Sling City

Published on February 8th, 2016 | by Jade Sanchez-Ventura

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MY BABY COMES WITH ME: Jade Sanchez-Ventura on Sharing “the Burden”

Every Tuesday and Thursday I get to the school where I work by 9:45, though often I get to the block much earlier, and then circle, getting my boy a longer nap. I’ve learned to allow extra time in any plan. I begin teaching at 10:15. If it’s a stroller day, I lock it up out front and then lift my four, then five, then six, now seven-month-old son into his carrier. Some days I just bring a backpack. I need less than I thought I did when I began in October. A few diapers. A fresh onesie. A toy or two. My small binder with the lesson plans. A large water bottle that I’ve learned to carry empty on backpack days. Some mornings I am exhausted. All mornings I’ve already been up for hours.

Hope is behind her desk at the office, and when we walk in she stands with her arms open. Yes, she’ll hold him. “Take your time.” Karan pops in. He is twelve. “Your son is so cute it’s a problem.” He begins peek-a-boo. On my way up the stairs I pass kids ranging in age from five to eighteen. “Where’s Rafael?” “How’s your baby?” One boy looks at me with a deadpan stare, “I like your son.”

My classroom is still in use. I set up my supplies, fill my water bottle, pee. It is lovely to be able to do these things unencumbered. As I leave to retrieve the baby, the students know to set up the tables. Do I need help? I ask them to mess with the broken playpen. When I return they’ve rigged it up with brooms and it holds. Class begins. Tuesdays are Literary Analysis. Thursdays are Personal Essay. Sometimes my boy is snug to my chest in his carrier, sometimes held on my hip, sometimes in the playpen. Sometimes he babbles and shouts and the quieter students have to speak louder. Often they laugh mid-sentence. One sweet, rainy day he fell asleep during the free write and the discussion that followed was quiet and thoughtful. That day, one student called me a “Super Mom” and told me she loved my class. Loud students sit still when he’s around. Rough housing is checked by other students. “There’s a baby in the room!” I’m not sure that I’ve heard even one curse this fall. Once, in the beginning, I nursed, carefully covered, through a discussion. Once, he really started crying and group discussion became solo work time while I stepped out. Once, the academic director floated through, heard him fussing and scooped him for a ten-minute walk, returning him when she had to go teach long division. Students have witnessed countless diaper changes. This week a seventeen-year-old boy held him in his lap while we edited his paper. Students close my playpen for me without being asked. They offer to carry my bag. They know my boy by now; have seen him sleeping laughing crying protesting pooping eating.

And walking through the school building with him is like walking with, I don’t know, the Dalai Lama. People get happy, and reach towards his foot, his back, his hand. And if he smiles at them, they return the grin with faces suddenly shining.

I will not claim that it’s never tiring. And I’m sure there have been moments when students didn’t want to hear him shout into the middle of a class. But it is generally as simple and wonderful as it sounds. With some of these students, this is the fourth year of us working together. They knew me through my first year of full-time teaching, they watched me struggle through the nausea of my first trimester, apparently knowing I was pregnant long before I told them, and now they are with me as I mother.

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“Banksy in Boston: Detail of NO LOITRIN” by Chris Devers / Flickr Creative Commons

The two mothers leaving the coffee shop are flustered.

“Sorry, sorry, we’re leaving and you’re never going to have to see us again.”

They’re trying to make themselves small; to will their strollers to be narrower.

“Sorry, sorry,” they say again, and all this because two people had to get out of their chairs to make space for them to come and go. I want to tell them not to apologize so much or so hard. That it’s okay for them to get a hot drink on a cold afternoon. That cafes are not just sacred spaces for the laptop crowd. Because I’ve done this too. Been certain that everyone hates the sight of me daring to appear in public with a child.

(A whole other topic is that it’s always worse when it’s a white space. Almost as a rule, people of color, and anyone from another country, treated me better when I was pregnant and that’s continued into life as a mother.)

Are we still living with the insane notion that women and their children should hide out in nurseries and ice cream parlors? Until I became a mother I didn’t think this particular brand of sexism, the old-school stay at home and be a good (quiet) woman version, could touch me. But it can. It does. Especially when it comes from people I expected to be allies.

BinderCon is a writing conference for women organized by the feminist group Binders Full of Women. It came to New York this October. Over the summer, I splurged on a ticket, though I hesitated three days over the purchase. I did the math, of costs and time. By the weekend of the conference my baby would be an unfathomable six months old. I would be ready, I was sure, to bring my writer self and my mama self together. I invited my own mother to join me; envisioning a weekend spent passing the boy back and forth between workshops, joining forces for the keynote, going out to lunch. I anticipated a snazzy outfit.

By fall, my body and brain were beginning to return to me. I took my son, who was learning to roll and getting close to full-fledged crawling, everywhere, riding the subway, taking epic nap walks. The week before the conference I sat down with my computer and mapped out the weekend. I am a working writer, a teaching artist—I was excited. I signed up for speed pitch sessions. And, reminding myself to ask for help, to utilize the resources out there, wrote BinderCon to ask about a nursing room. I pictured a couch, maybe even a rug for rolling, hoped for a window, and anticipated other writer-mothers with babes to their boobs (or bottles handy) chatting about their manuscripts. It was a women’s conference after all, and one that was cognizant of the need for gender neutral bathrooms and even a quiet room for those with sensory challenges. I was betting on nice digs.

Instead, I was sent an email informing me that as this was a professional conference no children under 18 were welcome. The emphasis on professional felt especially acid. As if by even asking I had marked myself as not. If money for childcare was an issue, it continued, I could inquire about a stipend.

But I didn’t want a stipend. I didn’t have anyone to pay with it, and I wasn’t comfortable leaving my son for the many hours I’d need to participate in the conference. Besides the point, for me, in seeking an inclusive conference, was the chance to bring the mothers—my own and myself—along with the writer.

My mother was both pissed and confused.

“They have a pumping room but you can’t bring a baby?”

“Yeah, the pumping is for the women who are leaving their babies.”

It took her a while to wrap her brain around it, and once she had, she concluded, “We’re going anyway.”

And maybe I would have. But my boy had had a cold that week and after six snotty, fretful nights I was over it. I was tired. I couldn’t call up the necessary defiance. Besides, I didn’t want to be a renegade, afraid of being led out the door. I wanted to be welcomed as I am, a mother and a writer able to participate in her own field.

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I was eight months pregnant when I read Sara Zia Ebrahimi’s piece, “Whose Burden?” here at MUTHA and it rattled me as nothing had since my first trimester.

Community was my plan for the freefall cliff dive I was taking, and every time I panicked, I reassured myself that my husband and I would not be alone in guiding this new person through the world. I was raised by a single mother, and of necessity she brought me everywhere. I began my life with her on the road, and she didn’t pump once in my baby-hood because she carried me with her as she moved around Mexico City. Back in the U.S., as I got older, I read novels and did homework sitting in hallways while she was in meetings and doctor’s appointments and workshops. I went to museums and plays and movies and cafes with her, and together we traveled by bus and train to visit her friends all over the east coast. A rotating cast of her city friends brought me to dance class, watched me while she finished her thesis, and made it possible for her to go on dates. She didn’t have the option to leave her world, and so I was in the world with her.

I knew I would not be a single mother, but I planned to apply the same principles I was raised with to my life with my babe. I had assumed that the arties-the radicals-the activists, surely the feminists, would embrace us. But Sara’s piece, and especially the poison of the Facebook comments directed at her, was my first hint that I might be wrong. Sara was much fairer in her assessments than I’m feeling these days. I’m pissed and have no patience for attempts to exclude parents. Most especially from those who claim to support all genders, races, classes and sexualities.

I’ve spent the last decade working at my writing and teaching it to others. I am a professional and the baby on my hip doesn’t erase that. No one else has the right to tell me what being a working mother looks like.

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Licia Ronzulli and her baby in the European Parliament. (European Parliament/Flickr, Creative Commons License)

I get it. There are always inconsiderate parents. But if I’m at a conference and my baby is crying and I don’t leave the room, ask me to leave or find someone to do it for you. If you’re chatting on your cell phone, trust me, I’ll do the same to you.

On my birthday this July my baby was ten weeks old. In those ten weeks, I hadn’t gone far from home and all I wanted for the day was to leave the neighborhood. However, by the time my husband and I had made it into this new territory, we were exhausted and hot. We stumbled into a restaurant in search of a bathroom and discovered a heavenly space that was cool and quiet with black and white tile floors, huge plate glass windows, and fans slowly turning the blissfully air conditioned air. The tables were empty in the pre-lunch hour. We sat down with sighs and ordered iced coffees and prayed for my son to stay asleep. He did. Until he did not. I nursed him at the table. And then held him while he looked around. A few tables filled. My baby let out a shout and eventually began to cry. It took me a few minutes to re-sling him and his cries amped up. From arrival to departure we were there for about forty-five minutes during which he cried for about ten of them and in those ten we certainly caused a disturbance and if anyone was offended by flashes of nursing boobs, then they had plenty of reason to be offended. Eventually, we had paid and gotten ourselves packed up. On our way out, we thanked the waitress. She gave us a big smile, and said, “Come back anytime.”

How can you support the mothers in your midst?

It’s as simple and wonderful as that.

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(c) Mike Tumbarello

Follow MUTHA to read more from Jade Sanchez-Ventura in an ongoing column, Sling City, where she will write about her experiences in the first year and beyond as a working writer with a new baby in New York City.

Note: Bindercon has provided a response to this piece, here.

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About the Author

Jade Sanchez-Ventura

Jade Sanchez-Ventura is a writer and teacher of writing. She has studied at Hunter College, where she received her MFA, and with the VONA writer’s workshop. Her work has been published by Seal Press, Kweli Journal, Duende Literary Magazine, wherever mag, MUTHA, and on the covers of small town daily newspapers. She is the creator of The Secret Pregnancy, an accounting of the year that began with that first positive pregnancy test. She is completing her first manuscript; a memoir that crosses borders and generations. It’s also a love story. She is presently raising her son and teaching at Brooklyn Free School. Though she has ties to many far-flung countries, she has always made her home in Brooklyn, NY. Find her on twitter @jsv713.



27 Responses to MY BABY COMES WITH ME: Jade Sanchez-Ventura on Sharing “the Burden”

  1. Abby Wambaugh says:

    Thanks, Jade! I love this!

    ” “Sorry, sorry,” they say again, and all this because two people had to get out of their chairs to make space for them to come and go. I want to tell them not to apologize so much or so hard. That it’s okay for them to get a hot drink on a cold afternoon. That cafes are not just sacred spaces for the laptop crowd. Because I’ve done this too. Been certain that everyone hates the sight of me daring to appear in public with a child. ”

    I’m trying hard to apologize less for my child making sounds and standing her ground: I so want her to grow up not thinking she has to apologize for the space she takes up.

  2. Rhea Wolf says:

    Thank you for writing about this. I especially love the reminder of how simple it can be to help and support mothers. The more we challenge ourselves and others to make space for children and mothers, the more justice and creativity we will find available to us. I was excluded from a professional conference for wanting to bring my two-month-old breastfeeding daughter.

  3. Hello Jade- This piece echoes much of what I’ve known intuitively about mothering, and have felt so much grief when I am met with a world that says otherwise. It also echoes so much of my understanding and study about what it means to have an intact village or culture, which engages all citizens of all ages in life- the nitty gritty of it- a wailing baby needing to be nursed at the cafe, an older person who is moving slowly across the street and needs an arm up to make it over the curb, or teenagers giggling over their smartphone.

    I commend you for writing about this and bringing your baby to work! Brooklyn Free School!!! I read Summerhill a few years ago when my son was an infant and loved everything about AS Neill’s ideas- they struck such a deep truth inside me. Here is to more of us creating spaces that are not child free but celebrate life in all its stages- that is how we rebuild democracy and create community. Thank you.

    • Jade Sanchez-Ventura Jade Sanchez-Ventura says:

      Thanks Eleanor. I love the emphasis on creativity and justice. And yes, a whole subtext to this piece for me was also the years I spent moving (and trying to move) around the city with my elderly grandmother. I crave shared spaces for all stages and styles of living.

  4. eleanor says:

    who said stay at home moms should hide in ice-cream parlors and be quiet? my kids are 23 and 25 and that was not part of my generation of parenting. women and parents in general put so many restrictions on themselves. sometimes the sexism comes from within not the outside. i know parents from my generation who have shared kid care 50/50 stay at home dads, stay at home moms, LGBT parents, working parents, co-parenting but not cohabitation parents, older parents, younger parents, etc… define your parenting by what works for you and your family. its just that simple

  5. Ev says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I wholeheartedly believe that mothers (and women in general) should continue to speak out when we feel excluded. It seems like Bindercon is willing to make some changes, which is all we can ask for.

  6. Matt says:

    don’t people have right to piece and quiet? If everyone brought there babies to work there would a major decrease in productivity. This idea that we should all revert to living in tribal villages, and just turn back the hands of time 600 years is simply not realistic, and frankly a little more chaotic. There are colicky babies, loud babies, very chatty adorable babies but all are extremely distracting. A babies screaming is nothing like a typical person talking on the phone. When s baby crus everyone stops, because we instinctively want to help. Both my kids were born at home and it was wonderful, my wife and I took a day off a week, changed our schedules at work, and we are verb close to our kids, we sleep with our kids every night. My son is asleep next to me now, he is 6 and my daughter next to mom is 7. This is a fine story, I’m sure it’s not as easy as she makes it sound. But the bottom the vast majority of jobs in this county work not work with babies around day in and day out. Sometimes the feminists movement, I feel, wants to change just to change, wants to poke at everything that currently is without care of the repercussions, just as long as it changes. Thanks.

    • Julie says:

      “But the bottom the vast majority of jobs in this county work not work with babies around day in day out. [sic]”
      This is the problem with out workplaces, our society. Our culture is sick, don’t you agree, focused on collection of wealth versus quality of life, on profits for the few on the backs of the underpaid majority. Poor parents have to leave their babies in sub-optimal childcare during most of the day while the parents work 1, 2, or 3 jobs at minimum wage to scrape by. There are MANY jobs that can be done with a baby around, that are done when the parent is self-employed (restaurant owners, artisans, farmers, nannies, health practitioners, and so many more). Yes, productivity will be lower… or would it? Don’t you know that it could be higher, since happy employees have higher productivity? Having babies in the workplace might boost company morale AND customer satisfaction.

      It is true that this does not work with all babies, or all jobs, or all parents. No one is saying that 100% of parents must bring their children to work. The option should exist, though, should be discussed, should be investigated by more companies and employers.

    • Jade Sanchez-Ventura Jade Sanchez-Ventura says:

      “Sometimes the feminists movement, I feel, wants to change just to change, wants to poke at everything that currently is without care of the repercussions, just as long as it changes.”

      Umm, no. The goal of the change is to improve and not stagnate in the status quo just because we can’t imagine what the alternatives might look like.

  7. Matt says:

    One last comment, if i just started crying out in a room for fun everyone would stop…this is not curteous behavior because people did not show to hear me scream. The author stats “if my baby is crying in conference and I don’t leave then just ask me too”…I completely disagree your baby is the destraction…you should be curteous and understanding of others and not to mention the speaker at the conference, and leave…people’s manners have just gone right out the door and they only seem to care about themselves…yet they call for more community type living…community requires respect and courtesy for others. Responding to a crying baby is an instinct that causes everyone a destraction to want to help or figure out why. Thanks

    • Kelly says:

      I think you’re upset about a range of things Matt – but speaking as a mother of a little baby I can tell you that I really resonate with what the writer is saying here. We need to change the world – it is not mothers who need to change. And yes, babies cry sometimes. We need to allow that just to be sometimes okay. It is maybe important to claim spaces for mothers this way. You also need to trust mothers to be considerate and excellent people in the world. Which we are. (We were before we had a baby, and we still are now.)

      I am assuming you are a dude – which means you are very lucky! Because most conferences/ world events/ institutions/ leadership opportunities are for you anyway. 😀

      • Leigh says:

        I don’t know…I’m a woman and I agree with Matt. I don’t think babies belong in a workplace. I’m glad it worked out for the author, but what if she had a colicky baby who cried incessantly? Is that fair to her students? What if all the teachers brought in their kids?

        The author sounds like she’s aware of how her child affects other people, but my own friends, upstairs neighbors and even family members are not like that about their own babies /children. I think partly it’s a different world especially in the US where small babies and toddlers are disciplined differently, but regardless, I can understand why a baby would not be welcome in a conference. Or a workplace. The same reason pets aren’t, etc.

        There should however be more opportunities available to working mothers (and not only parents): (aycare in the building, flexible work schedules, working remotely, longer maternity leave, etc which will hopefully be addressed in this election season. It’s enormously frustrating this continues to be an issue in 2016 but that doesn’t mean therefore the rest of the world is a baby friendly zone. Obviously we mothers should absolutely leave the house but I do think it’s about whether or not you’re inconveniencing other people as well as what is and isn’t appropriate.

        Interesting article and comments!

  8. Julie says:

    Jade, I really love this article. Thank you for showing that there is a way. I kept my babies close while I worked, both employed and self-employed in childcare. I wrote an article about a similar topic about 10 years ago for “New Beginnings” magazine. Sad to see we still have a long way to go.

    In 2003, I attended the international LLL Convention in Chicago. It was a babies-welcome event and like stepping into another world. An incredibly professional week-long event, with keynote speakers, workshops, professional continuing education credits. They were incredibly accommodating to families, quiet rooms for nursing or rest time (though of course nursing was welcome everywhere), gross motor areas for toddlers who needed to let off energy. In the sessions themselves, I don’t remember a single one being disrupted by babies. Some mothers walked fussier babies in the back of the room or stepped out if needed, but most held their babies or sat on the floor so they could explore quietly a bit. The presenters were all so fabulous.

    I really wish your conference experience could have been like that. Think how much richness the attendees and presenters missed out by excluding mothering individuals.

    • Jade Sanchez-Ventura Jade Sanchez-Ventura says:

      Thanks Julie. And that conference sounds incredible. In my experience so far, spaces that are welcoming to babies and older children go just as you described it. Not to mention that these changes tend to create spaces that are more supportive for all those involved. Turns out a lot of folks like a couch and a quiet space and some space to move.

  9. Kinnari says:

    Such a lovely article. Good for you! I remember when my baby had just been born (in 2005 in San Francisco), and I was going stir-crazy, not having really left the house in weeks, that I decided to bite the bullet and REALLY go out with him (not just to the grocery store). I armed myself with sling and bag and every possible soothing accessory (mostly my boobs at that age) PLUS a print-out of the relevant municipal/state statute/ordinance indicating that public places HAD to let me breastfeed. I was all ready to be militant about it, especially as I entered a coffee shop in the Castro frequented by mostly childless gay men. I went up to the barista and asked, almost belligerently, if it was okay if I nursed the baby there, and prepared to wave my print-out of the law in her face if she resisted. Instead, she looked at me as if I was crazy for asking and said “OF COURSE it’s okay” and added that she would kick anyone out who had a problem with it. 🙂 I never asked again.

  10. Stephanie says:

    I am always surprised, still, by *where* the disconnect happens. I’m a very traditional mother of eight – i go to homeschool conferences – we are the hardcore professional mothers! But although i’ve stretched their limits of what “nursing infants mean” (when you nurse to 45 months sometimes, where is the cut off between infant and toddler?) – I’ve often had to choose between professional development and adequate care for my children (i always err on the side of the littles…). Churches, worship conferences – all artsy venues – often are the places that are so afraid of the beautiful, exuberant, wholeheartedness of children. Your students are blessed to have a baby in their midst 🙂 – schools in my province have a program called “Seeds of Empathy” – since so few children have siblings anymore (and if they do, often they don’t remember babyhood) – a mom brings her baby in for periodic visits during the year 🙂 – it’s a cool idea, but not really enough 🙂

  11. Nicole says:

    I absolutely love everything about this!

  12. Rachel C-R says:

    Dear Jade Sanchez-Ventura,
    Thank you so much for writing this piece, as well as writing about your experience on your secret pregnancy website. This place has really shifted something inside me in a beautiful way. The general assumption that had permeated my thinking that the options are maternity leave/part time work/baby under someone else’s care while I do my thing has now broken up into little pieces and is dissolving. I can now easily picture a world where babies are brought to work in a very natural way, just as humans did for most of history. I taught high school in a public school for the last 7 years, so the image of you as a teacher bringing your child was particularly moving for me. It also reminded me of the value brought by Seeds of Empathy, as mentioned by another reader. What you did is the vision for how I want schools to be- intergenerational, learning from and taking care of each other across the ages.
    Again, thank you so much for re-membering my understanding of the place for babies,
    Rachel C-R

  13. Robert says:

    I think this is a wonderful and beautifully written article. The part describing your experiences bringing your child to work (school) with you put a huge smile on my face; what a dynamic and rewarding educational experience for those youngsters. The idea of teaching moms having the opportunity to bring their babes to the classroom with them is really cool and can benefit all involved. It should be encouraged.

  14. Jade SV Jade SV says:

    Thank you all for sharing; it’s incredible to hear these stories and to hear that my experiences are resonating out there.

    I hope we can keep on moving to spaces shared by many generations; One cafe, one classroom, one conference at a time.

  15. I appreciate this essay. I raised my daughter for five years in Mexico, and its true that children are welcomed in public spaces and events. There isn’t the same separation that is so often expected here in the US.

  16. Will says:

    I’m a father, and went to part-time for the first 2 years of my child’s life. I personally don’t think that it’s practical or desirable with most work situations (let alone a right) to have your child with you while you work. I’m not so much concerned about professionalism specifically, or even the disruptiveness to others, though that might well be a problem in certain cases, I just don’t think it’s practical to care for an infant at the same time as work. My wife worked at home for a good part of that time, and was also off one day; this made nursing easier, and reduced the need for pumping, but you can bet that when she was not working, someone else was taking care of our baby. We have a friend with a pretty relaxed baby and a pretty relaxed job who managed to do both (from home) for a while, but I don’t think it’s practical for most people.

    Obviously, there are certain jobs that this would be more practical for than others, but overall, I think most people would find it very difficult to do both jobs at the same time.

    Just because we have choices about how we structure our lives doesn’t mean that we can “have it all”. We can choose our priorities based on our own values and preferences. If you value that level of attachment, that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s fair to make it happen by bringing your child as you do your work. A better solution is to advocate for (much) better parental leave policies, something that a lot of people have been calling for.

  17. Maria says:

    The part describing your experiences bringing your child to work (school) with you put a huge smile on my face; what a dynamic and rewarding educational experience for those youngsters. The idea of teaching moms having the opportunity to bring their babes to the classroom with them is really cool and can benefit all involved. It should be encouraged.

  18. Hila Ratzabi Hila Ratzabi says:

    I published a response to this piece and the discussion surrounding it. I am grateful to Jade for writing this and inspiring me to ask another conference, Split This Rock Poetry Festival, about whether they have a policy on bringing babies. Their response was beautiful, and I chronicle it here: http://www.kveller.com/this-is-why-im-bringing-my-baby-to-a-work-conference/.

  19. Stephanie says:

    I am a Montessori teacher and am extremely lucky to be able to bring my baby to work with me two days a week. He is only in my classroom for an hour at the end of the day, but the children (6-8) love it. We sing him songs, they read to him, or work quietly when he’s in class. I usually baby wear him and he rarely cries or disrupts class. I know the benefits outweigh the few disruptions.

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