Tag Archives: community

Going Public, and Being a “whole” mom

The reasons I go, and the reasons I come back

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.

In the process, I’m learning a lot about how maintaining an ethic of responsibility to the common good makes me a better mom, and how my perspective as a mother makes me a better activist, too.

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.

Viva la Commons?

One day last fall, I overheard my four-year-old lecturing another child on the idea of the public commons.

Kind of.

This other little boy tried to grab a truck away from Sam in the sandbox in our neighborhood park. “Mine!” he said.

Sam looked a little baffled, glanced briefly at me, and replied, “It’s not yours. And it’s not mine. It’s just…everyone’s.” (The trucks are mostly left there by families that use the park, although a few are purchased by the city for park use.)


I think that the little boy started crying, because he just wanted the truck, but maybe I’ll imagine a different ending to the story today, one that involves communal understandings of property, and shared stewardship, and exaltation of the “we” above the “I”.

One of the sites I’ve been spending some time on lately is On the Commons, described as “a citizens’ network that highlights the importance of the commons in our lives, and promotes innovative commons-based solutions to create a brighter future.”

What’s not to like?

There’s a lot of environmentally-related content, as you might imagine: our communal resources such as water, alternative energies, and green space. But there’s also material related to using wealth in ways that promote the common good, (three cheers for responsible tax policies!), discussions about the Internet as a public good rather than a corporate tool, and the forum organizing project, dedicated to talking together about our common spaces, physical and not, and how to not just preserve but enrich and enlarge them.

I think about the public commons a lot more since I had kids, and not just because we spend a lot of time in that sandbox.

It’s because our common resources, and, more importantly, the mentality to value and share them, are a big part of what we leave to our children, and far more secure than private inheritances we might hope to leave.

And I’m not sure what kind of public commons we’ll have left by the time they’re engaged in debates over how to protect them, or whether the concept will even have real meaning by then. Even today, there are parents who seem confused, on their first visit to the park, that someone has left toys there for the community to use. And others who avoid the public park altogether, because they don’t like the unpredictability that comes with sharing an unmediated public space.

But I believe very strongly in things public: public schools and public places and public utilities.

I believe in them not just for what they provide, but for how they change how we think, about who belongs within the “we”, and where the limits of our personal ownership are drawn.

And I want my kids to have those experiences, including the inevitable tussles when private desires clash with public good. I want them to be people comfortable with commons living, people who prefer public spaces.

And, so, I’ll be On the Commons quite a bit, alongside my fellow citizens, around the world, who believe in public, too.

Join us.