Social Motherhood

Alice Glass, Crystal Castles This morning the Little Prince was telling me about a show he watched at school. Something that particularly interested him was the amount of sugar in foods, and how cereal companies (among others) lobbied to raise the “acceptable” percentage of sugar in certain foods. So over breakfast we talked about corporations, food deserts, and how we’re very lucky to be able to afford the hidden costs of eating well–the ability/income to shop in bulk, the petrol and time to drive to the grocer’s, the time/energy to prepare homemade food, which is largely a function of making enough money. Above all, I impressed upon him that we’re lucky–it is not at all usual for a single mother, especially one working freelance, to have the time and energy necessary for some of these things. I told him about how minimum wage isn’t enough to live on, and highly processed foods are “cheap” in food deserts, and how profits are squeezed from people who can least afford such squeezing.

He asked very cogent questions, and made a number of very astute observations about the whole thing. I’m not sure it’ll sink in very deeply, but at least the seed has been planted. He had questions about “obesity” and the term “epidemic” as well.

Motherhood: the constant scramble of trying to find a way to help a child understand things most adults don’t even understand, or have only the foggiest notions of, or just plain don’t want to think about. It requires more self-education than I could ever perform, even studying round the clock, but I try because I don’t want to give them inaccurate information. It also requires encouraging them to go look for themselves, to take the information I have and go further, dig deeper, and find out what they think. No doubt this makes them the type of student who will question teachers.

I honestly don’t see an alternative.

Which raises another specter: we have the funds, the time, the hardware (which isn’t free) to research, the leisure time to think about these things. It takes energy to look at this stuff, energy we can spare because of our relatively privileged socioeconomic position. I am frequently reminding the kids that had things been a little different, I would be working two or even three jobs, and I wouldn’t have the time or energy left over to do other things they enjoy, since all my resources would be directed at survival. Working damn hard is only part of the equation, and it doesn’t guarantee a living wage anymore. (If it ever did.) Luck, especially the luck of being born lower middle class and in a particular skin color, plays a huge part.

This is why the oligarchical refrain of “the poor/brown/whatever people are LAZY” bothers me so much. The entire deck is stacked against many people, they’re living in a society where racism and classism is endemic, they’re playing the video game of life on the most hardcore setting, and some motherfuckers have the temerity to call them “lazy” because the scramble for survival means they prioritize differently and are forced to make decisions the rich or the “right” skin color never have to even consider. Poverty and trauma don’t ennoble, they kill, they grind people down, and they steal so much from not just the poor but from everyone. Who can tell what art, what books, what science we’re missing out on because the people who could have created them are mired in poverty, institutional racism, bigotry?

And all the while, corporate welfare marches on, and billions are poured into new and inventive ways to kill and terrorise people instead of education.

It’s enough to make one sick, indeed. I try to make sense of it so I can explain things to the children without breaking down into a spluttering heap of indignant fury, but sometimes there’s no sense to be had, and I have to admit as much to them. “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand it either” are terrifying words to have to say when your child turns to you to make sense of things.