I’m not someone who ever dreamed of having a child. My daughter, now almost one year old, was a delightful surprise.
When my partner and I discovered I was pregnant, one of our many conversations amidst the flurry of panic and excitement was about our commitment to our art practices. No matter how hard it was, we would not stop being artists. One of our main priorities, in addition to the health and wellness of our child, would be to support each other in being able to have creative time.
We were determined to not to become parents whose lives only centered around their children, not as judgement against those people, but because we knew we wouldn’t be happy.
And I have to say, we did a pretty good job all things considered. He taught himself how to do VJing–live time video projection–and video projection mapping and performed several shows in 2014 at venues like the Trocadero and Underground Arts. I wrote and directed the first two episode of a high production value web series when our daughter was 6 months old, pumping on set and waking up three times a night after 15 hour days on set to breast feed. I also was on the screening committee and volunteered at the BlackStar Film Festival (where childcare for filmmakers and committee members was offered).
I was so worried that the lack of sleep, breastfeeding, enduring crying sessions and all the craziness that comes with living with an infant would be too hard for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were absolutely difficult moments. Surprisingly though, overall it wasn’t that bad.
What has been devastating and unexpectedly difficult, however, has been trying to stay connected with communities I used to share with non-parent friends.
I describe my cultural background as “kebab, grits and kale.” I am an Iranian-American, raised by hippies in the U.S. south. I grew up in communities–both amidst the (mostly white) hippies and the Persians–where intergenerational connections were strong. When someone threw a party, all the kids were thrown into one room and the older kids took care of the younger ones. If anyone got hurt, you went and got an adult.
I grew up with visions of adults who were whole people, fun and a little crazy. There was always space for children of all ages.
I guess I (wrongly) assumed that would be my experience as a parent in arts and activism circles here in Philadelphia as well.
After having a kid in 2014, my social options were suddenly minimal. I receive dozens of invitations from friends, well intentioned and in the spirit of inclusion, and over and over again have to ask them: is there childcare at this event? Is there a space set up for kids? It’s exhausting. And, depressing.
After a year it’s finally becoming clear what’s been so difficult about my first year of motherhood: segregation from my non-parent friends.
I no longer can go to workshops on filmmaking, discussions on cultural representation, literary salons and poetry readings, board game night at a friend’s–because there is no childcare or or space for children made.
I can’t pursue my interests and dreams of learning to DJ better, join a writing group, or tear up someone’s living room floor dancing–because there is no childcare or space for children made.
I can go to mommy groups and talk about breastfeeding, poop or how tired we all are. But that doesn’t feed me. I don’t feel whole or alive in those spaces. They are segregated spaces for parents only. My vision of the world and the communities I existed in have never been monolithic in any way.
When you don’t offer childcare or make space for children, you exclude people from your community and deny them their humanness. Same as when you don’t offer accessibility options at your events.
What you communicate by making these decisions is that parents and disabled people are not welcome in your community. It is particularly hurtful and problematic when that message comes from people who claim to be committed to social justice.
Before my daughter was born, I wasn’t great about inclusion myself. I admit. This isn’t finger pointing, but awareness raising.
My commitment in 2015 is to challenge every invitation I get with the question: will there be childcare or a space for kids to play/sleep? I encourage you to make yours to figure out a way to say yes.