Here is a sneak peek at the draft reader for the Parenting in/and/as Science Fiction session at the Allied Media Conference this week-end! Our session is at 4pm EST 🙂 – there we will deepen the content together and craft a reader for full release!
the snow is up to my knees in some places, on the way to the compost or to get more wood. i’m a little nervous in this mysterious snow after my christmas fall, but every day i gain confidence as i continue not to fall again. during these chores i have time to reflect on how awestruck i am by the endeavor of parenting.
the two parents i have been observing up close for the past five years, my sister and her husband, are remarkable and inspiring parents. i think this is because they are both excellent humans whom i love and look up to. tho i don’t assume that all good people make good parents, these two practice some magical, wonderful and pragmatic parenting.
since my sister was about five months pregnant with their latest miracle, i have been visiting once a month for an average of a week. i try to help with things like cooking, laundry, general cleaning. but mostly i play with the kids from the predawn hours til they go to sleep.
each time i visit, the parents give me another piece of experiential learning. this trip it was taking two of the babies to the pool by myself. it was a glorious success in that everyone survived and no one actually pooped in the actual pool. from the moment we arrived til the moment we left i was in an advanced mindfulness practice, simultaneously holding the little one close to me while encouraging her to kick and be fearless while not taking my eyes off the independent four and a half year old as he dominated the 3-foot deep section of water and corresponding poolside while not cramping his style as he made friends.
i ran into other parents and kids in the pool. there was a poopie swimsuit and a whole process of getting the little one out of it without making a bigger mess. i forgot to ask for towels so we all ended up drying off on my long johns. we were laughing most of the time.
the level of attention and creativity it took increased my respect for their parents, and all parents, once again.
this proximity to actual parenting has made me more aware of the best practices of the amazing parents i know. this includes my own parents, my friends who are new parents, gifted aunties and uncles who slip into parenting when it’s needed, and my friends who have been doing it on their own for years.
so much about what it means to be human, the grand philosophical question, shows up in the work of parenting. i am watching and doing and learning, and wanted to share some of the things i am becoming aware of, things that i’ve been learning from the parents in my life:
– ‘children are celestial beings’ (from a zen teacher named fish). they have their own sacred character, their own instincts. don’t pressure them into acting ‘normal’, as their divinity, their unique gifts to this time and place, are embedded in these instincts.
– our job is to encourage children in their critical thinking and creativity – not to control them. i have to continually notice and practice releasing my socialization to control anything other than their safety.
– for safety, it helps to develop a no nonsense tone of voice. and then use it sparingly, so it matters.
– we never need to hurt children, ever. especially not as a way to teach them right and wrong. this only teaches violence as a solution. the world has abundant pain, that will surely come for them and it will be important and educational – but it doesn’t need to come from the people they are dependent on. in fact, children are so sensitive and intuitive that we must be mindful not to unintentionally hurt them, given our own limitations of attention and time.
– my life is always improved if i can be present to the constant learning state they are in. it feels so enlightening to be this open to learning, instead of so deeply committed to knowing. i am beginning to suspect not knowing, with ample curiosity, is more fun.
– if babies are interested in something we are doing as adults, we can explain it to them, engage them in it. in this way we invite them into a world full of interesting tasks to do, lives of usefulness, as opposed to a world of shadows, mysteries, fears, and off-limits adult things.
– their health and quality of life depend on what we encourage them to love. it is possible to cultivate love for natural sugars from fruit, love for snacks like yogurt, bananas, raisins, almonds, salad. let the things they love to do include being physical to the utmost of their abilities. it’s up to us to notice if we are accidentally encouraging a sedentary life, or a dependence on unhealthy foods.
– and let them feel good and powerful and capable in their actual bodies, however they choose to express themselves, without a judgment or a narrative.
– while we cannot make the whole world radical for the children we love, we can absolutely have faith in their resilience. my sister recently reminded me that people have found ways to live their radical truths against all odds throughout time. the best we can do by the babies is embody our own wholeness and encourage that wholeness in them for the majority of their young lives, whenever they are with us. support them in their own becoming.
– the ideas that are normalized in this world – like white supremacy and racism, love equaling marriage, ableism, boys are aggressive and girls are princesses, money is your life’s purpose, crying is weak, and so on – with our babies we get to practice a world beyond all of that. we can start from the miraculous sameness of existence: we are all equal in that we are given one lifetime of unknown length to experiment and learn.
we can’t make our kids believe anything, evil or righteous, for this whole unknown lifetime length. we can’t, no matter how hard we try – and thank goodness. the best part of history is the generational rejection of parental ideas in order to elevate the human condition. we can’t give them content, but we can give them process. we can give children time to formulate their own beliefs. we can give them time to try it all on, and encourage them to feel for their own emergent normal.
this is how i ended up as a radical nomadic pansexual futurist doula. i was born to southern christian folk and raised in the u.s. military. but my parents were open to me finding my way, and remain so.
– i am pretty sure that some of the process things that help in that beyond world are being able to feel, defaulting to kindness, cultivating love, having curiosity, and leaning into change.
– if there is more than one child, if there are siblings or close baby friends growing up in community, teach them to be gentle and respectful of each other. they are each other’s primary practice ground of how to be good to others, how to love with accountability.
– it has impact when we let babies see how much we love the natural world. this place is our only home, and it is changing so fast. it can induce terror to love babies in this world with so much climate crisis to come. but that terror won’t help them – letting them touch the earth, know the flowers, love the garden and just be passionately dirty will hopefully create more humans who feel responsible for home.
– it is possible to share with children the ways we communicate with the divine without making it a tiny room with closed doors and windows.
– one of the great privileges of the world is time alone, to enjoy one’s own company. children need this too, however it is carved out.
– give them plenty of time outside of tv and video games to draw, create, build and play. cultivate their imaginations.
– and then when it really does reach that moment where tv/video is needed, because that time does come for non-saint parents, pay attention to what goes in as if it is your own words. sesame street, wildkratts, dino dan, super y – there are some fantastic pieces of children’s media out there.
– of course they are physically beautiful. don’t let that be the only noticing they get. value the amazing things about them which are not surface level.
– everything they do is ‘an act of love or a call for love’ – as much as you can, don’t respond with frustration or pushing the babies away. hear the emotion, give the love.
– partnership and community matter, from sleep to discipline to food to just giving the babies adequate attention. cultivate transparent, accountable partnership and community that will last at least something like 18 years.
i think that is everything for now…i plan to keep observing and noticing and being awed. but for now, just a standing blogovation for the parents in my life, a bow in honor, and thank you all for the ways you allow me to be useful in these processes.
The most important things in life are breathing, sleeping, eating, and letting go of what you don’t need.
It really works to use the right words for the situation. ‘Yes’ ‘down’ and ‘open’, for instance, are great words, chants, guides for a birth.
Love at first sight is possible, in context. When I first saw her, I saw my whole lineage in her strong body swimming through the tub towards her mama. I started crying because love opened me.
There are ways to be strong even when you can do nothing on your own, even when you need many hands to hold you. This child has dignity, as do her strong and vulnerable parents.
The most radical gift one human can offer another is encouragement to listen to themselves, their bodies, their own knowing.
The beauty of children encouraged to feel – it’s a perfect tender beauty. Watching my nephew and niece fiercely miss their mama as she attends to their new sister, and be able to say so, is emotionally thrilling.
Some feelings are so big they require me to go outside. I keep going to bring in more wood so I can smile in the snow and let my body move around all this massive love in my heart.
Anxiety is not useful in miracle work.
It takes about two hours to heat enough water on a stove to fill a birth tub and have it around 96°.
An apron with pockets is a great uniform for a birth.
Delegation, done well, is an act of kindness. People of all ages and abilities long to be useful.
Patience is a gorgeous feeling. To actually feel unrushed at a cellular level, not urgent in your soul, is healing.
There are so many things we don’t understand. Lately I’ve been worrying about mortality, beginning to feel rushed and anxious about my life and my philosophies. But the patience generated as the baby was coming was a balm. She didn’t know where she was coming to, but still it was time to move beyond the known world. It was an active patience, she was not pushed only, she was working too, finding the way.
I have to think on this more, this active patience, doing my work in abundant time, with a respect for ripeness.
For the moment I am inspired by remembering my central work is like hers, to breathe/meditate, to sleep/rest, to eat/nourish, and to let go/have faith.
Welcome to my new teacher, Mairead Irene Brown Conway.
they are all ours
don’t let the sickness infect you
that says these children matter
they are ours,
holding guns children
sweat on brow
death in their eyes
they are ours
freckles, hair flopping
running from the teacher’s son
death in their eyes
they come from our bodies
from our hard work
from our dreams
from our desires
and they need us to hold them close
so they can become themselves
they need us in the wilderness
however it appears
within and without
to be that greater love
to answer every question
to cover them with those kisses
that cause them to giggle
that let them know
from the cosmos
they found a place to belong
on this earth
in this time
in these hands
they are all ours
i cannot sleep, thinking of you.
i went and looked at all your pictures, videos, those beautiful faces, hearing your forming voices lifting all of your questions and demands, your expectations and futures bursting off the screen.
i have spent my life wondering about good and evil, heaven, hell, life on other planets, justice on this one. i have sought the cause, the root, the place to put blame. i have spent millions of hours developing theories about all of these things, and building my fury and grief, weeping and wanting to know what could make the world good enough for the possibility of you.
and then you came. from other wombs and other stories, but i knew you were also mine. i held you in my arms for the first time, felt your weight upon my chest, the shape of your whole fluttering life becoming solid in my hands. and i realized my ideas and theories would never come to life soon enough. to love a child is to know the limitations of time, and the horror of being in a particular moment of time, a hollowed out age where babies are collateral damage for borders and egos, among other things.
everyday the world reminds me that i cannot protect you. i don’t know if protecting children has been possible yet on this earth. i just believe that what we do, or allow to possibly be done, to our babies, in this world, at this time – that is the measure of our humanity.
it’s quite possible that this is the purpose of our evolution, to reach a point where we do nothing which takes away from childhood, that protecting childhood is how we grow healthy societies. that the safe unfolding of children into adults shapes every aspect of the worlds we build.
but now? even as a warning i can’t whisper the horrors of what we allow to happen to you. some of us, we do our best, but we are all traumatized, living in a competitive society where violence is normalized and vulnerability is shamed.
how many of us were taught how to live with a switch or belt on our backsides? what world does that create? the small violence opens the door, the gateway drug of violence as control and discipline, it is intoxicating.
and every hour there is more. it is a more thoroughly interconnected world – we cannot pretend we don’t know the violence, genocides, and injustices happening in our cities, in the country, around the world. we cannot even pretend we are not fascinated by, obsessed with, the violence. it is our news, our movies, our music, our video games, our foreign policy, our right, our sickness.
baby boy, baby girl, we who hold your future in our hands are woven into the fabric of violence which is suffocating our species.
so we must do the impossible, and liberate ourselves.
i won’t be defeated by the immensity of the task – my love is unconditional. especially when the conditions are violence, abuse, trauma and scarcity. that is the state in which i give you my heart. love is what i want to be best at.
i don’t want to use the words promise or try with you. i want to give you things that are solid, values that won’t falter under pressure, and a safety that you can create and hold for yourself.
i want to love you without error, i want nothing of my pain to be part of your life, only my devotion to you, my brilliant love. i want you feel and taste the freedom of safety. i don’t want you to worry, to feel scarcity, to live your life in a constant state of defense.
because i long for what you are and what you are becoming.
so – i turn away from anything that could hurt you.
i seek out violence in myself and attend to the wounds that cause it.
i generate compassion in myself, particularly with those who hurt or wrong me.
i turn away from those who live defensively, and turn towards those who let love guide them.
i learn new ways to handle conflict, no matter how much harder they are than giving into anger and fighting.
i conjure up change in myself, my greatest self, to be worthy of you being in my life.
you are recreating me. i love you and i am so grateful for you. i will give my all to make this a world worthy of the miracle of you.
they are all ours
that is, why we are here
to hold them close to our hearts
let them run fingers
over the tips of the wheat
lick sunlight from their palms
and find the place without nightmares
in our arms
they are all of them ours
our karma and creators
the only test
for our species
over and over given
the air, the food, the water,
their skin, their unique way
their smaller hearts
pounding inside our bodies from the moment
we are born
they are ours
they are all of them ours
they are all ours
i woke up this morning and was lost.
for the past 10 days i woke up in a room of windows that looked out on the woods, usually to the sound of my babies’ feet hitting the floor above me, or them bursting through the glass door separating my futon guest room from the kitchen, seconds before they jumped in the bed.
my sister is pregnant, and i am her doula. part of my commitment to her is visiting a week out of each month to support with kids/house/life – our sister april is supporting my travel, so it’s truly a sister-doula experience.
after the kids had me awake, we would have breakfast, and then spend the day looking at pictures of lava – nephew’s latest obsession (his first was the moon), drawing pictures of lava, going outside to play, learning together, processing boundaries, asking and answering questions, watching wildkratts and super why, posing for my camera, visiting their nona (my brother-in-law’s mom) who lives just through the woods, having bath time, reading stories and then i’d sing them to sleep.
when not with them, on the days they had school/daycare, i would write, cook, load up firewood for the fire, and, more often than not, find myself looking out the window and realizing i was missing the babies.
each time i visit them, my love for them deepens – deepens the space for love inside of me, makes me grow in order to be an adequate adult in their lives.
they are both so smart, so emotionally open and curious and testing everything…with the whole world before them. and they have so many adults around them who love them, the only privilege i have seen have universal positive impact in the world.
i thought my doula work, and even my auntie work, was about what i could do, be and give. but it’s also about what i need to learn right now, as a human – to listen, to feel, to be honest, to be gentle, to be radically committed to curiosity and seeking what is unknown.
when i am away from them, interacting again with adults and seeing where the lack of love leaves it’s ruts, patterns and wounds, it floods me with this level of compassion that feels like an awakening.
we were all of us children once. every single one of us. it’s so simple, but when i look at each person that way…it takes away my breath. it’s so beautiful to see people this way, as children, who sought love, who seek it still.
which makes me think of all these people who want to do right by their children, who want to leave their children something better than they had. this aspect of humanity that is about future generations – it feels so visceral to me right now.
as usual, on these first days after awesome baby immersion, i’m lit up and all the paths in my mind lead back to them. i am longing for them, with every known sense and some that feel new and unknown.
and what a blessing, what a gift – to love this much, to know such longing.
i am, and have always been, too smart for my own good.
i know this now, in a way i don’t think i have ever fully known before, because i am watching the too smartness of my niece and nephew in their growth. i have delighted in their intelligence, from the first brilliant responsive kicks in the womb, even their timing for showing up in our lives.
before they could speak i called them cellular geniuses for the speed, strength and flexibility of their lovely bodies. now they are speaking, setting boundaries, fleshing in their personalities, and my delight just grows and grows.
now, when either of them decides they want to do something, they are not interested in any adult redirection or trickery, nor are they at all concerned with arguing. they are not hemmed up by the potential worst-case-scenario impacts, they don’t care if people older than them insist they are embarking on a path of danger to themselves and others – they just want to do what they want to do.
they want to see for themselves.
and in that impulse, i recognize myself.
my child self, who was loved, and read to, and in talented and gifted programs, the me who thought i could outsmart everything from my military dad to discipline to spelling.
my young woman self who thought i could outsmart racism, sexual assault, rootlessness, or needing hairdressers.
its gotten more serious with my adult self, who has at various points been convinced i could outsmart fat phobia, my body altogether, addiction, depression, fidelity, heartbreak, politics, the federal tax system, hierarchy. even love. that somehow i could avoid and ignore the guidance and wisdom of my grandparents, my parents, other experienced people, loved ones, experts, advice columnists, therapists – errybody.
and by outsmart, i don’t mean that i thought i could skip these experiences. merely that i thought i could somehow do them differently, skip the painful bad parts and just experience the awesome parts that i wanted.
there is a brilliance to this – a vividness, an aliveness outside of any measurable intelligence. i live so thoroughly, learning this way. I fling myself into the world.
the way my nephew wants to jump off of high places, the way my niece throws herself off stairs and into streets, the way he drinks and spouts the dirty bath water, the way she puts everything in her mouth first.
now, older than these two beloveds of mine, i feel such compassion for them, such curiosity about what they are learning, and such a deep comprehensive desire for them to learn without hurting themselves in any way.
and then i am flooded with compassion for my parents, grandparents, aunts, ancestors, friends – everyone who has watched me run through this life, so painfully foolishly wonderfully smart.
i am flooded with gratitude for the care, for the warnings, for the hands that caught me when i fell down hard along my educational journeys, for the unconditionality of the love i got just because i was born to two people who loved each other and wanted to parent.
and for the friends who have loved me as i walked in the opposite direction of their guidance. all of these family and friends have loved me tirelessly, abundantly, tenderly.
and i have learned so very much in this short life, because of the paths i took, because of the crises i missed – not because of my intelligence, but in spite of it.
and i am like the child, even now. happiest when i am living at full speed in the direction of the unknown, the possible, surrounded by those who love me uttering soft warnings, reaching out hands that never let me crash, and looking at me with eyes that never seem to tire.
To Whom It May Concern,
I have been asked a lot in the past few years: so are you thinking of having kids? When are you gonna start your family? Don’t you know you’d be a good mother?
I’ve gone on a journey with my responses, from annoyance to compassion to clarity.
Annoyed at all the assumptions embedded in such a question about who I am and the life I want. This particularly annoyed me during the years where I was having dreams of being barren and wrestling with what that meant. It felt so personal, like some trying to throw themselves against the door of my heart and peek inside.
Compassion for myself and those who ask, because we have such longing for life…what is more basic as a sign of being alive than procreation? I contain the capacity for a miracle or 8 – why wouldn’t I want to experience this? Compassion for the root of the question.
And finally, a clarity: Right now, I know exactly why I don’t plan to have kids, and its personal and political and I’m ready to talk about it.
1) it’s very unlikely it will happen by accident, as most of the miracles around me seem to. I’m in a open/monogamous relationship with an incredible person who has promised she can’t knock me up. My Big Gay Theory is that it is an evolutionary leap for us to normalize gay relationships and commitments and parenting because it would so vastly increase the percentage of planned pregnancies, leading to more sustainable, intentional families. I know all the things I would like my partner and I to have in place before bringing a child into the world, and have no intention of being that together for at least another decade.
2) there are so – so so so so so – so many children out there not receiving adequate love right now. As I feel no ticking inside myself, I can give that love bomb energy to those who need it without adding to that number. My love is massive, trust.
3) for every child out there, there are parents who need support. Getting to support my sister and brother-in-law as they have brought my favorite people into the world has been humbling and wonderful. It takes so many people to give a child the love and attention zshe deserves, and right now our society in the U.S. isn’t really structured to encourage that thorough loving of our children, that communal responsibility to be there and share the holding of the child’s spiritual, emotional, educational and physical development. I want to be that kind of auntie in the lives of the children in my life – overwhelmingly, memorably present and encouraging of their true selves to burst forth.
4) I am so incredibly selfish, its incredible. I have learned this by watching friend and sister turn their lives over to children – their time, bodies, sleep, space, dreams, attention, and sometimes sanity. Mothers are saints, mothers are deeply selfless, mothers are divinity in practice. For those of you who think I’d make a good mother, thank you. I am sure I would have some awesome moments. But I place on a pedestal above all other radical commitments that of being a good mother. I accept and embrace my limits, my need for sleep and space. I will give all I can within that limit, to as many as I can.
If any of this changes, I’ll declare it just as loudly, I promise. Until then, please accept it as a decision, not a discussion.
The Naughty Aunty