Militant Mama’s Corner:
Self-Care and Collective Care
-Katrina Socco, SF Bay Area Chapter
“I have a choice in this! I AM the baby of this town!” she proclaimed chin raised and eyebrows furrowed. Tala, my daughter is four years old and fiercely aware of her personal power. She stared me down as my mother cracked up. That’s what I get for raising an unruly girl-child via non-feudal parenting. She loves to read Malcolm X and is obsessed with Frida Kahlo. She named her doll Makibaka, and prefers vegetables after gardening with her Ilocano grandmother because “its from the earth”. She is also very good at wearing me out.
Folks often ask me how I do it: Single motherhood, 60 hour weeks at a non-profit, often training nationally on change strategies, and activism as a lifestyle choice. One day when she was still an infant I was steaming and pureeing her babyfood in my commitment to never buying store-bought while I made instant top ramen to quickly consume while changing diapers. I was caring for all the world but myself and literally burnt out from it.
Self-care is not selfish. Say it outloud. Make your mother or grandmother say it. As transnational women of color who are often working class and/or the highest wage earners in the household, we consistently find ourselves carrying the unglamorous unpaid labor of cleaning, cooking and the emotional care-giving of “making it all better”. Want to have a better understanding of domestic worker’s struggles? Start with the mothers in your life. We wake up at the crack of dawn to clean, pack baon, prep for work, and get the household ready before anyone else awakens. What no one tells you when you decide to have a child is how infinitely lonely and alienating it can be. In care-giving we forget how to “say no”, we forget much more than that…
We forget self-care (or never had it role-modeled to us as legacy of patriarchy and colonialism) and the symptoms paint a glaring picture:
- Sleep deprivation
- Poor eating habits
- Failure to exercise
- Failure to stay in bed when ill
- Postponement or failure to make medical appointments for ourselves.
I was no exemption. I missed a major deadline at work, was eating only food in boxes though cooking organic for the little warrior and chronically ill to the point I needed iron IV transfusions to recuperate.
Most people had no idea, because like many women I perpetuated my own oppression by upholding the superwoman myth and withdrew when life got overwhelming. When life became hard I would go MIA and never ask for help. It took me a long time to learn that being militant and disciplined is about excellence and honesty not perfection.
Often times I see these dangerous symptoms in other women and I have to start by telling them that they are beautiful and teaching them the greeting “En Lak’Ech” (You are Another Myself). Just today I sat with a beautiful woman of color colleague who said “Its so hard for me to accept compliments because we have been deeply engrained to be wary because of the constant oppression.” Her grandmother was a Black maid in the South.
As women, we cannot heal and bring justice to the world if we cannot be kind to ourselves. Somehow along the way, many women of color doingtoomuch.com activists thought that Serving the People meant forgetting ourselves. It is crucial to build collective-care by allowing our chapters to give us the light and care that we will most assuredly forget to give ourselves. Self-care is often misunderstood as momentarily replacing the stresses of our life with distractions like TV, or shopping (or netflix marathons and endless ice cream in my case). As a militant mama I had to learn to keep 3 non-negotiables to keep healthy and re-claim my sanity: exercise, time at the ocean and meeting with my chapter. No one can interrupt this time, and becoming “too busy” for my non-negotiables isn’t an option.
Why? Because they are key to fuel my body, spirit and not only live my values but also to ensure that I give from a place of abundance. To be a militant in youth is often seen as a rite of passage. To continue for 10 years is admirable. To commit to a lifetime is rare because as women in a capitalist society we are taught that we have to “grow up”, and give up our personal power for the domestic sphere. Growing up is a fluffy white lie for giving up on the small practices of insurgency against our generationally compounded and trans-border systemic oppression. As a militant mama of an unruly girl-child, it has become apparent that for every progressive idea and practice that I teach her, she will be bombarded with 200 counter-messages that will teach her to undervalue herself.
Our women’s collectives teach my girl-child to love others with tenderness, to commit to justice as love amplified beyond our kin to all oppressed peoples and to love herself unfailingly. As Ursula K. Le Guin said “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made like bread; re-made all the time, made new.”
(originally posted March 2, 2013 on AF3IRM’s main site)