation of neighborhoods and much of the poverty that’s characteristic of black communities. I’m learning that proven bias against young men of color has resulted in unfair police harassment and imprisonment, and that this fact has resulted, itself, in an enormous sense of powerlessness and anger in those communities. These are examples of “systemic bias/racism,” that have helped to deprive people of color of a sense of power and, in too many case, of justice. All of these things are important, if we want to be proud of our democracy.
The extent to which Knoxville is still so segregated makes this an opportunity for me to change my life a bit, since I don’t often rub shoulders with or speak to people of color, and especially since people must often live together (be neighbors) before they can get to know each other, and our neighborhoods are the most segregated of all our local arenas, I think. One of my bosses is from Mexico, and I’ve learned a lot about Knoxville’s hispanic immigrant population from him, but it’s my choice to go home and forget what I’ve learned…or go out and make new neighbors. I’ve occasionally heard Christians say that that they are praying that God would put needy people “in their lives” or “bring opportunities” to them—when Jesus didn’t wait for the marginalized to come to him (because they likely wouldn’t come—social class, social status, and religious mores are such strong social dividers): he went to find them.
These are causes that I find compelling in the Year of Trump. We can’t know what will happen as the year goes on, except that we will find people to help if we go looking for them. I haven’t often done that. I will, now. What has the election inspired you to do?
This morning I have 2.5 hours to drink coffee, write, and work on my quilt before I go to my volunteering gig at Nourish Knoxville. I’m at the “bar” in our odd and ancient kitchen, wondering why I want to be here even though it’s probably the ugliest room in the house. Answer? I’m always going to love the kitchen, no matter what, because it’s the heart of the house. And two east-facing windows with bushes underneath them that songbirds like to hang out in doesn’t hurt, either.
I’ve had something on my mind for a while. And it has to do with how polarized humans naturally become, and how to “make bridges instead of walls.” I’m socially and religiously progressive, and most of my larger community is conservative, but most of the that community is also open-hearted. This means that I feel loved by them, regardless of our views on theology or politics. So, that’s a nice rock to sit on for a few minutes. I’m grateful.
But enter facebook. One friend—who I haven’t caught up with in maybe 10 years, and lives way far away—recently linked a blog essay which I mentioned in an earlier post. It was “against” the Women’s Marches and what it called “modern feminists,” implying that feminists like to kill babies and hate men, and that it would be impossible to be both a Christian and a feminist. When I read stuff like this, I tend to dismiss it as trolling. But the Christianity element caught my attention, and has held it firmly, two weeks after. I’ve written a lot about how I see Christianity freeing and empowering women, and it’s kind of a pet issue of mine, so I couldn’t scroll past when that friend linked the blog and also asked (perhaps rhetorically, I can see in retrospect) for feedback from friends. The “I’d love to know what these people are thinking!”-type comment. I bit.
To be honest, it didn’t end well. I’ve studied feminism—working on both my BA and my MA in literature and writing—and I’ve grown up in the church…and am still in it. I’ve found a place where Christ and feminism are living in harmony. I have a lot to say, I realize that, and I tend to be earnest and prolix. But I was also careful to say what I meant, leave no room for misinterpretation, and be kind and gentle. This friend’s responses made it clear that my responses both stung, and were ultimately irrelevant: she didn’t believe I was Christian enough, that we had enough common ground, theologically, to find a meeting place. I’m extrapolating, because her responses were not as clear as I would have wished, but I think it’s a fair conclusion. I haven’t had a response in days, and probably won’t get another one.
When I told my husband I was engaging in this conversation online, he sighed. He doesn’t really believe these kinds of conversations can be productive. But I’m an idea woman. I love to debate and even though I can get emotionally involved, I love to get to the bottom of a disagreement. I’m unsatisfied if I can’t understand the central problem. I thought this conversation—since I know this friend to be a very kind and loving person—could be an opportunity to talk about religion and culture, and how we understand them to mesh and grow and so on. But I suspect she chose not to continue the conversation because she didn’t see the point—for many Christians, debates on theology, exegesis, or hermeneutics with someone they see as a “corrupted” by the world, or false teachings, are pure wastes of time. A door in the mind clicks shut, and I am on the inside, and you are on the outside.
I find this frustrating. To put it mildly. I find it hard to believe that God doesn’t like us to talk about these things—impossible, in fact. I find it impossible to believe that humans have received the strange gift of enormous and impossibly complex brains (terrifyingly complex, I say, after having read Vonnegut’s Galapagos–ha), but with the tacit injunction not to use them too much.
In fact, one of the strands of feminism is a recognition that world cultures most normally form a societal structure in which a few powerful people are allowed to do the thinking for the entire populace. Those few have historically been men, and again let me emphasize that there have always been few. In the instances when those men discourage women and less-powerful men (and children, for that matter) to think for themselves—this is the beginning of a problem. And this structure will be familiar to those who have grown up in the church, on one hand, because men are the overwhelming majority of those with religious power, but the underside of this problem is a more hidden one: who have been the translators of the Bible, the best-selling authors of books about Christian life, the blockbuster radio teachers and pamphlet writers and worship hymnwriters—i.e., who have been the ones who have written the implicit (or explicit) rules of daily thought and prayer and life for the vast majority of the church? Very few, and almost always men.
I don’t inherently mistrust men. Far from it. What I mistrust is “the few” being the teachers of “the many,” while they weave through their teachings this thread: “TRUST ME. I know what I’m talking about. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.”
Anyone who’s spent much time in the church, or studied it, recognizes this implicit statement. It’s not always a dangerous thing to say, I would like to emphasize! But sometimes, it has been, and sometimes it will still be. So many people throughout the centuries have been misled by leaders who said, “Trust me. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.” This is the hallmark of cults, and the thing that scares me most when I hear versions of it in sermons.
And it frustrates me when I hear it in the background of a friend’s response to my questions or comments. I do believe one of Christianity’s great gifts is the holiness of trust—but while I can trust God, I find in my complex brain a message from God, too: “Think about what others tell you. Think about what you believe.”
Today I’m finally back on my early-rising schedule, after having dropped it for almost two weeks while Mary and I recovered from a “flu-like illness.” As a side note, Knox County schools are closed for almost the entire week for illness. The teachers were getting too sick…and then the substitute teachers got sick. Ha. I feel a little ahead of the game, that we’re on the upswing already. I swear to god though, if we get sick again. *fist emoji*
Yesterday was really difficult. Two things made it better: I planted seeds, and I met up with a couple of friends for a weeknight spaghetti dinner, with all our kids. (Shout out to Brenna and Elizabeth for letting us crash your kids’ spaghetti date! I needed that.)
I’m going to start talking about plants and my garden. (You are warned; and I shall persist. Did Elizabeth Warren get Rule 19’d yesterday, too? Cause I’ll add that to the list of things that made it better, by virtue of the fact that McConnell’s words are now a feminist rallying cry.)
So I’m going to become an amateur herbalist. I’m all the time wanting to make herbal bath mixes and body-butters and such, and some of these things are expensive and a hassle to buy. For instance, I bought a big bag of calendula to use for my postpartum care kit, and it was great, but a few months after I bought it, tons of weevils hatched (?) in there! Ugh! So that went in the garbage, and I have been a little scared to replace it. Lavender flowers are *not* a dime-a-dozen, either, and neither really is anything else. So, I’ve planned a perennial herb garden for the space around our toolshed in the backyard. I’m growing rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, parsley, peppermint, chamomile (and raspberry leaf)—we eat/drink so many fresh and dried herbs, too, so here’s the beginning of trying to supply my own culinary herbs—and nettle, comfrey, yarrow, calendula, lavender, monarda, and and coneflowers. Ohmuhguh I get so excited thinking about this garden.
The main garden will have a block of perennial flowers in it: milkweed (if I can get any of these seeds to germinate), more yarrow and monarda, black-eyed susan, tithonia, more chamomile, and cosmos. I’m growing Long Island Cheese pumpkins, San Jose Mountain Club Squash (extremely rare, Care of the Earth Community Farm is crossing it with butternut squash to get the size smaller, so this will be an ongoing experiment), and Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck.
I’m getting crazy and growing corn—Tennessee Red Cob, a local heirloom dent/flint corn for which we East Tennesseans are justifiably proud, and Cherokee ‘White Eagle’ Blue corn, another extremely rare variety from Baker Creek Seeds that originated/was selected somewhere around here by the Cherokee. Both make marvelous cornmeal, and the blue corn is just a rare treat that I could go on about. I want to know more about our indigenous peoples and the food they cultivated. I’ll be hand-pollinating the blue corn. Beans: Tiger Eye, Cades Cove pinto, Lena Sisco’s Bird Egg beans, and Whippoorwhill peas.
Basil of course, tons of it, celery (wish me luck), and both Clemson spineless and Burghundy okra. TOMATOES: Principe Borghese (for drying), San Marzano and Opalka (for canning), Italian Heirloom and Speckled Roman (for canning and fresh eating), and Matt’s Wild cherry (for the joy).
If I can get extras from the farm, which I can, I’ll also be growing whatever else I feel like trying but certainly storage onions. Onions are one of the only things I have to buy from the store throughout the year (except in onion season). Pretty much everything else I can get in some quantity from the farm. We eat just SO MANY onions. Would love to have big bundles of these braided and hanging to cure in the basement.