Recently, I left a protest rally a little bit early, handing my sign to my new friend next to me, and saying goodbye to compatriots along the line. I gave a quick Spanish radio interview on my way to the parking lot, but cut it short, because I really had to leave.
I had promised my older son that, after a day of work and an evening of activism, I’d be home in time to read his Boxcar Children bedtime stories.
And I made it, just in time.
I’d never claim to be an expert on this whole “balance” thing. In fact, I tend to swing from one extreme to another.
When my oldest son was first born, I was still deeply immersed in the immigrant rights struggle, and I worked through my entire maternity leave and then spent much of the next months of his life in D.C. It wasn’t the kind of mother I wanted to be, so I quit.
And then, I retreated, into our private lives and my private concerns. And I felt better about how I was parenting, for a while, but, really, that wasn’t the kind of mother I wanted to be, either–so focused on my child and his needs that I gave him, and others, the message that he was my only concern.
And, so, I’m trying.
I know now that I can’t possibly protect my kids from the outside world, and that trying to do so brings only alienation and anxiety. I see this in other parents who spend so much energy looking for the best schools (or preschools, or enrichment programs), in the hopes that this will be the difference for their kids. I talk with moms at the park who don’t know that we just had an election, but express so much fear about what their kids’ lives will look like as they grow. As stated eloquently in The Soul of a Citizen, the dream of a private sanctuary is an illusion, and I don’t pretend to search for one anymore.
So becoming a “public” mom makes me a less nervous one. Soul of a Citizen describes this phenomenon as, “if we focus solely on our own experiences, we will hear nothing but the echoes of our obsessions” (p. 148).
And I also think it makes my kids (okay, at least Sam) respect me more. My children, after all, deserve a complete person as a mom, which makes me think about the meaning of the word integrity, as having to do with the wholeness and interconnectedness of the world, and how essential it is to being human. That’s a lot of what compels me to action, really, this recognition that caring about social justice is just a core part of what and who I am. Soul of a Citizen says this, “It is the determination to protect our sense of who we are that leads us to risk criticism, alienation, and serious loss” (p. 23).
And, certainly, trying to be this kind of mom does carry risk (sometimes Sam is inconsolably upset when I leave, or I feel guilty when I’m on the phone or checking email instead of snuggled up reading on the couch) and it does involve loss (I wish my kids always ate home-cooked, organic foods instead of the chocolate pudding I let the babysitter give them!).
But it’s who I am, and, more importantly, it’s who I hope fervently my children will become, too.
And, so, maintaining ties to a community of activists, and commitments to causes that matter for our world, is also about giving my kids a place to go with their own worries–so that injustice doesn’t become something that we ignore, and so that my silence doesn’t send a message of complacency or acceptance, which would be confusing at best, and demoralizing at worst, to children who I hope will grow up outraged at what they see around them.
There are certainly many days when I fail, when I’m half an activist and half a mom, and feel like a failure at everything.
But, the morning after we finished the mystery of what happened to the stolen jewels in New York, when I showed Sam the pictures of the protest and explained what it was about, wasn’t one of them.