Today’s Mosaic of Motherhood offering comes from Erika Marksbury. I became acquainted with Erika through the cooperative blog project Practicing Families, which aims at helping parents incorporate spirituality into their family life. Erika is an editor for the blog and as a contributor I appreciate that she is consistently both good at her job and kind. But my appreciation for Erika, whom I consider a kindred spirit, started way before she was my kind editor. I’ll never forget the first blog I read by Erika about her living with and caring for her dementia suffering Grandmother. (Oh, just click and read it. It is so good).
Anyone who can be a pastor, mother, and care for their elder so graciously has my heart. But Erika knows that caring does not come cheap. There must be action involved. So enjoy today’s post from an Activist Momma. Because women are fierce. And our children and the world need our strength in action as much as our kindness.
Nearly twenty years ago, I sat on a blanket my professor had spread across her office floor, her baby grabbing on to my two index fingers, steadying herself as she tried to stand. It was my first year of college and my professor’s first at this small liberal-arts school. I could not have expected then that she would become my trusted mentor and close friend; in that moment, I was her nervous student and a convenient babysitter. But I knew I wanted to learn all I could from her, this woman whose passions for literature and life ran deep.
I remember asking her – from my spot on the worn, soft blanket – about her three kids. I didn’t know, at that point, if I’d have children later on, but I wondered aloud at how she balanced all that filled her time – writing and teaching and running and being a mother and friend and wife and activist. I’ll never forget what she told me about reconciling it all:
“I decided that raising good children was the most feminist thing I could do with my life.”
By “good,” of course, she didn’t mean children that used manners and obeyed rules (though that’s always a plus). She meant children who were aware and thoughtful; children who were not reared on ideologies of privilege and so, hopefully, might not pass them on. (Because by “feminist,” of course, she meant concerned for the rights and dignity of all people, especially those who have been marginalized.)
And now, as a mom of boys, those words ring in my ears.
I hear them when my youngest kid picks out a pair of pink rainboots at the thrift store. I tell myself our prescribed gender-coloring doesn’t matter, that if other kids tease him he can take it… And I laugh a little when he tells me proudly after one drizzly morning at preschool, “Mommy, all the girls in my class really like my new boots.”
I hear those words when I’m carting my boys along to a school board meeting or a walk to support a cause or a vigil to mourn an injustice. At a protest, I meet their wide eyes silently when the teenaged girl with the bullhorn begins to chant, “No justice = no peace! No racist-ass police!” and I know there will be questions later.
My professor’s words echo as I’m explaining why we don’t buy from certain companies or use certain words. They remind me to be intentional about what we read, and what we watch – to include stories that feature main characters whose gender or skin color or religion or family configuration isn’t a mirror of their own.
Deep down, my hope is that if they accompany me to these sorts of events, if they talk through these sorts of decisions with me, this sort of participation and conversation will be normalized for them. It won’t seem extra, or special, or even like much of an effort – it’ll just be part of what they do: Show up. Listen. Learn. Join in. Advocate.
There are times when my children understand what we’re up to together:
– They love participating each year in a writing campaign to free political prisoners. While adults pen letters to governmental authorities, my boys decorate folded construction paper with cats and cars and flowers and Transformers, to let those locked up know they’re not forgotten. They don’t quite understand what it is to be a political prisoner, but they do understand what it is to be punished undeservedly (so they say)… so this project seems to resonate with them.
There are times when it makes less sense:
– In celebration of our denomination’s passing of an LGBTQIA-affirming resolution, my church had t-shirts printed up that said “all means all.” People wear those shirts to Sunday worship and Saturday service projects and the occasional kickball game or picnic. And my oldest kid, who is learning to read, is utterly perplexed by them. “Mommy, why does it say ‘all means all’? Of course ‘all’ means ‘all.’ That’s silly. What else could it mean?”
And sometimes I can’t explain it. Sometimes it breaks my heart to tell them how mean we can all be to each other, how many ways we’ve invented to deny one another’s humanity. So I don’t. I give them quick, easy answers. “We just do this because we want things to be fair for everybody.”
It doesn’t always work. My boys are like most kids: full of questions, unsatisfied with noncommittal hedging. I struggle to navigate between telling them the truth and protecting their innocence. And sometimes telling the whole story means confessing to them the ways I’ve hidden behind my own assumptions, taken advantage of my own privilege, ignored needs all around me. My boys make me want to do better.
But the personal is political, in that what is about any of us is also about all of us.
I am reminded at every turn that my boys are both mine and not-my-own. They belong to a world much larger than me.
I don’t know exactly what that all means – I know that it is reassuring and terrifying. But I am encouraged by the mothering that has been modeled for me: an invitation to work at creating – together with our kids – the kind of world that will nurture them and all children, be safe for them and all people, create space for their flourishing and for everyone else’s, too.
Erika Marksbury is an associate pastor at Saint Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, KS, and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.