Today, you and I went to the Mamas March for Black and Indigenous Lives protest and storytime teach-in. The night before, we made signs and you decorated them with crayons. One said “Black and Indigenous Lives Matter” and another said “Justice for Regis Korchinski-Paquet and Chantel Moore.” We talked about protests, and anti-Black racism, and why we were marching.
Today, we went to the rose garden in Queens Park: you in the toddler carrier, me walking with my forearm crutch. You holding both signs: one in each fist. Me, doing the best I could to keep up with the other protestors.
My love, one of the hardest parts of having chronic pain is when I have to deny you an experience. We stopped going to swimming lessons because I couldn’t bend enough to safely do the exercises. We stopped going to Baby Time because I couldn’t sit on the floor. You don’t understand this now, but one day you’ll notice that I can’t move as fast as the other mamas. I wish so much that I could do things like teach you how to ice skate, or take dance lessons with you. I wish I could give you an underduck on the swings.
I can’t walk for very long, especially not when I’m babywearing. But it’s important to me that you see protests in action. I want you to know both that Canada is racist and colonialist, and that you can do something about it. And I want you to listen to people who have experienced oppression, and do what you can to fight back against oppressive systems.
Throughout my life, I have wanted to be more of an activist than I am. My body is not built for direct action. I am too much of a people-pleaser. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve been more comfortable calling out racism. And while I know that political action looks a lot of different ways, and while I know that I can donate and post and have discussions and all of that counts, I wanted you to feel what happens when people move together singing and chanting and cheering. I wanted you to feel a part of a movement, even if you’re too little to know what a movement is.
So, we moved together with a crowd of 50 or 60 people. “Momma’s stick is tapping,” you said. “That’s a tapping sound.” We left the park and marched towards Moody Park. I wore a mask, as did most of the grownups. Everyone carried signs. The crowd shouted, “No justice, no peace,” and you did the ‘No peace’ part. You held up the signs. “I’m a big helper,” you said.
As we walked, the sun came out, and you snuggled against my chest. When you were a baby, I wore you all the time, and it’s your favourite place to be. When you’re upset, you run to the closet and bring me the carrier. I don’t wear you very often, because of my back pain: one more thing my pain has taken from us.
But I wore you, and we walked, and we chanted, and despite the honking and the chanting, you fell asleep against my chest with your signs clutched in your fists. When you let them go, a punk couple dressed in black picked them up, because I couldn’t bend. You’d wake up, disoriented, and want the sign back. Then, you’d fall asleep and drop it again, lulled by the cadence of my crutch and the sway of my limp, and someone would pick them up for us.
When we got the park, you woke up and wanted to run around. We listened to a few stories, and I read part of “When We Were Alone,” before you ran off and I had to chase you. Then, Nana came with my car and picked us up, so I wouldn’t have to walk back.
Dottie, you are sensitive and strong-willed. I love that about you. You were born with fierce opinions. You know exactly what you want. And I want you to use these qualities for good. It will take more than one march to orient you towards anti-racism and justice. But this moment is a good time to promise you that I will have tough conversations with you, that I will fill our house with books and movies that don’t center people who look like you. I will call out racism when I see it, and work on my own learning and unlearning. My sweet goose, I will love you however you are, but I do hope that you grow up to be more radical than I am.
I’ve been thinking a lot about discomfort. One of my mottos is “I am comfortable with being uncomfortable.” As someone with chronic pain, I am used to physical discomfort. But I am trying to get used to emotional discomfort: to sit with uncomfortable feelings and not get defensive, to acknowledge when I’ve caused harm. I hope that you will develop a positive relationship to your own discomfort. I don’t have good answers for you. I’ve both paid a price for ignoring my own discomfort and powering through, and for centring my own discomfort to the cost of others.
I also hope that growing up with a disabled mom will show you the importance of community. Another mom at the park will give you an underduck on the swings. Someone else will pick up the signs you dropped. And I hope that you will learn that true community needs to include reciprocity. People help us. We help people. From each according to their ability; to each according to their need, as Marx said. I hope you will learn to look around and ask yourself who gets help, who’s left out, whose discomfort is centred at whose expense?
Right now, you’re sleeping in your new big girl bed. You are not a fan. You’ve already been up once crying, wanting your crib back. But you’re growing up, and sometimes transitions are hard. Change is hard. You may never sleep on my chest in your carrier again. But you’re sleeping now, settled. I hope you dream of people shouting ‘no justice, no peace’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the cadence of my crutches tapping. I hope you are proud of the work you did today, my big helper. We have so much more work to do.