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:
- They didn't expect me to leave (like I'd feared) and
- They'd had kids there before.
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.
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.