Seamus is chirping on the sofa behind me. For the time being, these are happy noises. But who knows how long he will stay happy before devolving with cries of hunger and wet distress. He was seven weeks old on Wednesday, and he is still a mystery to me.
This is what I have been doing since taking a leave of absence from Waging Nonviolence in June — getting to know my kid. We named him Seamus Philip Berrigan Sheehan-Gaumer. Seamus (Irish for James) after Patrick’s cousin and grandfather, Philip after my dad. We threw the Berrigan in there just so he could have two lines on his social security card and driver’s license and so there would never be enough boxes for all the letters in his name on any standardized form.
(For the record, he stayed happy for another ten minutes and then began crying. He nursed, we rocked and he fell asleep. He is in a classic baby pose — arms spread wide, feet tucked up like frogs legs, face an ever-shifting palette of surprise, repose and hilarity. Now he is really out and I might have an hour and 20 minutes of grown-up time ahead of me. The challenge is to use it wisely. And it is a challenge!)
I have watched a lot of TV on Netflix in the past two months. That has been fun. While he nurses, I have consumed all of Better Off Ted and most of IT Crowd and caught up with those zany kids on That 70s Show. I have figured out what all the fuss was about Mad Men (though it is hard to get into a show when you don’t like a single character) and watched all six seasons of Lost. Occasionally it occurs to me that I could/should be watching A Force More Powerful or a Ken Burns documentary instead — something edifying — but then another sitcom cues up, Seamus pulls hard and I happily press play.
When I am not nursing (which, depending on the day, might be stretches of a few hours or just 20 minute snippets), I am washing his poopy diapers, frantically eating everything in sight (mostly raw), and trying to stay on top of one or two other things.
My to-do list used to be a page and a half long: War Resisters League conference calls, Witness Against Torture meetings, my responsibilities at the local food co-op, tending my community garden plot, volunteering at church, writing assignments and speaking gigs, and family responsibilities. Now, I barely keep a to-do list, and when it is written down it consists of assignments like cutting Seamus’ nails, washing hair, going for a walk. If I can do one of those things in a day, I am happy.
My friends and family reassure me that this is my job right now: nursing Seamus, discovering who he is, taking care of him and recovering physically from an epic labor (the details of which I will neither bore nor terrorize you with… just to say that the water broke Sunday morning, the child was born Wednesday morning and there was an unscheduled and very uncomfortable 40 minute ride in the back of a Toyota Corolla to the hospital stuck in there somewhere).
I know I am lucky to have this job. Many women have to go back to work right around this point, and most daycare centers take kids at six weeks old. Is it just luck, though? Not really. My husband and I have made a choice to live on one salary. This choice means we don’t go out to eat or to the movies that much, we don’t buy new clothes or expensive computer devices. We don’t have a lot of extra money, but the idea is that we do have more time for family, for each other, for the world.
The editors of Waging Nonviolence would like to see my Little Insurrections column focus on nonviolent parenting. I am still mulling that over (and I welcome your thoughts on the matter). Within that framework, I can see myself writing about how parents can create lasting and meaningful bulwarks between their kids and the violence endemic in our culture, or exploring the wonderful world of discipline without spanks or slaps or threats of same, or considering how one raises thoughtful, compassionate, fearless young people committed to social and political change without scaring, hectoring or scarring them about all the wrongs in the world. I might also cover the new genre of parenting memoirs and how-to guides that crowd bookstore shelves — French moms and tiger moms and mean moms (where are the dads in all these books?). Maybe I could plumb the depths of different parenting styles: Attachment, Helicopter, Love and Logic, Duct Tape or Simplicity (becoming a simplicity leader only costs $880 if you are an “early bird”).
But at this point, nonviolence in parenting means trying to figure out how to be nice to myself when the dishes don’t get washed, the newspapers don’t get read, the projects don’t get finished and I am unable to get from point A to point B because Seamus is grumpy and incessantly hungry. It means being okay with measuring my accomplishments in ounces and pounds gained on a happy baby (7 pounds 14 ounces to 12 pounds 6 ounces in five weeks all from nursing!!!) instead of measuring it by items checked off a to-do list. It means learning to fully embrace (and enjoy and celebrate) my new role as mother and integrate the new responsibilities and graces and challenges into the person I already am. Sounds like a plan, right? Okay, I got to go. The little man has started to cry.
Waging Nonviolence is hiring a writer to interview leading movement figures and analysts and produce one Q&A-style article per week. The writer will work with our small editorial team to identify the interview subject each week. For the most part, we’ll be looking to hear from activists, organizers and scholars who can shed light on… More
By melding theory and practice, Philadelphia’s Vanguard S.O.S. are building skills and collective power.
The 1958 voyage of the Golden Rule offers important strategic lessons on how to confront an overwhelming evil and win.
It’s so good to have you back, Frida! Thank you so much for this, and I’m looking forward to more. Please forgive me for turning this, out of appreciation, into a Facebook meme: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151408235314129&set=a.10151099826029129.540841.158337054128&type=3
What a coincidence your friend put this in Facebook. I was just thinking of you and your mom this very day as 52 years ago today your grandparents brought me to the novitiate in Tarrytown. When I met you at Ned’s funeral I told you that story. How wonderful to hear now about your growing relationship with your baby son. You already know how much God loves you and you are in my thoughts and prayers.
Kathleen Kanet, RSHM
Congratulations Frida, my love to Patrick and your little Seamus. He is absolutely lovely. It would be great to have an exchange about parenting and organizing, now that you are a parent. As a single mother I had to be without work for long periods of time, making ends meet somehow, the salaries I would get were never enough to hire help, an ex-husband who wasn’t much support and with no family support in nyc, it wasn’t easy. Especially trying to figure out where my work fit , organizing, writing, washing dishes, cooking, schooling, doing co-op shifts. The question is how do we build work spaces, those we are in control of in particular, to be able to sustain women, mothers, who are activists, organizers so that we don’t have to make tough choices of leaving either?
As the mother of a now 20 year old son who was born when I was just 20 and single, I urge you, beg you even, to soak up every second of your time with him. The deepest sorrow of my life has been the regret associated with the time choices I made while my son was growing up, choices that brought me to the point of break down…. work the mandatory overtime meaning I spent way too little time with my son or lose my job and not be able to pay the rent and put food on the table….. Now that he’s 20, having come through some pretty serious troubles, including struggles with addiction, I sometimes torture myself with questions about whether he would have been better off had I worked a less demanding and less financially rewarding job or series of jobs while at the same time feeling horribly guilty that I don’t have enough saved to excuse him from the burden of student loans.
I admire your choice. An exploration of non-violent parenting sounds like a wonderful contribution to the world and to your own child.
As I type this, the side bar keeps distracting me…. My eyes keep wandering to the image of the “Beautiful Trouble” toolbox. It occurs to me that discussions of Non-violence are often so dry and so devoid of belly laughs.
Looking back, I would say that simple laughter was the saving grace during some of the toughest times, belly laughs, sometimes through tears, were our glue.
I’m currently re-reading Ken Wilber’s, “A Brief History of Everything”, and though it’s not a parenting book at all, I wish that I had read it WAY before I was a Mom. I thought I’d read everything there was to read about human development, but this book is more of a both/and than either/or perspective.
I’ll be sharing your blog with my sister who still has small children at home and, with her husband, has chosen to spend less in order to be with her children more.
It’s an awesome paragraph designed for all the online visitors; they will get advantage from it I am sure.
It is clear that the topic of motherhood and activism– how to support it, how to sustain it– touched a nerve. There are dozens of mother magazines and countless mother websites… but our society fetishizes and commercializes– but does not truly respect– motherhood. Our society encourages (rather demands) disconnection and isolation as a way of selling more and discouragges activism and engagement. Being activist moms, being engaged moms, being moms with time for kids and work is rare in such a society. The support systems for any of this (and more) is scant and DIY and underground.
Thanks to Sarah and Dawn for sharing their own struggles with motherhood and provoking me to think more about these topics. The answer lies (I think) somewhere in a call for community, a reinvention of motherhood, a forging of a path away from guilt and abnegation (which Dawn named) that leads to a new kind of parenting… a parenting that– among other things– demands real responsibility from men (and wow, that would require a revolution for sure). More to come…
Thanks for this, Frida. We have many shared emotions and experiences. I’m connected to you through friends on Larkins street, the Wylie-Kellermanns. Larkins is our son’s middle name, partially because we had planned a homebirth though 48 hours after labor began we transported to the hospital. Labor was traumatic, something I have to remind myself is finished some nights when I cannot sleep and remember the waves washing over me. Hendrik is 15 weeks old on Wednesday and I still have to regular remind myself that nursing, washing diapers, and getting him good sleep are just as valuable (if not more) on the my to-do list as putting up food for the winter, keeping our garden, and the long list of support I used to provide for our church and a local nonprofit. What a shift life takes, and what a crazy way it begins… the hardest physical thing you’ll ever do brings to you the hardest career you’ll ever have with the least sleep you’ve ever imagined. Yet, any mother I’ve ever met is filled with memories and longing of these days we’re navigating now.
Congratulations on the safe arrival of Seamus, what a beautiful boy.
Great post and yes please would love to hear your views on parenting and activism. It will be fascinating to get your perspectives as child and parent! And it’s always good to hear of people engaged on this journey. It’s wonderful, difficult, challenging and the more of us the merrier!
Virginia Moffatt (Chris Cole’s wife – we met in England a few years back)
Nice to hear from you, plus family! How fantastic that you can find time still to participate in War Resisters League and Witness Against Torture conference calls and meetings, while I who am childless cannot seem to find the energy or time! How do you do it? Oh, I forgot, I’m almost 30 years older than you, 20 years older than Pat and 55 years older than Seamus! Hope to see you next time I’m in New England, and wait for me, because I’m still determined to move back home to New England when I retire not too soon in the future (I plan ahead, way ahead!). Hi Ho! p.s.–I am constantly repeating that proverb/quote of yours when I speak out: We in the peace movement will surely win. After all, the warmakers have only the guns and money, but nothing else. Hi Ho!
Ahhh, “you speak to my condition” as the old Quakers (like me) say, and your Little Insurrections certainly take me back to my first baby-juggling days on the west coast 1970-75 while Kit was processing his C.O. and we were protesting and rallying with Mo in the “nap” sack. Ten years later, we managed to time baby #2 to coincide with our Nuclear Freeze phase and carried Ben around Wyoming while we tried to “Put the MX on Ronnie’s Ranch” and Mo finally packed a giant suitcase and ran away from home until the neighbor across the street intercepted him and offered him a ride to a sympathetic social worker who got our attention. Thankfully, I think we managed to end up with two grown men who are pacifists themselves and not as scarred and resentful as they might have been a few times over the years. In fact, they assure us now and then that they have come to appreciate our efforts to keep the world and all the other smaller balls in the air. I’m holding you and Seamus and Patrick and Rosena Jane in the Light! jj
Your comment about “Where are all the fathers’ reminded me that
my daughter, Tamara, and I had to take “Mom & Me Gym & Swim” three times before the name finally was changed to “Mom/Pop & Me…” at the Y in Kalamazoo, Michigan back in 1977.
Peace & Trust,
Congratulations Frida and Patrick on your new baby boy! Love, Anthony Fromhart
Ahh — so good to read you again, Frida Berrigan …
Whoops; I didn’t intend to begin selfishly (i.e. “yes! she’s back and I can get some more of what I like …”) but did. I apologize.
Congrats on becoming a mother. I, like so many others, am glad that you and your child are healthy and I do like the name you and yours chose for him and how it was fashioned (“… so there would never be enough boxes for all the letters in his name on any standardized form“).
Thank you again for your return and for letting us in on what’s been happening. I’ve been following your insightful, intelligent writing since your fpif.org columns and you just keep getting better.
– jer, Madison WI
ok, what could a blog on nonviolent parenting “map” for emergent activists? Help us develop a super-ego of nonviolent possibility versus the conventional morality that confines imagination to the hop-scotch of security. This just in, “Parents’ low-wage jobs can harm their kids, says sociologist” Lisa Dodson here http://www.bc.edu/content/bc/publications/chronicle/FeaturesNewsTopstories/2012/topstories/dodson121312.html
I look up to the possibility of Jerry over there in Kalamazoo, telling us young-ins a couple years back at the Catholic Worker gathering. Asked for an introduction of what they do, it was “We raise kids”. It isn’t glib, I mean holding fast to an idea is one thing, holding a kid is another.
And finally, now as mother to whom do you belong? Looking at nonviolent communes or within nonviolent history: What is it to read Gandhi in the lens of Kiturbai or imagine how the ashram youth were raised, as was Narayan Desai who at twelve was serving as secretary.