Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Little Co-Activists

More thoughts on getting involved from the Conscious Shopper

Two weeks ago, I wrote about taking my kids with me to a meeting with the City of Raleigh about changing the zoning code to allow for community gardens. For brevity's sake and to emphasize my point, I focused that post on the frustration I felt because those planning meetings are always held during the day, making it difficult for the average person with a job or kids to get involved in advocating for greener policies. But the comments on that post reminded me that there's another angle to that story...

After several months of mooching off my friends for free babysitting, I decided one day, "Screw this. I'm taking my kids with me." But that wasn't the only thought that led up to my decision. I thought about how I often left my kids to go to meetings and how they had no clue what that meant or where I went. I wanted them to recognize that the community gardens issue was something I felt passionate about, and I wanted them to know how to get involved (something I certainly wasn't taught and have had to muddle through figuring out).

So I dragged my kids with me to a meeting, and as soon as we had settled into our seats, a woman who worked in the building came up to us with an offer of crayons and paper. I had come prepared with art supplies of my own, but her offer showed me two things:
  1. They didn't expect me to leave (like I'd feared) and
  2. They'd had kids there before.
That meeting unfortunately was not a success for many reasons, but here's something else I didn't mention on the last post: I've taken my youngest with me to meetings several more times. He's three now, and without the distraction of his older brothers, he's fine. It would certainly be more convenient for me and less distracting for other people if I left him at home, but I'm making do with the situation I'm in right now.

Underbelly pointed out in the comments of the last post, "Bringing children into public spaces has been a long-standing feminist issue, because more often than not, when you discourage children from being in public spaces, you discourage women, too." I think she makes a great point, but from my experience, it's not so much that children are outright discouraged as it's just out of the norm to see them there. But it won't become the norm until more of us are brave enough to do it.

If you'd like to get involved with kids in tow, here's what I've learned in my short amount of experience:
  • Some meetings are appropriate for kids, and some aren't. All of the meetings that I've taken my kids to have been pretty casual. If I think someone important is going to be there, something really important is going to be discussed, or the meeting will be a little more formal in some way, I find a babysitter.
  • Some kids will do better than others. I am lucky to have three kids who can sit still and entertain themselves for at least an hour with about an 80% success rate. Not all kids are like that, and only you know how your kid would do.
  • Kids do better one on one. It's just the nature of siblings that they can't let an hour of life go by without a squabble. That's how memories are made, right? Taking all three of my boys to that first meeting was my number one mistake, and one I will not make again.
  • Be considerate. Have you ever been to a movie where someone has brought their newborn baby and he cries through the whole thing? Remember how mad you were because you couldn't hear the movie over the darn baby? Don't be that person! If you're kids are disrupting the meeting, leave until they've calmed down.
  • Be prepared. I bring a snack, art supplies, a portable DVD player with headphones, and my iPhone.
Every time I take my little one with me to a meeting, my stomach squirms in anticipation of what might happen. Will someone ask me to leave? Will he disrupt the meeting too much? I'm sure there have been people at those meetings who've grumbled to themselves, "Why is a kid here? So unprofessional. What an annoyance." But no one has ever said those words out loud to me.

Instead, I hope that most people leave those meetings thinking, "Having a kid there wasn't too bad" or "I barely noticed him." Maybe one or two think, "Maybe I could do that sometime." I hope that my bravery makes it easier for someone else to be brave next time.


Beate said...

Excellent post! Thank you!
Being a single mom and living on a tight budget for a long time made it a necessity for me to take my daughter with me often. I took her to appointments with accountants and lawyers and casual meetings with business partners (which were organic children’s clothes manufacturers, which of course made most of them a lot more acceptable about the situation.) My daughter can also be fairly quiet for about an hour and I can certainly see that bringing more children would make it more difficult. I talked to my daughter before the meetings and explained what it’s all about, so she did not feel the need to ask so many questions and knew what was expected of her.

Looking at the bigger picture, I think one of the questions is how much space and time we want to allow our kids to partake in 'our grown up world'. Should there even be situations were taking your kids are not appropriate? Granted, there are a few I can think of but in general? Wouldn’t it be nice to a general attitude in society where having your kids around is the norm?

AmazinAlison said...

Great post.

It reminds me of a "call to action" made by a friend when I almost took a full-time job last fall. "Don't do it! Stand up for your right as a mother to both be there for your child and work part-time or 3/4 time. If more of us stand for that, more 1/2 time or 3/4 time jobs will be available for families -- not just the mothers, but also for fathers."

Children, mothers, fathers, families are an integral part of society and recognizing our needs and our contributions is certainly an important aspect of following a path to a sustainable future. I definitely support the creation of little co-activists!

SustainaMom said...

Love, LOVE this encouraging follow up. Thank you for the inspiration.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Thanks for the comments! I don't have anything to add except that I agree with all three of you!

And one more thing I forgot to include - the title of this post comes from a comment Truffula made on the last post. Thanks for the inspiration!

Truffula said...

@Erin You're most welcome!

Heather said...

Oh, do please keep taking your kids places! My parents took my brother and I almost everywhere (meetings, public lectures, church, orchestral concerts, hiking whatever). It was *great*. We learned to read books and draw and generally keep quiet, and over time someone at the meeting or talk or whatever would say something that caught our attention. Then we'd surprise our parents on the way home by joining in the discussion they were having about the event they'd been to :-) We learnt about all kinds of things that were important to our parents that way, and have retained many of those interests into adulthood.

I know it was hard on them in a variety of ways, but we benefited from it so much. If we are ever blessed with children, my husband and I fully intend to try and do the same.

Tricia said...

Great post thanks. I've dragged my daughter along to community meetings and events since she was a baby. I believe she's learnt so much. being an active part of the commnity is seen as normal to her. She's also learnt that sometimes the adults need to talk and she needs to sit and be quiet. Now she's a little older she understands more about what is being said and she's learning about helping others and the community. Thanks for the great post. I've linked to it on my inspiring reads page:


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