I saw this pamphlet, titled ‘LGB Parenting for Family and Friends: Queer Parenting Info’ and picked it up to share its resources. I will leave the comments on for this post, feel free to add your experiences with these places, or if there are some you know of that should be added xo
‘Children make the best theorists, since they have not yet been educated into accepting our routine social practices as ‘natural’, and so insist on posing to those practices the most embarrassingly general and fundamental questions, regarding them with a wondering estrangement which we adults have long forgotten. Since they do not yet grasp our social practices as inevitable, they do not see why we might not do things differently.’
Whenever I tried in childhood to compel folks around me to do things differently, to look at the world differently, using theory as intervention, as a way to challenge the status quo, I was punished. I remember trying to explain at a very young age to Mama why I thought it was highly inappropriate for Daddy, this man who hardly spoke to me, to have the right to discipline me, to punish me physically with whippings: her response was to suggest I was losing my mind and in need of more frequent punishment.
Imagine if you will this young black couple struggling first and foremost to realize the patriarchal norm (that is of the woman staying home, taking care of household and children while the man worked) even though such an arrangement meant that economically, they would always be living with less. Try to imagine what it must have been like for them, each of them working hard all day, struggling to maintain a family of seven children, then having to cope with one bright-eyed child relentlessly questioning, daring to challenge male authority, rebelling against the very patriarchal norm they were trying so hard to institutionalize.
It must have seemed to them that some monster had appeared in their midst in the shape and body of a child-a demonic little figure who threatened to subvert and undermine all that they were seeking to build. No wonder then that their response was to repress, contain, punish. No wonder that Mama would say to me, now and then, exasperated, frustrated: ‘I don’t know where I got you from, but I sure wish I could give you back.'”
My 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.
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.
It takes about two hours for me to get to school because Toronto’s public transit system is underfunded and embarrassing for a major city. It was nice to have my commute’s monotony broken by the mischievous smile of a six-year-old. He took a seat beside me at the back of the bus, while his mother sat down near the front, holding onto a stroller with another lil one resting inside. The mother and I exchanged smiles and I let her know it was OK for her son to sit with me. She looked as grateful for the break as I was for the entertainment. The kidlet and I told each other jokes and chatted about our lives, I told him about my daughter and he told me about how he was dressed like a Ninja Turtle. It was a lovely time save for the grown man sitting parallel to us. The adult kept passive aggressively mumbling for my little buddy to shut up. The first two times this GROWN ASS MAN did this, I ignored him. But his loud groans were becoming unbearable and I told him to calm the fuck down. My buddy was unfazed and continued merrily chatting with me until the bus reached his stop and he skipped off with his mother.
The adult then proclaimed loudly, gesturing with his arms all about, that kids “that age” should not be allowed out of the house. This grown up went as far as to say his mother should not leave the house either. I asked how they were expected to get food, go to the bank, and do all the things that a lot of us generally go outside for. He suggested that, “She should have thought of that.” I laughed, as people watched us, containing their own laughter, and shrugged. With a defiant face he told me that the only reason I seemed to love kids is that I have one. He looked really smug, like he unearthed a secret that I was a mother, and that it wasn’t obvious all along that he had been listening to the lil one chatting and me. I responded that I am a mother because I love kids. We got to our stop, I wished him better days, and we never saw each other again.
For some September marks returning to school, whether it is to post-secondary or elementary classrooms. This return may include gathering accommodation letters from school disability centers and organizing Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
When my eight-year-old daughter was diagnosed with ADHD the three most common comments I received were: “But she is so smart”, “Are you putting her on medication?” and “But she’s a girl.” The ladder is why I strongly suspect her school has been so reluctant to help with the diagnoses and IEP process. Instead most feedback from educators and some of her family has been that she ‘acts like a boy’ and that I ‘let her’ behave as such; I did paint her first room blue after all. This resistance can be attributed to what a Bitch article titled ‘Five Media Myths About ADHD’ refers to as “a combination of stigma and sexism.”
A huge support in our lives has been a family friend who has dealt with her own frustrations in getting diagnoses with ADHD as an adult. While diagnoses have risen in general in school aged children, and even more so for girls, it is still remaining almost completely not talked about in regards to adult women. Unless a person is behaving like how a hyperactive young boy would (like my daughter), they may be overlooked. And though many may be critical of the rise of diagnoses, and in turn drug prescriptions, and the potential harm in this relationship between capitalism and health writer Maria Yagoda writes in her The Atlantic article ‘ADHD is Different for Women’, “also harmful are the consequences of ADHD untreated.”
ADHD is known to become less intense post-puberty, for boys. In women and girls it can intensify after puberty. In many of these cases instead of hyperactivity symptoms involve forgetfulness and disorganization. Since these symptoms are less obvious than what we have been told are ADHD symptoms, undiagnosed women are left to remain confused, frustrated, and depressed; all because ADHD has up until recently been studied without women and girls in mind.
One night I went to check up on my sleeping five-year-old.Her bed was empty and her bedroom window was open. There was no screen to the window, just a child-sized entrance to our third floor balcony. I called out her name and no reply. I searched our small apartment and did not see or hear her anywhere. I expected that I would get emotional, that my ever-present anxiety would kick in and I would become a sobbing mess. Instead I thought to myself, oh so matter of factly, “She is missing and I need to call the police.” My heart did not race, instead it beat slowly and deliberately. My hands did not shake. Tears did not stream down my face and my mouth did not tighten. My mind remained clear, almost empty. I went into my room and reached under the side of my bed, where I keep my phone when I’m asleep, prepared to make ‘the call’. And there she was, curled up with a bed sheet, sleeping soundly.
I let out a breath, previously unaware of how long I had been holding it in. I gently woke her and guided her back to bed, locking her window and making a mental note to remind the landlord, yet again, about the screen. I tucked her in, she was already asleep by the time her blankets fell at her shoulders. I climbed into my own bed, getting under the blankets as my head settled heavily into my pillows, and cried.