Monday, November 25, 2013

What If The Kids Aren't Okay?

In her article "Identity Treason: Race, Disability, Queerness, and the Ethics of (Post)Identity Practices" Victoria Kannen asks, "What aspect of oneself or one’s identity is relevant for ethical attention and judgment? In what type of activities do people engage in order to form themselves, to moderate their presentation, to decipher what they ‘are’ in order to become recognisable?" (150).  

I've been thinking a lot about this very thing since last week, when I was interviewed about my experiences as a queer mommy blogger by a rad academic doing research in the area.  One of the biggest issues rumbling around in my mind since then has centred around a question I was asked about politics and queer blogging, and, in particular, what I thought about her observation that the vast majority of queer parent bloggers in Canada are markedly apolitical. (You know, except me and my let's hang out all the dirty laundry all the time-ness.  Winky, winky face).  I think this tends to be true. I have found it to be true in my life and also in the blog-o-sphere. There is, among us queer parents, a certain amount of what I like to call 'appealing to normalcy.'  A 'the-kids-are alright-ness'.  This isn't accidental, and this is, without a doubt, political.  I've said it once, I've said it twice, and I'll say it again. The queer parent position ain't easy. You get accused of appealing to normal on one side and accused of freakery on the other.  Untenable, friends. A tricky line to tow. I try, try, try to resist the 'appeal to normalcy' and still, it is ingrained in my mind and in my embodied ways of walking in the world. Those who critique queer parenting from within our own ranks sometimes insist that the very call to parenting is itself indicative of trying to tidy up, make palatable or 'straighten' (if you will) the promiscuous queer life.  And for some folks this may be present prior to parenting. But what I can speak to, from the side of being a parent who actively tries to resist keeping up with the straight world Jones',  is that there is a real and consistent pressure to be a 'good gay' when one is a parent.  To be over-the-top child centred, to be the best and most attentive parent, to be the strongest and most committed (monogamous and happily married parenting unit) to prove that we are good enough for the job and that 'the kids are okay.'  You know, in spite of our horrible, dirty, kinky, queerness. Which is, of course, the unspoken by always underlying issue. I feel it, I resist it, and I feel it some more.  It's a never-ending cycle of deep down shame and struggling to resist it.

But what does it mean if the kids aren't 'alright'? If the couple who parent is fractious, or, god FORBID, if the couple isn't actually a couple anymore? GASP! Divorced queer parents?    Or, like me, divorced queer parent attempting to date and do grad school and carve out a life for myself as well as for my kids?  Even if I wanted to pass, I fail, fail, fail at the game of normalcy and same-as-you-ness.  My life = societally speaking, not a good 'homelife'. Broken home. Queer home. Split-energies home. Broken. Queer. Split-energies. Guilt. Shame. Bad mother. Bad mother. BAD MOTHER! And so on and so forth...

I feel guilt and shame about my queer, divorced, grad-student, broke-ass parenting. I do. I'll just put that right out there. I feel it with the same stubborn tenacity as my insistence in my right to be a queer, divorced, grad-student, broke-assed parent, and to do so openly and in the face of those who would yell 'BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!'  

And sometimes, sometimes my children are great. Happy. Thriving and well-adjusted.  Other times, they just aren't.  Some of that may be my fault.  Maybe it's because they don't have 'a dad.' Maybe it's because they no longer live in the idealized loving two-parent home. Maybe, maybe, maybe.  We can maybe until the cows come home and that shit is all kinds of complex.  Maybe it's because sometimes, we aren't meant to be alright.  Sometimes, for kids as well as adults, shit just goes topsy-turvy. Sometimes, it's just fucking hard to be a kid. To be a grown-up. To be alive. The most likely answer is that sometimes, it's probably a combination of all of these things. 

Which brings me back to Kannen's question: "What aspect of oneself or one’s identity is relevant for ethical attention and judgment? In what type of activities do people engage in order to form themselves, to moderate their presentation, to decipher what they ‘are’ in order to become recognisable?" (150).  

The reality is this I am many things: a queer, crazy, fuck-up; a dancer, lover, femme; an academic, a thinker, nurturer, fighter; a person who struggles to find her way in the world and figure shit out and take care of her babies.  All of these things = a great fucking mother and a half-decent human being. 

Sometimes the kids aren't alright, and sometimes they are. 

But I'm not going to pretend to be more palatable to make anyone more comfortable - even if that someone is me.

Victoria Kannen (2008) Identity Treason: Race, Disability, Queerness, and the Ethics of (Post)Identity Practices, Culture, Theory and Critique, 49:2, 149-163, DOI: 10.1080/14735780802426643

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Called out on capitalism by a not-quite seven year old...

I hate to brag. But I'm going to anyways. You've been warned. My Boy-o, he sometimes blows my  mind with his ability to comprehend and question very complex social structures and situations. I guess it isn't really bragging.  He isn't an extension of me, and he's not cool because of me either.  He just came out that way.  I looked into his eyes on the day he was born and swore he looked older and wiser to me.  And I still think this might well be the case. Anyhoo...there is a story coming, I swear.

So, the kids and I have this little tradition of walking or biking to Timmy Ho's early Saturday mornings for breakfast-y goodness.  We go there because the small-fry like it, and because the three of us can have breakfast there for under $20, which we pretty much can't anywhere else on the planet.  (It's most certainly *not* because I love their coffee, which is god-awful, and what I consider to be "taking one for the team").  Anyhoo again (always digressing with the damn brackets, me...)

We are sitting with our doughnuts and breakfast sandwiches (doughnuts first, of course) and chit-chatting when we realize that the line-up has just gone berserk and is practically looped around the store out the door into the chilly early-morningness.  Boy-o says: "WOW! The people who work at Tim Horton's must be REALLY RICH!"

I laugh and explain that in fact, the people that work at Timmy's are not, in fact, rich.  I explain that in fact, like most front-line workers, the people who work at Timmy's are likely paid very poorly, while the people that OWN Timmy's make a great deal of money.  We chat about minimum wage in Alberta, and how it's really quite tough to get by on that kind of wage, even working full time (Yes - I do talk like this to my kids.  I get a lotta flak for it too.  But I figure that, within reason, they ought to know how the world around them works).  He seems to be taking this all in, pausing and nodding and reflecting.

And then, after sitting quietly for a moment, my not-quite-seven year old son says this:

"Soooooooo.... the people that work at Tim's don't make very much money.  Andddddd the people that own Timmy's make lots of money?"

I nod.

"Well Mama - then WHY do we eat here??"

Monday, November 4, 2013



There was a dark and twisty repost from The Belle Jar (if you don't read her blog, you should. You really, really should.  She is all kinds of brave and wonderful).

And I started the day with the kind of intense anxiety that makes me want to drop out of sight and out of the world, resulting in me skipping my writing group and attempting to work from home.

And there was the start of said work, note taking from amazing book by May Friedman on Mommyblogs and The Changing Face of Motherhood (2013, U of T Press - which is, friends, the shizzle of an academic book on mommy-bloggin'). Friedman's journey post-mothering, the one that took her into the world of mommy-blogs and blogging, is so incredibly resonant for me. She writes:

Yet the biggest shift in my sense of self came from my entrance into the hallowed realm of Motherhood, from the insistence by those around me that now I must be different and that my prior self was simply irrelevant. In those early days I lacked to the language to express my bewilderment at the stripping down of subjectivity that I was witnessing – by the baby, as I might have expected, but also by my friends, my own mother, and the world at large. 3
As a feminist academic I sought out feminist writing on motherhood so I could begin to understand the seismic shift that was occurring, and read work by Adrienne Rich (1976), Sara Ruddick (1980), and Naomi Wolf (2001). While much feminist writing had resonance, I found it did not yield the intimacy and dialogue that I craved. Even the best academic writing had a conclusion, which – in keeping with all expert literature on motherhood – was often presented a “right” way to mother. Now, in addition to being bewildered, I was also frustrated that I could not maintain my feminist idealism when it came down to the messy, real-life work of parenting. 3-4
And then, of finding the world of blogging, she explains: "I felt a kinship to this mother that I lacked in the embodied world of parents around me" (5).

Reading the above - just the very beginnings of Friedman's book - filled me with such feelings of familiarity and remembrances of my early parental discomfort, isolation, bewilderment. 

And all of these convergences this morning got me thinking about stuff.  Thinking about thinking.  Thinking about me, this blog, my dark-and-twistiness, my mom-ness.

This, for me, is a place where I could always go to share those less than savoury parts of myself: the sarcastic and caustic me, the anxious me, the me bewildered by motherhood, the messy me, the bad-mother me.  This space is so different than my public self.  My gracious self, my quick to smile and even quicker to please self. Palatable me. Deferent me. Sweet me. Good(ish) mother me.

Though I am often quick to believe criticisms of me as a person in the world, I have protected this blog with my mama-fierceness; the fiery place in me that flares out fearlessly to protect my littles but almost never shows itself in self-protection.  And yet criticisms about this space have been shut down staunchly and resolutely and without remorse.

This place has been unabashedly me since I had babies. It has helped me to negotiate being queer and being a mother and trying to find mutuality between those spaces, those two politics. Even when the world at large tells me daily that queers are not mothers and mothers are not queers. And though some queers would tell me that only sell-outs make babies.

This blog has seen me through a divorce. Countless days of anxiety so heavy that I was sure I would be crushed beneath the weight of it. The start of single-parenthood. Embarking on a Phd that I never quite believed I was smart enough for, and then chose to start anyways with several odds working against me.  Endings and beginnings, losses and gains, and loads upon loads of Great Unknowns. This place hasn't always made sense.  It hasn't always been pretty.  But it has always been profoundly full of the parts of me I'm not able (for a gazillion and one reasons) to show elsewhere. My dark and twisty bits. My inner ugly auto/biographer.

I don't have time to come back nearly as often as I'd like these days, though I still go to bed each night with words swimming through my head that I long to have time and energy to write down here.  I will again, someday.

Until then, it will keep coming in dribbles and drabbles, fits and starts.  It will keep being ugly. Dark and twisty. Sometimes even unpalatable.  (And what a relief it will be).

xo T