Saturday, March 13, 2010

Buying Time

From my Reading at Oakland's Rock Paper Scissors, March 11, 2010

It all started, much like most parents’ fears, at the onset of my oldest daughter’s puberty. Her hormones raged, mildly at first and then swelled into tsunami-like waves- ebbing and flowing like a madwoman, charging forward and then crawling away; ranting and then crying. Demanding milkshakes and turning away from my hugs. Her half-ass attempts at dressing for school turned into hours in the bathroom. Weekend mornings pleading for pancakes and cartoons were replaced with groggy breakfasts at noon… which were followed by extended naps behind closed doors. Then, came talk of boys- and then girls- and then boys again.

Throughout those oh-so-magical first years of puberty, a deep and desperate panic crept up from somewhere inside of me. As I caught our reflections passing by a window one morning, I realized that my sweet little girl, who once nestled herself to sleep in my arms and came running and sobbing with skinned knees and gravel-embedded palms is not a little girl anymore. At all. Instead of climbing on my shoulders to see through the crowds we sometimes find ourselves in, she stands nearly eye-to-eye with me, wearing my clothes and make-up. As a parent, I have accepted and even come to cherish the constant changes in my kids and the stages of development they weave in and out of. But I also more-recently realized, with much less confidence, that someday in the not so distant future, this little girl who is quickly becoming a woman is going to fall in love, have sex and quite likely going to have her heart-broken.

Now, upon this realization, all of my self-righteous ideas of raising strong, ass-kicking, take-no-shit, tough-as-nails, sexually-liberated feminist daughters immediately switched to fear and dissipated. I managed to keep my anxiety under-wraps for the most part and expressed it casually at first, with my sweaty palms shoved firmly into my pockets. I’d hint, nonchalantly, that “eh- boys, shmoyz: you’ve got the rest of your life to deal with them. They actually take a lot of time and patience to deal with. You should focus on your art and get your math grades up first. Spend more time with your friends instead of worrying about them.” Eventually, however, I found myself desperate with a sense of control that I had never imagined and began, with much neurosis and embarrassment, to offer my sweet teenage daughter, cold hard cash to avoid relationships all together.

First, I dished out an offer of $100 to not kiss a boy until she turned 16. Easy enough, I thought. I could buy her obedience, right? Super easy with teens, right? Next, I stepped it up a notch and offered her $300 if she waited until she was 18 and suggested an increase in funds if she could hold it together through the following years of college. My worst nightmare was for her to let the Twilight series inform her world and have her get all wrapped up in a co-dependent relationship with a whiny, starving emo vampire guy or some aggressive, angry werewolf guy (no matter how sweet his abs are). So I pushed the money her way. Her response, complete with the stereo-typical “are you fucking kidding me?” teenager facial expression only fueled my inner madness as she began making counter-offers, “well, if I do get a boyfriend and start kissing and stuff, then, like, I guess I’ll just give you some money, ok mom?”

I was screwed. I talked to friends and listened to advice, which made me feel mostly better. Then, I rehashed my own behavior during my teenage years, which really did nothing other than motivate me to find chastity belts and chains to lock her up with. Finally, after much obsessing, I understood that I had to let it go. More importantly, I realized that I couldn’t afford or justify forking out cash for something so ridiculous when what she really needs are braces and a new pair of shoes. But I did arrive at a place of really understanding my motives around this issue. Becoming this dreadful, overprotective mother would essentially rob my daughter from experiences she needs to have to become the amazing woman that I know she is. I’d be robbing her of all of the fun and magic and awkwardness of first kisses and late night phone calls and eventually giggly girl-talk over rug burns and tear-jerking, soul-shaking passion.

As I began to loosen my death grip on her, I also faced my own issues. What I was trying to do, mostly on a subconscious level but also because I am mildly nuts, was to buy my own way out of the hurt and abuse and soul-crushing heartache I had fallen victim to. As parents, we will quite often go to ridiculous lengths to protect our kids and I found that I was a willing and eager warrior set out to battle against some mythical future that I hadn’t even caught a glimpse of. I never want her to worry about whether or not she is good enough for some guy. I don’t want her second-guessing herself or believing that she should change to accommodate someone else’s media-influenced beauty standards. What I lost sight of in focusing in on the troubles I’ve seen, are the kisses that cause knees to shake and go limp, late night whispers, the adventurous thrills of vacation sex, Sunday afternoon rendezvous with secret lovers, and the empowerment that comes along with allowing pleasure and connection with people in our lives.

I know I can’t protect my girls from everything, despite a natural mama bear instinct that wells up inside at just the thought of them shedding even a single tear. What I can do- and should do, is continue to encourage and empower them by example. The best I can do is to be honest and available and show them that I am worthy of the love and passion that sometimes comes my way. This will hopefully pave the roads with confidence, regardless of which direction they take. I also know that I need to let them live their own lives while I balance between stepping back and opening my arms to them when they need to come crying, cracked hearts and bruised egos. And, just as a back-up plan I have stashed that $100 bill away in a Swiss bank account in case my new found humility ever takes a back seat.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Radical Parents LOVE Radical Allies!

From Rad Dad Zine #17
I had a lapse in judgment with the company I was keeping, in boyfriend form, about a year ago. One of many, a heated argument arose around the topic of politics and my often-radical parenting approach. The dispute arose when I mentioned tabling at an Anarchist Book Fair. I elaborated about my children’s participation and he about lost his shit.

“You know Anarchists? And you allow your kids around them?” He asked, wide eyed and stunned. “You don’t consider yourself to be one of those people, do you?”

Here we go again, I thought, attempting to keep my eyes from rolling back into their sockets.

This wasn’t the first, nor I am sure, will it be the last time that I felt the need to carefully and thoughtfully defend and explain myself and my parenting politics. The terms radical and anarchist tend to invoke unwavering disapproval and fear when coupled with the word parenting and somehow manage to ironically place those using the terms into an isolated box.

Anarchist parenting has received the worst of raps. Many an assumption is made about the parenting practice, most of which revolving around the idea that Anarchist parents refuse to discipline their children, leaving them free to wander the streets, armed to the teeth with Molotov cocktails and spray-paint cans. Parents can thank the negative stereotypes portrayed on the evening news when reports of violent protesters are used as scapegoats in order to deter viewers from the deeper issues that need attention.

For me, radical parenting consists of keeping an open and honest dialogue with my children in regards to the many often horrifying and seedy situations that my government enters into. This also means that I try to focus on alternatives to government involvement through community building and supplementing institutional education with stories of untold histories and unexplored lands. Without discovering and creating alternatives to the current institutions, history will in fact be doomed to repeat itself- and who doesn’t want more for their children than the flawed systems we’ve all had to work within?

Discipline is also a part of my parenting practice, though I tend to lean more toward boundary-setting, correcting behavior and the natural consequences philosophy. I absolutely demand respect as an elder, a provider and as a woman, which tends to create some interesting challenges with me, as a single mother of two little girls. No one ever said it would be easy raising radical feminist daughters in our patriarchal society and I have found that patience, consistence and flexibility are priceless attributes that have taken me nearly fifteen years to cultivate. I have been called on my shit by my girls more times than I care to admit and am constantly needing to remind myself that these girls are the newest generation of leaders and that I’ll be sent my karmic payment points in the near-distant future.

In addition to creating authority-questioning children that tend to assert their anti-authoritarian ideals at inopportune times like bedtime or in line at the post office, radical parents are often confronted with their fair shares of challenges. In a society full of nosy strangers just dying to gush out unsolicited advice and ask personal and intrusive questions like: “Is the father involved?” or “Don’t you think it is dangerous taking them to that rally?” parents of all walks of life can quite often feel under attack for choices made on children’s behalves. It is also a tough act to teach our children to be allies without being overbearing and controlling about behavior. It can be exhausting to constantly be “on” and continuously deconstructing the countless societal myths we, as a community, are up against. Myths about beauty standards, elections, gender roles, class and race struggles- it can all be overwhelming. This is where the importance of a radical community of allies- both parents and non-parents alike- is crucial.

Parenting can be isolating without these allies. Sometimes the unsupportive outside forces can be family members, boyfriends/girlfriends, co-workers or even friends. Oftentimes, the judgments do come from total strangers. Regardless, knowing that the community as a whole is there while tough times present themselves and through the many dilemmas we are faced with is the only way the radical parenting community- and its varied parenting practices- can thrive. None of us can do it alone, no matter how strong and innovative we think we may be. We also need to remember that radical parenting takes many forms- whether the practice is presented in a tie-dyed, unschooled, vegetarian package or with parents that speak open about sexuality and encourage children to do a history report on the prison industrial complex or Malcolm X instead of Unicef. Families that live outside of the mainstream boxes are confronted with enough shit without being judged by other radical parents. There is room for us all and with open minds and support, together we can change the world.