To the few gentle blog readers,
It’s been such a long time since I’ve written. I have to admit that the last thing that I swore (SWORE) to you I would write was about bees. I was excited to explore it as a place of resistance and resilience at the end of the world. I imagined long stretches of me gazing at my bees at one of those old school typewriters (which I don’t own but was planning on buying for just such a moment), occasionally sighing longingly while they took cute little bee naps with their bee bums in the air in the multitude of flowers in my garden. Yet, here we are….
SPOILER ALERT: Climate change killed my bees. I know, it’s a terrible ending. It’s not GoT last season's horrible ending or Joss Whedon’s sexist, racist behavior but it was still, as is the way of bees, decisively horrible. When orange skies blanketed the west coast for weeks on end, my bees found refuge in their homes. One of the first things we learn as beekeepers is that we smoke bees to make them think that there is a fire nearby and that they need to stay home to protect their queen. This allows us as beekeepers to check up on the hive or extract honey or honeycomb without a swarm of them attacking us. Now imagine if that fire and smoke lasted for weeks and the hunger that must have ensued. Bees, unlike the majority of their human counterparts, believe in the union and union democracy. They decided the leader, the Queen Bee, should pay that they were starving and so they killed her. When I next checked my former health colony, they had already regicided their queen and had created the spawning cells for a new queen. I urgently ordered a queen who arrived a week later. Her attendants and my formerly healthy colony was not strong enough to support her emergence. I watched my colony slowly die as they had no queen who could provide what they needed in terms of direction, leadership, and smell. This, I was told by bee experts, is the reason why you always get two colonies…..
And so, instead of bee knowledge, secret propolis, and queen intrigue, I offer this piece born of my soul and here for your careful consideration. Drop a line in the comments if it resonates…...
I’ve been struggling a lot with motherhood during these hard times. I am a working mother in a pandemic whose work is climate change preparation. As a mother with anxiety, I often struggle with the ways in which I am not there for my children, the places I choose to prioritize, the places where I pour myself out so that I may fill up my cup. Even before the pandemic, we normalize the pedestaling of individual stories of motherhood while our corporate and government institutions routinely deny us our humanity. I am profoundly grateful for the ways in which intersectional feminism rooted in race, class, and gender rejects the super-hero mom dynamic and at the end of the day, it is still a difficult reality.
COVID19 has exacerbated the already straining work of motherhood. (See NY Times amazing series on Motherhood in Crisis if you’re confused as to what I mean). The statistics of motherhood and COVID19 are serious and should be alarming (there are many more but without putting additional labor on myself, I will only share that 32% of women say childcare was the reason for their unemployment). Democracy Now reports that women lost 5.5 million jobs in the first 10 months of COVID19, more than a million jobs than men lost, as women bear the primary responsibility for childcare and are working in the hardest hit sectors. This amounts to what researcher C. Nicole Mason, President and Chief Executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research refers to as a 'shecession'. These alarming statistics don't take into account interlocking issues such as class, gender identity, and race which are a lot harder to report on. This ‘motherhood in crisis’ lies on top of Gen Zers and Millennials documented fear of bringing children into a climate challenged world as well as current parent’s fear of how climate change will impact their children. Readers, it's a lot. So, what to do with all of this?
I never imagined working with or even having children. My own mother personified traditional motherhood - selflessness wrapped in a hard working immigrant shawl. Her softness was shared for moments after long hours on feet in shoes that weren’t expensive enough to mitigate back pain. She was incredibly busy supporting not just me and my brother but in supporting to plant the seeds of what is assumed to be the American Dream not for herself but for her family. My mother planted her seeds with careful fragile hope and watered it with the sweat from her brow. ‘Here’, she whispered to the rest of her family escaping a civil war, ‘here, we will plant seeds.’ I have the honor to be the only one between my brother and cousins that I’m close to without a doctorate of some kind.
I couldn’t imagine selfless motherhood with a strong vision of the future the way that my mother can and does embody it. I was still too caught up in the places of my identity that were seen and not seen, invisibilized and marginalized to ever think of bringing a whole new being into the world. I fell in love with the worlds of feminist icons like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Anzaldua before I ever imagined creating a type of world for myself where motherhood could be explored.
Motherhood when it approached me came in the form of my partner. He was and remains absolutely effortless with children. It’s the kind of effortlessness that happens when you're watching people who are truly great at their craft at connecting with youth. I would watch him play or teach youth and be amazed at the ease of it all.
For years into our relationship, we would check in tentatively. Conversations would go somewhat as follows:
Me (after watching him play with children): You make me want to have children.
Him (watching me watching him): Absolutely no pressure. If and when you're ready, I’m ready.
Me: Let’s talk about if I’m ready to have conversations about possibly having kids in a year.
Him: Sounds good.
Cycle, rinse, repeat. Until one day eight years into our relationship where I looked at him and thought, ‘I’m ready.’
What does this mean for preparing youth for climate change? How are we supposed to support our young people unless we are fully committed to supporting our children unless we fully consent to the what this moment will mean for them and for us as parents?
This, for me, is interesting to consider as I go into the 11th month of a pandemic. We now know that the stories of dolphins returning to the Venice Canal were greatly exaggerated. Despite record drops in airline travel, we are still reaching scary levels of emissions that will stay cause us to go over the climate cliff. Everything we have been told about individual impacts of curtailing climate change are a lie.
Shockingly (SHOCKINGLY) despite lower than ever individual actions on climate change, we are no closer to mitigating our way out of it. It’s almost as if as a collective society, we need to give up our individual notions of climate mitigation and harm reduction and start applying attention to those who are politically and institutionally responsible for climate change and take actions to address this reality. Like I said, shocking, right?
What does this have to do with motherhood? Well, gentle blog reader, I’m glad that you are committed to keep reading to find out. As a mama with high levels of anxiety, with a mother who was, to be quite frank, selfless and giving oftentimes at her own expense and where we are facing a future in which young people are increasingly isolated and hopeless, to have children or not is a political choice that can have real implications. (Side note: parenthood is ALWAYS a political choice which is why certain groups work so hard to deprive us of that choice).
And so, motherhood comes hard to me. How do I balance the actions that are needed to ensure we are prepared for climate change and the needs of my children? As a person of pragmatic anxiety at times, I know that this is impossible. There is no preparation for climate change, just as we can’t prepare our youth for racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Parents since time immemorial have faced this issue and still those ancestors planted seeds with the hope that their children or their children’s children might be better able to respond.
It may be naive of me but I see the long arc of justice that we are on. I see what my family and so many countless others have given to plant seeds of future growth. I recognize the multitude of -isms that my kids will face because of their ancestral background, who they chose to love, or presentations of gender. And the idea that they can also be facing the end of the world is devastating to me. The fact that they can witness it for their children or their children’s children is abhorrent.
So I work, push, give. I dive into climate change news that is devastating day after day to find out how to prepare. I over-numb to let go of that anxiety so that I can show up for my amazing children in a way that is joyful. I constantly stress about their futures even as I do my best to inject meaningful presence into their lives and teach them to do the same. (I recognize the impossibility of this as a parent with anxiety. I am grateful to Gloria Anzaldua’s work on nepantla and the borderlands space that taught me that our lives are always at a crossroads with different realities).
Even if climate change hadn’t been a major consideration, there probably would have been some anxiety in me. I will never fit into traditional Western conceptions of motherhood. I am a working mother. I am an organizer / activist mother. I am a mother who loves to disappear into other worlds to imagine the impossible. I am a mother who rejects colonial nuclear family dynamics. I am a mother who has a hard time breathing in nature and breathes deepest when on protests chanting with others. I am a mother who believes Angela Davis as she writes that we need to act as if we can radically reimagine the world and that we need to do it everyday. I am a mother who is trying desperately to believe that this belief will be enough for my children personally, enough for my organization professionally, and that I will be welcomed in the hallowed halls of my kin after my death ancestrally.
Sometimes grace is easiest to extend to others. So this blog post is to you mothers. Who struggle beautifully, who fail tragically, who get up the next morning and feed the babies. We may or may not have chosen this life but we are here. We are doing our best. We are doing our best. May our fruits live long after we do in worlds better than we can ever imagine.