Last week, or um, whenever, I agreed to be a guest on the imaginary, made-up show, ‘Mainstream Mania’. The episode I appeared on was called, ‘Crazy People Trying To Break Away From The Herd’. It was mostly about why I’m choosing to parent the way I do. Here’s a transcript:
Manistream Mania: Hello, Kimberley. Thank you for being here. Could you please state your age, level of education, and yearly income for the audience?
Me: (Weirded out already.) Uh, I’m 28, and no, and no. Not sure of the relevance but thanks.
MM: (Smiling condescendingly because I’m obviously dumb and poor.) Okay, moving on! Let’s get right to it, what the viewers want to know: why do you want your children physically attached to you at every moment of your life? You bored? Lonely?
Me: (Staring awkwardly into the camera because I’ve never been on a show before.) Oh, attachment, I get it. Attachment parenting doesn’t mean I have, or desire to have my children physically attached to me all the time. If you think about it, that wouldn’t be comfortable for anyone. Attached refers more to my state of mind and presence in the moment. I strive to be very cognizant of my daughters’ developmental needs, and what I can do to meet them. It also refers to the physical bond I have with my children – we bedshare, I breastfeed and carry my toddler in a carrier, I show lots of physical affection, and I’ve always responded on demand to my children’s cries or cues for assistance. Many parents do these things, though, and do not consider themselves to be attached parents.
MM: Right. So when you say ‘bedshare’ do you mean you sleep in the same bed as your children? Even the 8-year-old?
Me: Yes, bedsharing is the act of sharing a bed. Even with my eldest.
MM: Okay but you’re single so it’s probably a lot easier for you. I’m sure you’ll change your tune once you have a boyfriend or husband, right?
Me: Actually, Mainstream, it’s not so easy for me just because I’m single. I am the only person around to tend to my children all day, it would be a relief to be alone at night, if that was what I wanted, but it’s not. And before I remarry I will assure that the prize-winning feller understands what he’s getting himself into.
Mainstream: Let’s be frank here, Kimber – what about a relationship? What about sex? I mean your life can’t be about your children all the time.
Me: Says who, you? My life is about my children most of the time because they are always here. I think that’s where you’ve lost your way, Mainstream. Once we bear children there are no backsies. They’re here and they need us. I enjoy the time I get to spend with them, immensely. My children are great companions, even when they’re stealing the blanket off me. As far as sex…c’mon Mainstream, I’ve seen your shows and movies…y’all have sex everywhere but the bed! If and when I remarry I’ll just be sure to not sign any contracts that confine us to a bed, okay?
Mainstream: Moving on! Breastfeeding. It’s a hot-topic these days, huh? What do you have against mothers who choose to formula feed? (Slyly.) Are they less than you and your counterparts, Kimber? Do they love their babies less?
Me: (Smiling.) Nicely played, Mainstream, nicely played. For the record, I have absolutely nothing against mothers. What I am against are your techniques, Mainstream. I am against misinformation and for-profit-only medical advice. I don’t like or appreciate watching a commercial that claims that breast is best and in the same breath touts the ‘benefits’ of a certain formula. I don’t like your ideals that make it hard for a woman to be viewed as a productive, valuable member of her society; and still be able to feed her child the healthiest, safest possible way. I am ashamed to live in a nation of people who are less bothered watching almost completely naked girls hump cars in a music video, than they are seeing a breast in a baby’s mouth at a park. I don’t think anyone is ‘less’ than I am. I think certain options are less beneficial for babies and ultimately, for everyone. I feel that the way formula is marketed and pushed to families is unethical and irresponsible. But I have nothing against mothers, Mainstream, and I wish that you’d stop perpetuating that lie. I understand it works better for you if everyone is too wrapped up in ‘mommy wars’ to realize where the war really is; but I’d rather you not ask questions like that during this interview.
Mainstream: Well okay then, point taken. Moving on. When you came here today it looked like you were carrying a 30-year-old little person on your back. What’s up with that? Now before you answer, I get that it’s nice to have your child close to you…but what about independence? Doesn’t she ever want to walk? Why are you trying to keep her a baby forever? Don’t you own a stroller?
Me: (Annoyed, but keeping my cool.) Wow, seventy questions. Okay. Um, yes I own a stroller. My stroller is designed so that my daughter faces me though, and I haven’t used it in months. I don’t like the idea of being out with my girl and not being able to see her face. You know Mainstream, when I really sit down and ponder the purpose of some of your most popular baby items, it kind of disappoints me. I mean on the surface a stroller seems pretty harmless; and if a mother isn’t constantly relying on it I’m sure it is. But babies require a lot of attention; and it’s hard to give if they spend too much time in a stroller and they can’t even see their caregiver. It’s just not for me. I like looking at my child and interacting with her. I like to be able to gauge her level of stimulation. I enjoy watching her discover her world; and helping her to do that. I think of the time my eldest spent in an away facing stroller…those are missed hours of bonding that I’ll never be able to recover. I am not saying ‘death to strollers’ but I am saying ‘death to the overuse of strollers’. I just don’t think parents need to rely so heavily on certain items; many are designed to push our children away from us – separation happens naturally, with age. I am not trying to do anything to rush it; there are matters I need to take care of with my children before we separate, and building a strong connection is one of them. I don’t think placing them in a chair that forces them to not look at me for hours on end, sends the message that ‘I want to connect’.
My daughter loves to walk, and she does. But she is newly three years old and she tires after all that toddler energy is spent. Rather than lug a stroller around I snap my carrier around my waist, and go. It’s like a couple pounds versus twenty. She loves knowing that she has the freedom to run and play as much as she wants, and that when she is tired Mommy will scoop her up so that she may rest. And from my back she has a view that I wish all toddlers could experience once in a while: she is tall. She can see over counters; she can pretend to read signs I’m reading; she can talk to other adults at almost their height. That’s her perch. It connects us even deeper and it keeps her content. She talks to me over my shoulder, asking about all the exciting objects she sees ahead of us. She isn’t walking around staring at butts, and she’s learned so much because of it. Carrying her does not stifle her development; quite the opposite, she gets to view the world on my level for a good part of each day. She experiences life in a way that’s hard to do from a stroller. She cannot be ignored by me if she is right on my back; and trust me, Mainstream, there are times when I wish she’d talk less. Whenever I speak to someone, which is often, they always notice her and interact with her – it wasn’t the same with my eldest and her stroller. She was relegated to a lower level than the rest of us; another message I don’t want to send to my children.
Carrying her as a baby allowed me to keep her close even when I had other duties to attend to. I could read to my eldest and wear my infant. I could clean and breastfeed. I could make a quick trip to the store without having to prepare anything, just put her in the carrier and be off.
Mainstream: Are you done?
Me: Oh, I can say more I just –
Mainstream: No, no! We get it, you love carrying your kid. Moving on! Listen, I don’t want to offend you –
Me: Then don’t.
Mainstream: Well, I am just wondering…you seem to be pretty single, and um… very, uh African-American, and uh-
Me: Look, attachment parenting isn’t strictly for married, White, wealthy people. AP families come in all shapes and sizes and colors and income brackets. Our lives may look different based on those factors but at the core we are all after the same goal – raising whole human beings. Connecting with our children and treating them with the respect we demand to be treated with as adults. Fighting for the rights of children and for equality for them. You don’t need a degree or a partner or to do those things, so don’t imply it, Mainstream. It’s just another of your tactics to keep people from learning more about attachment and it’s a load of…formula. Moving on?
Mainstream: (Sheepishly.) Moving on! (Clears throat.) Homeschooling. I’m just gonna come out and say it, Kimber: it’s weird. Your kids don’t go to school. Is it even legal, you don’t use a curriculum! I’m just worried about your kids when they get out there, you know? They might be – well, dumb, to be honest…unprepared.
Me: (Smiling again.) Oh, it’s legal. I really can’t speak for all families here, and I want to clarify that not all AP families homeschool, though many do. You’re correct, we don’t use a curriculum. We unschool. Listen, I don’t know what my children will be, so there’s no way a teacher could. They will show and tell me what they want to do with their lives; my job is to help them channel their energy so that they can be successful. I’ve never heard of anyone buying a plant and putting it into a shoebox to grow it. You could throw water on the box and put the box out in the sun all day; but until you lift the lid it’s going to be a pretty lifeless plant. Same with my children. We send our children to public school to have facts and dates and words thrown at them, but in my opinion, it’s not doing much for their growth. I wanted my children out of the box. I have so much to impart to my children, and so does the world. There is a whole world to learn from, Mainstream; not just textbooks. I want my children to write the books. Our children are not free in school, not if you really think about it. A teacher with 40 students has no time to listen to every idea every kid gets. I do. I have two students. And everything they say is important. Anything they want to learn is a priority. We aren’t working at Johnny Mathwhiz’s pace. We aren’t working at Sally Readslow’s pace. We are learning in a way that suits my children’s abilities. When they grow up they will know where their talents lie and they will be able to improvise where they are lacking. They will know how to teach themselves to rise to meet any challenge; and they won’t feel they have to raise their hand first. I know, Mainstream, you hate it that I am downing one of your favored institutions, and I mean no offense. I had some wonderful teachers growing up. But school couldn’t hold my interest. I wanted to work faster in certain subjects and much slower in others. I knew I couldn’t so I zoned out. I want better for my girls. Just my preference.
Mainstream: (Smugly.) Well, I’d like to go on record stating that SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE AND IT’S A WONDERFUL PRIVILEGE WE HAVE.
Me: Okay, Mainstream. That’s your preference, and it’s cool.
Mainstream: Moving on. Let’s wrap this up, shall we? You said some stuff earlier about equality for children. Are you implying children have no rights, in this great nation? That’s a bit dramatic, no?
Me: Mainstream, have you ever been spanked?
Mainstream: (Blushing.) That’s rather personal, I –
Me: (Rolling eyes.) As a child, Mainstream. Were you ever spanked as a child? Gutter-brain.
Mainstream: (Laughing.) Oh, yes, of course. I was quite the mischief maker in my day! I used to-
Me: No time, Mainstream. What about now?
Mainstream: What about now what?
Me: OMG, Man, you’ve been eating too many Big Macs. Do you still make mischief now? Do you make mistakes? Do you do things wrong?
Mainstream: Of course, I’m human. No one’s perfect, Kimber.
Me: I know, Mainstream. So why don’t you get hit anymore?
Mainstream: (Still not getting it.) Hello, I’m an adult. Who could hit me without it being considered as- (Stops. Looks at me. Doesn’t talk.)
Me: Right. Assault, right? Who could hit you without it being considered assault? No one. Because violence is illegal in this great nation; unless it’s against a child. That’s why I fight for the rights of children and for equality for them. Because you, Mainstream, feel that way, and you spread the sentiment, and it’s a popular one.
Mainstream: But –
Me: Hitting is the pits. Especially when someone’s hitting a defenseless, small child who only wants to laugh and love, and to be loved. It’s awful, no matter how you say it. I used to do it and I can admit it’s awful. It only teaches that violence equals silence. And silence means hurt feelings, locked away and never expressed. I’ll leave you with some info on gentle parenting. It really works and it leaves children’s integrity intact. You ever collect baseball cards, Mainstream? I did.
Mainstream: (Quietly.) Yes, so did I.
Me: Did you ever let anyone touch them, even when you first got them?
Mainstream: Of course not.
Me: Right, because you knew they would mature over time, and you were protecting them. You say you can’t be hit now because you’re an adult. But you were a child once. Children will be adults someday. They have just as much worth as adults; even if they cannot yet contribute as much to society. They are valuable assets to our world and they need to be protected and revered. Otherwise we decrease their self-worth as adults; and we detract from what they could contribute to our world later.
Mainstream: (Sighs.) Okay, okay. What I’m really concerned about here is independence. What about independence? Children have to learn to stand on their own two feet; you have to agree with that?
Me: (Thinking.) I do agree that children need to be independent but I think your view of independence is skewed, Mainstream. When I was 19 I asked my mom to bake me a cake; she declined so I decided I’d do it myself. I put it into the oven and waited. I got tired of waiting so I asked her if I should crank up the oven. She told me it was in, it would bake, just leave it be. I didn’t listen. I turned that baby up to 500 and in fifteen minutes I had a smoking hot mess. We humans are like that. Once we’re here, we’re dying. We are going to age and grow, regardless of what anyone does. Our children go through developmental stages naturally. They will leave us. Pushing them only means they won’t leave us well. I still ate a piece of that cake, and it made my stomach ill. Left a bad taste in my mouth. Many of us are walking around that way today – ill, embittered, lonely, and afraid. Happy but hollowed. I don’t want that for my children. I want to hold their hands while they’re young and face the evils of this world with them. When they are adults they will be able to face trials confidently; they will be experienced in overcoming obstacles, and they will know they are never alone. Think of how brave we could all be if we were healthily independent. How far from the nest we’d fly if we knew it was safely there for us. We’d fly so far we’d have no need to return, except to visit with our parents, who made us so brave. We wouldn’t have to waste time as adults attempting to fill voids left by adults who missed our cues. Many of us resort to childish behaviors because we are emotionally stuck; we were robbed of the opportunity to work through stages of our development. We don’t fly far because our wings are clipped. I at least speak for myself. This will not apply to my children; not if I can help it. And I absolutely can help it. I don’t think I’m better, or even great. In fact, I can safely say that treating my children well is probably the only thing in my life I’ve been able to get right. But I am strongly convicted that this way of parenting could help so many families and children, and I can’t and won’t stop talking about it.
Mainstream: Okay, Kimber. I can see you’ve got conviction. I don’t agree with all you’ve said, maybe it’s because I’ve been doing things a certain way for a very long time, I don’t know. Change is hard, and scary. Especially if I’d have to admit to some wrongdoing. I appreciate your time though, you’ve given me some points to ponder.
Me: It’s been my pleasure, Mainstream, and it’s okay to admit to some wrongdoing. I have to do it every day. I know change ain’t easy, believe me. I say we keep the dialogue going. But I do have to go now. My youngest wants to nurse and my eldest is documenting whether or not matzo balls fly. She’s throwing them out my kitchen window.
Mainstream: (Chuckles.) We’ll talk more. Thank you, Kimberley.
Me: Thank you for listening, Mainstream. I have no choice but to hear and see your views every minute of every day. Thank you for listening to mine.