A few years ago, my 3-year-old daughter Siu Loong and I were hanging out with another three-year-old and her mother. My friend was planning to attend an event at the local radical bookstore later that evening. Sure that Siu Loong wouldn’t sit quietly through a slideshow about political movements in
My friend kept trying to convince me to go. She pointed out that the girls were having a great time together and that, between the two of us, we could tagteam dealing with them.
I finally agreed.
When the slideshow started, my friend pulled Siu Loong on her lap and absent-mindedly starting bouncing her. “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy!” my daughter chanted happily.
The presenter stopped, looked at us and said, “I can’t concentrate. That’s really distracting.” I started to take Siu Loong outside; she began wailing because she wanted to stay with her friend; her friend didn’t want to leave and, to top it off, the girls had scattered their belongings throughout the store, making it impossible to grab our stuff to make a quick exit.
I ended up sitting outside the bookstore feeling humiliated, ostracized and stupid for letting myself get talked into the situation. I felt unsupported by the other mama, who, despite her earlier arguments, had said nothing.
I didn’t attend an event there for the next three years.
This past month, I organized a panel about incarcerated women at that same bookstore. Even though my daughter, now 7 ½, can read a book through any event I drag her to, I’ve never forgotten that feeling and so decided to arrange childcare, a first for that particular venue. Two volunteers with Regeneracion, the local radical childcare collective, agreed to hang out with the kids during the event.
Two other girls showed up with their mothers. The childcare providers took them to the playground, then stayed with them outside where the girls held an imaginary dinner party while the grown-ups inside talked about abuse in women’s prisons, the companies that profit from the soaring rates of incarceration, and work being done—both inside and out—to challenge and change these realities.
Although we didn’t manage to challenge or change any aspect of women’s incarceration that night, by providing childcare we did manage to change the reality that, for many mothers, attending a social justice event is still not possible.