My work right now is kids. It’s not writing. I squeeze in this writing in the small bits of time I have between diaper changes, making food, comforting, reading, setting up art projects, vacuuming, sweeping, persuading, dressing, changing, washing, pushing, coaching, teaching, comforting.
When I heard about the strike today, I was torn about what to do. Clearly the most visible way to strike would be to have my husband take off work and make the point that his presence requires my labor. But I want to save all my husband’s vacation time for trips both to see family, even just a day to pack up camping gear. These breaks soothe my frayed nerves and make my continued labor possible by keeping me sane. And he’s already taking so many days for all my daughter’s doctors and therapy when I need to focus on her and need him to help with the baby. So we just squeezed in an extra two hours off work. He wore red today, his female boss wasn’t there, and he came home early.
So here you go. I can write now. While taking care of the kids, I can’t write. I read about other mother writers who take notes in the car, write before or after bed, but I cannot squeeze in another “in between kids” thing. My head echos with crying–crying for food, comfort, nursing, sleep, diaper changes, sensory-induced panic and meltdowns. That and my daughter’s endless discussion of Mario video games, I topic I have entirely avoided for 30 years and which I now must find creative ways to love. I can barely form the sentences I need to plan a play date, plan dinner, respond to information about Mario, ask how my husband’s day was. All of which is part of my work, by labor, which I would withhold if I could strike. I can barely, and can’t really, do that work at all because if I do form those sentences usually half way through someone will start crying or yelling. And if they don’t they’ll be doing something cute, and I’ll interrupt myself to point that out and take a picture. Another form of labor–documenting, filing, organizing, commenting, sharing these moments in our kids lives because it’s so easy and so hard at the same time. Because other people want this and you’ll want this in the future.
During the day I barely have the concentration it takes to wash a dish. If I attempt to put away the dishes baby will climb in the dishwasher. If I attempt to sweep he likes to swish his feet in the dirt piles and chew on the dust pan. During the day I wince when I look around at all that needs to be done. My flinching is like the Pavlovian dog, with previous shocks teaching it not to try again. Do no try to put that towel away, walking out of the living room into the hallway will surely induce both kids to scream.
So this is my strike, to sit and write this all down. I am privileged to have fairly stable housing, food, healthcare, a fairly consistent income that just barely allows me to stay home. To have citizenship which means no one is trying to deport me. To be white which means my kids don’t get taken away when I try to homeschool. I am grateful for these privileges and I cannot imagine doing this with less. I try to be as active as I can–writing, calling representatives while bouncing the baby on one hip, signing and sharing petitions and articles, keeping up with the next horrifying piece of legislation or executive order that literally aims to kill the poor, Black Americans, and refugees. I try to do something for those parents who are doing all the childcare I describe here while also running away from war, from violence, from ICE. While also losing their housing, not being able to access health care, or being subject to domestic violence, or working two jobs just to be able to pay for housing and food.
I try to be there and be active for the people who are subject to so much political and capitalist violence, and my trying is limited to social media. I can’t write because creativity eludes me in the moments when other mothers write: when the baby has fallen asleep nursing. But my baby can never ever be set down without waking up. So I sit rocking and nursing for an undetermined about of time, which makes me too anxious to think about writing. Meanwhile I’ve just exhausted myself making sure my daughter has everything she needs before the baby falls asleep so I don’t have to get up to help her, which one way or another usually involves her screaming and wakes him up. I’ve just begged her to eat something healthy, to brush her teeth, to go to the bathroom, each of these simple functions a daily challenge (not to mention changing clothes, bathing, hair brushing and nails, which are simply not possible with only one parent around). I’ve tried to clean up so she’s comfortable where she sits, I’ve tried to spend some time talking with her about her thoughts on Mario games so that she doesn’t feel lonely and jealous watching me rock the baby endlessly. I do all this work sometimes from the moment I get up, in addition to typical baby work of dressing, feeding, cleaning, changing, reading, playing, carrying carrying carrying carrying.
Then he falls asleep, and I’m exhausted and feel disconnected from all other adults in the world. I also have no idea how long I will be able to sit and read or think. So I go on facebook, check email, sign petitions, read short articles. Because a long article, a book, or an attempt to write not only require more energy, but if I attempt these things and then one of the kids suddenly (so suddenly, with a scream) needs me, I get angry. I get mad at them, when they are doing nothing wrong. So I keep my expectations low and do all the things that people these days love to hate on–social media, petitions, brief headlining journalism. It’s fulfilling and soothing and somewhat empowering (I know social media very well by now), and a treadmill of constant crisis.
Of course, life under Trump is a constant crisis. And it requires vigilance and connection, both of which are possible via social media and via the communities that I have found online. Rather than an echo chamber of similarly-minded people, I have found myself and family and friends politicized and strengthened by our ability to share, comment, and discuss online. I believe this matters, and it’s an improvement on the isolation of my post-play-in-the-street and pre-social-media childhood. My friend the high school teacher found out about the strike on social media and will be teaching about it in class. My friend the Latin American Studies professor shared her teaching ideas and materials on social media. I’ve found inspiring art and interesting discussions of striking, working class history, race, and privilege. My homeschool group shared info about a protest, discussed and supported each other in attending, and shared pictures that make us all feel like we are there for one another, emotionally and politically. This work has value. And it is the work, right now, that I can fit in between childcare tasks.
But I am so strained by the constant shattering of my thoughts via both children crying and social media. Always something demands my attention. One of the kids needs me or the current headline, the current bill, the current leak, the current violence of ICE or another Black person shot, each of these demand my attention.
I am thirsty for long-form. The two kids sleeping habits in combination with my own, plus my goals and ambitions for weekend day trips, projects, cleaning, leave me nothing. Never one solid hour to write or read or simply think or walk on my own.
So my strike is to stop doing the work that fits in between, to have a man take on the childcare for a full hour or two, and to create what I want from the internet but so rarely find. Both in form–these long, somewhat rambling blog posts that I’m sure fit no one’s recommendation for the kind of blog that gets hits–and in topic: anti-racist, anti-childism, anti-ableism, socially and environmentally-aware discussion of the beauty and the rough side of parenting and homeschooling.