Dancing dads

nofairMy daughter is a performer and can’t get on stage enough. I have attended many a recital and seen more than a few ‘dancing dads’. Recital organizers will sometimes ask dancers’ dads if they want to learn an easy routine and perform it in the recital to add a bit of comedy. These acts are cute and show a dad’s involvement, cool. But, there’s always a but.

These dances operate with a man/woman binary, right away excluding families living outside of cis heteronormativity. It also sends the message that dads are the fun ones. Listen, I am totally fun. I am a fucking hoot. I get jealous that as a mom I don’t get to let loose. I am not allowed to be comfortable enough with my body to look foolish. I am expected to move gracefully and with ease. People would more likely evaluate the size of my belly before cheering me on. It is assumed that as a ‘good mother’ I am already involved, I don’t need any prodding. There is this assumption that when fathers parent it is a treat to be celebrated and rewarded. It is assumed that Dad will be goofy and mess it up, leaving a mess for Mom, which she will merrily clean up. This isn’t good messaging. Also, men dancing are supposed to be hilarious because dancing is girly and frivolous, that’s really not good messaging.

What if the dancing dads act is open to everyone? Would it be assumed to be a mom’s job? Would it add more labour for Mom and take away a socially acceptable way to join in for Dad? This issue is a symptom of gender binaries and patriarchal motherhood.

Back to how I am not allowed to be hilarious. You know, the real meat of this issue. Comedian Louis CK, an affluent white man, gets on stage, calls his kid a ‘cunt’, and is showered in approval and cash. If I did that I would not be a ‘good mother’. If I did that there would be a fucking petition going around and perhaps an awareness raising hashtag. I just want to swear and be asked to dance.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com

I can’t afford to be honest

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Truth is, I am actually Geena Davis, playing the role of Barbara Maitland.

There are aspects of my life that are considered to be morally wrong under dominant narratives. I am living off my student loans and am unmarried. I have an invisible disability and a past that many people seem to file under ‘white trash.’ My daughter has ADHD, but since there is such a crusade to discredit this diagnoses a lot of the time I hear whispers, if not to my face, comments about how I am a bad mother. There are things that I shouldn’t hide, and since I go back and forth between ‘playing the game’ and using my stories to bring light to social issues, I find that I sometimes police myself.

A big thing I go back and forth on is how upfront I am about the abuse I lived through with my daughter’s father. On one hand, I want to speak up because a huge reason domestic violence is so prevalent is because people are forced to stay silent. I am in a position now where I am safe to speak about it. I am white and in university so people seem to listen to me more now than when I was Oshawa ‘white trash.’* I am aware that my privileges afford me credibility, as sickeningly problematic as that is. I am also in a position where I feel I am able to discuss this abuse with an articulation I previously did not have as I was still on the mend emotionally. My support system is also stronger these days. On the other hand, things are not finalized legally and the stronger a hold my ex has on my family, the more danger this imposes.

Everything is a different kind of risk when a little one is involved, where do I draw the line between what is right and what is dangerous to her? When she is late for school because of my own illness, I don’t feel comfortable disclosing this reason with the office while getting a late slip. If I am mentally ‘unwell’ how can I possibly parent? This is the same reason why I referred to the food bank as the ‘free store’ while using it. I was terrified that if her school found out we were using a food bank, or if her dad found out, children’s aid would be called. That is wrong, and ridiculous, but it is true. In an article I have cited before, ‘Free-Range Parenting is a Privilege for the White and Affluent‘ writer and mother Stephanie Land says, “I am white, but because I am poor, the thought of police entering my life for any reason makes me fearful.” This quote speaks to me. I have been failed by police and children’s aid so often in the past, and though things have been easier lately in this regard, it is because of the effort I put into performing middle class in certain situations. For example, we’re white, so ill fitting clothing is alternative and eccentric, not necessarily poor – again, so fucked up and indisputably racist. It is all about survival.

My daughter is eight now and we haven’t used the food bank in a couple of years. We are more comfortable now in a as-long-as-nothing-goes-wrong kind of way; and in a, let’s face it, while I am living primarily off student loans and grants kind of way. I have since told her what it is and I get sad I ever called it a store in the first place. Having had to use the food bank ourselves, she understands poverty and the need to engage in fighting against it for others. She is good about donating what we don’t use or need. This all sounds really nice on paper, and we could be Liberal poster children, but in life, this is frowned upon. Poverty is still equated to deviance. And though I can try to perform ‘appropriately’ when forced to, there are still times when she will talk in public about how daddy’s roommate stole bedding from a hotel. And though I am not ‘daddy’s roommate’ I am still the woman who had a child with a guy whose roommate will do that kind of thing, and mother blaming is a national pastime.

I police myself, and I hate it. I regret doing so at times and I regret when I don’t at others.

I am sure I have fucked up and will continue to do so. So will all of you in life, but I, for whatever reason, have dedicated a blog to my art of mothering fuck ups so it is all very public. It looks like I’m not all that good at policing myself as I hit ‘Publish’ after every confession.

*I do not use white trash as an insult but am using the term as I was called this so many times from co-workers, community members, and various authority figures in order to dismiss my experiences of violence.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com

 

What am I doing with my life?

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Image from Tattered Cover Book Store

A lot of people use the New Year as a reason to evaluate their lives. We look at the things we would like to change, the successes we have had, and where we would like to be. I live in a constant state of incompleteness; I convince myself that everything will come together after I lose ten pounds, write the perfect article, ace my next assignment, and have sparkling floors. In my mind, as soon as I get my shit together, I can start going out without having to worry about whether or not people actually enjoy my company. It will all be OK, once I finish this one last thing. I worry about a lot of things, but my mothering isn’t one of them. Of course I think about my role as Mother. I have made mistakes, and there are certain values I try to instill in my daughter. I evaluate but do not worry, I am really comfortable being my daughter’s mother, so comfortable I forget how much of a job it is.

I am a mature student, and like many post-secondary students I am often asked what I am doing with my life. The work that a university degree involves is ignored as is the fact that it is helping me as a writer, helping me heal from past trauma, and teaching me how to help others do the same. I am learning more about what is, and is not, important to me. I am succeeding in school and this has done wonders for my self esteem, as a kid I was told I should be held back, and in high school I was told that people “like [me]” do not graduate. I never had high standards for myself, and now I have a system where I do and am accountable to maintain them. Universities are indisputably problematic, they are unaffordable for most and products of neoliberalism. But, this is what I am good at and I think this degree is a tool I personally need in order to help others, this is my currency to use as nepotism and family money is for others.

“So, what have you been doing?”

“I’m a published writer, am invited to speak at academic conferences, and am organizing and volunteering all over the place. I am getting top marks in my school and my child is happy and active! I am really busy but also very happy!”

“When are you going to do something. The neighbour girl married a rich guy so we are going to attend five parties in her honour and buy her various objects made of crystal.”

Why didn’t I get this education earlier? Well, in addition to dealing with the fallout of a tumultuous childhood and teen years, my twenties were spent escaping not only an abusive relationship but the shadow it cast. These experiences are what they are and they have shaped the path I am now on. I am finally comfortable and happy. Yes, I could have earned this degree in my 20s, but what many – including myself- tend to forget is I was working hard in raising an amazing child and am continuing to do so. Additionally, the reason I am doing so well is because of the time management motherhood forces and the drive to inspire my little one. It is discouraging how little this labour is valued, but again, it is what it is. I will use this blog to inspire different thought patterns from those that all-too commonly mother shame, and that is all I know to do for now.

I am happy and comfortable with where I am and how I am raising my daughter. Since working on my self-perception, and my degree, I have met inspiring women and femmes who make me set my goals higher. I am so grateful to have these friends in my daughter’s life. My kidlet is watching me grow and will learn from both my mistakes and triumphs. I am confident that wherever we end up, I will continue to do my best for us. If others can get on board, that would be ideal, if they can’t, that’s OK too.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com