TITS ‘N’ ALL

May 9, 2015

A Mother’s Day guest post by Kathy Witterick 

 

“People aren’t sentences. People are stories.” My partner David heard this at a conference and is pondering it, in a cross-eyed, exhausted kind of way, during our wee-hours catch-up—a rarely guaranteed ritual when all the kids are sleeping, the cat is fed, and tasks rendered urgent (through neglect) have miraculously been dispatched, ignored, delegated, or completely forgotten. Neither of us is socializing with friends, talking to family, or addicted to technology. We are together; a preciously infrequent moment lacking the usual interruptions.

Lately I’ve been sorting out what I feel about Mother’s Day, so my mind perks up when he says this. I actually open my eyes. Cock my head to one side. Hmmm.

Motherhood feels like a tangle in which I’ve become stuck (again), trying to find ways to engage in, and model, a celebration that holds wide-open space for diversity to take up presence and show its strength. It’s fuck-you beauty.

I’m brain-frozen by the culture’s roster of tokenistic occasions and the accepted directives on how to celebrate them with children. It feels like one big, unabashed propaganda campaign. Complete with shocking ads (is Home Depot compensated by anyone to socialize binary gender?). The landscape from where I sit is a burlesque of jolly mascots like the white guy in the red suit, or a fuzzy bunny hiding tantrum-inducing amounts of chocolate, I can’t even ever remember where!

In public workshops, David actually pulls on a clown suit, blares carnival music, and tosses about dollar store trinkets—little symbolic bits from the culture’s diorama, dangled and joked-at in the desperate hope that people will see what they represent. What we are teaching (or failing to really show) to young people.

The mainstream’s propaganda campaign depends on efficacious use of what I’ll call the peephole”—literally, the strategy of reducing what is seen and understood to a narrow and contrived fragment of human experience, consumed by viewers (us).

The peephole tries to define “normal” as cisgendered. Monogamous. Traditional. Heteronormative. White. Consumerist. Patriarchal. A certain shape, size, and ability. A certain religious practice.

It’s so monolithic that David can pick up ten “toys” in a dollar store with his eyes closed. He can put them on the counter with two gift bags—a pink and a blue. The clerk will sort every object—some for the “boy” and some for the “girl.” Nothing need be said. The same objects can be dumped out and re-sorted in different contexts, always with terrifying “accuracy.” That is the peephole. One story. Or one alongside it’s “opposite”—the contrast used to make boundaries razor-stark.

My first strategy: fray up the edges so we can see the peephole. Like spy movie aficionados, my family searches for what is doctored, false, misleading, or missing. At a dollar store, connections to far-flung places can be uncovered, questions about poverty, labour justice, gender stereotyping, and racism can be explored. The space can be redefined by learning the names of the employees (and/or the shoppers), or by bearing witness to the people who made what is sold. Later, we can choose a KIVA project  to invest a little into living alternatives to dangerous, foreign-owned factories in countries the world-over.

Even crossing the street can be practice. Recently, my children and I nearly got creamed making our way across on a green light. A week later, my five-year-old and I walked smack into the conviction of a child-rearing expert (nearly as dangerous as the fast car) who was certain that crossing on red (with a child!) was criminal. One moment before, my kid asked, “Mom, can we cross?” Me: “what do you think?” Him: “I looked and it looks safe to me. No cars. No bikes.” Me: “Okay.” I feel confident in the face of the spittle flying from the offended citizen. I’m glad my kids don’t live asleep and take the red light at face value. What they need to be safe is to look for themselves, not practice blind obedience to red, yellow, and green prompts. The traffic signal conveys important information, but it may not be all the information.

Back to Mother’s Day. I consider my options to expose the peephole. I’m inspired by FEMEN—women who reclaim what belongs to them, ripping it, tits and all, from the patriarchy’s valiant (or violent) control over women’s naked bodies. I lack their courage, and the creativity to find a slogan that fits on my belly without folding into an unintended message. I laugh at possibilities and consider what a great language activity it would make for my unschooled kids. I wonder what impact my “Mother’s Day Demonstration” would have on planned mom-to-mom play dates (naked painted woman with vegan muffins strikes an amusing mental picture), or how it might be received at the neighbourhood garage sale where my kids are running a lemonade stand this weekend.

My second strategy—active diversification of what can be seen through the peephole. After seeing the movie Songs for Alexis, my kids and I watched every online music video of Ryan Cassata’s. Jazz was intrigued. “Who is that?” she kept asking. “Ryan Cassata” I kept saying. “Still?” she asked. “Yup” was the reply. “Wow. That Ryan Cassata looks different than the one before.” Yes, change is a beautiful and difficult true part of life. It is your right. You can choose your haircut, your clothes, and your identity. And you can keep evolving, changing, becoming, and choosing.

Adding back the diversity missing from the mainstream din feels scary. It’s like trying to imagine the edges of infinity and embracing the almost impossible mission of bringing to life for my children experiences beyond the limits of my own knowing.

I try to do it anyway (if David can don a clown suit and dance around, surely modesty shouldn’t stand in my way). But what exactly does a queered, fat-positive, anti-racist, sex-affirming, feminist, freedom-supporting, oppression-acknowledging Mother’s Day celebration look like? How can I celebrate the gifts (both those that resonate with the mainstream and those that don’t) of my own mothering, while offering resistance to the privileges conferred to me, or the ways in which other narratives are crowded out? My feminism gets agitated. I have a nagging suspicion that “mother” is a gendered social designation—a brilliant propaganda experiment to socialize cisgendered, monogamous relationships, and traditional, heteronormative families.

Hmmm. Not a sentence, but a story.

All “mothering” deserves recognition as important, radical, and undervalued—migrant mothers exploited in the Live-In Caregiver Program, pregnant trans men, lone mothers, mothers-in-law, adoptive mothers, missing mothers, mothers of colour, chosen mothers, mothers in prison, not-anymore-mothers now identifying as fathers, mothers who are sex-workers, mother ancestors, atheist mothers, mothers with addictions, young mothers, mothering in families that thrive without child-raisers that identify as mothers, differently abled mothers, mothers without custody of children, mothers who are poor, trans mothers, aboriginal mothers, surrogate mothers, mothers who’ve lost children, and others who I haven’t included here, or haven’t yet met or seen.

I could just smile at the flowers offered to me with love on Sunday. My strategies are often described as “raining on my kids’ parade,” or “making too much work for myself.” I do long for joyful, values-connected, and creative options. The ones sketched late at night with my awe-inspiring co-parent; or with two sisters more special than any person could ask for (while the kids vie for their attention, tugging on their sleeves); or in beautiful blurry-smudged, chalk-pastel moments with my dearest friends; or in profound text-exchanges with my mentors, in particular the irreplaceable Sparkle Chris.

But David is the one who will help me find a way, this time. In the quiet light of the moon, he rolls over. “People aren’t sentences. They aren’t a story. They’re their own stories.” Yes. Yes! Their own infinite stories.

Here’s what I’ll do:

 

  • Promote Demeter Press, recently informed by a grant-provider that a mandate of motherhood scholarship and publishing (including events, community building, awareness raising, conferences, etc.) is a liability—mothering is apparently not a broad and significant enough topic to warrant continued funding. They’re making up the shortfall on www.indiegogo.com under a campaign called Motherhood is Not a Liability.
  • Participate in Ontario Campaign 2000 and ISAC’s campaign to collect Mother’s Day wishes for the government. Make a wish online that will improve the lives of mothers and their children. My wish: stop the collection of sex marker information from infants and remove it from legal documents—these practices violate human rights and build barriers to holding the strengths of diverse gender identities and expressions in society.
  • Send beautiful online (more tree-friendly) cards from mamasday.org, because trans, masculine-of-centre, and gender non-conforming people are moms too!
  • Love my own mothers, the mothers who are my inspiration, and the people who helped make (and keep) me a mother—I hope they know my gratitude to them.  Thank you. Mothering is a love-made revolution.
  • Celebrate and foster peace on Mother’s Day in the way originally imagined by Anna Jarvis, who appealed to women globally to unite in actions for world peace.

ABOUT

Kathy Witterick is a rebel parent, unschooler, youth advocate, writer, and violence prevention consultant, doing work as a facilitator in the Education and Training Department at the 519 Church Street Community Centre in Toronto. Kathy’s past includes facilitating social justice based arts expression with youth and over two decades of anti-oppression facilitation and activism to support people of all ages rethinking their paradigms. Kathy’s current work fosters transformative discussion about gender and sexual diversity.  They have also coordinated local and national training initiatives for not-for-profit organizations.  Kathy’s most recent published work is in Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender Fluid Parenting Practices. Kathy lives in Toronto but hatches new projects at a community-built straw bale cabin near Parry Sound.

Image: Flickr 

Tits ‘n’ All was originally published on Rebel Parents, Mother’s Day 2014. 

 

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