Punk Parenthood For The Sleep Deprived X: Nervous Like Me

Jan 05, 2016

“I’m in love with the world
As long as you’re alive
In love with it all
As long as you survive.”

I woke up one day last week at 5:00 AM. It felt weird because no one else in my family was awake. The dogs weren’t barking, the neighbors weren’t shouting or playing terrible music at high volumes. There was no real reason for me to be awake.

When I’d gone to sleep at ten the night before I’d been alone in our king-sized bed. Our one-year-old son Joey was asleep in his bassinet by the window. Milo, our three-year-old son, had settled in his own room in the lower bunk bed, surrounded by a cast of stuffed animals. David, my husband, was reading a book on the couch in the living room.

Through the night both kids had woken: Milo from a nightmare, Joey when he heard Milo come into our room. Milo crawled into our bed and was snoring within minutes. I sat with Joey in my arms until he fell back to sleep, then I laid him down beside his brother. Sometime after I’d fallen asleep again, David came to bed, sliding between the covers without waking any of us.

Lying there at 5:00 AM I could hear each of them breathing in the silent darkness. I was close enough and it was quiet enough that I could actually identify their three distinct inhales and exhales. I felt my heart constricting with the pain that comes with intense love.

I feel very far away from the perhaps-widely-held view of punks as face-spitting, bird-flipping, pariahs. None of the people I know within this particular punk movement ever really adopted that kind of persona.

Here’s an example. My friend Bill, who takes a kind of goofy pride in fucking with carefully chosen people, acts like a jolly punk rock uncle around people he cares about. When a crowd of friends were eating dinner in New York City once and I declared my intent to go gawk at the nearby ChelseaHotel, it was Bill who stood up and offered to walk with me. He wasn’t interested in looking at the building, which he’d no doubt seen many times before. But he was reluctant to send a fresh-faced Canadian off on her own through unfamiliar dark streets. He stood patiently to one side while I stared at the building, thinking about Patti Smith and Sid Vicious and Leonard Cohen, then fell silently in step with me on the sidewalk when I was ready to go. I am friends with the punks who really care about people, I thought as we walked back through the chilly darkness to meet up with the group we’d left at the restaurant.

There’s always going to be an element of “I don’t give a shit!” related to subculture because not caring about dominant culture and its associated values is why subculture exists. It gives the person in question an aura of invulnerability and that seems to be central to what we all often perceive as cool.

While I can say there’s plenty of stuff I still don’t care about (cars, sports, weight loss programs), parenthood has broken me open in a way I struggle to understand. I’m no longer a person who merely cares a great deal about her friends and relatives. Now I spend most of my time feeling emotional and vulnerable. I was never a cool punk to begin with, but parenthood has stolen any hope I ever had of being perceived as aloof. Nothing before has made me so focused on my own small world and yet so touched by any sadness in the world at large.

The idea of parents being perpetually soft-hearted and concerned has been written about so much it is certainly a cliché. But, fuck. Lying there at 5:00 AM, listening to my family breathe, I can’t do anything but cry silent tears of gratitude. I am so lucky that they are all here with me, all safe, all sleeping peacefully. The idea that anything terrible could happen to them, that one or more of them could be taken from me, is so devastating I feel like an invisible hand is choking me when I think of it. Most of the time it is a productive reminder to take good care of them all— occasionally, it escalates into minor terror.

This kind of emotional fear doesn’t happen unassisted. Prenatal classes, hospital staff, and every so-you’re-having-a-baby book ever written will at least mention in passing the ways in which your child might perish. Don’t let them sleep in a car seat or with a pillow or on their stomach. Don’t put them to bed wearing a hat, or in a house where someone smokes, or after they bump their head. Don’t feed them peanut butter, or honey, or uncut grapes. Don’t ever take your hand off their body during diaper changes. Get your car seat professionally installed. Use sleep sacks instead of blankets. Don’t leave them alone in a room with your dog.

I found this extreme and darkly humorous before I became an actual parent. But when each of my children was a baby I rarely let them sleep longer than an hour without checking to see if they were still breathing. I had terrifying visions of them falling through the open stairs in our home and landing with a sickening thud on the floor below. I even spent one winter afraid to drive, since it seemed to only be increasing the chances that something would happen to hurt my child. I walked everywhere, groceries crammed into my backpack, the baby held tightly and safely in a carrier, close to my chest.

My husband is less emotional than I am, more practical and prone to consider all sides of a problem before reacting. But even he admits to no longer being able to read news stories about bad things happening to young children. “I just think about it happening to Milo and Joey,” he says when the news shows us stories of refugee children dying or kids in our own province walking out of their homes and freezing to death in the snow.

It doesn’t even have to be as distant as a news story about a stranger. Statistically, tragedy is bound to creep into the edges of our social circle. Friends of friends had a toddler who went down for a nap and never woke up. Other friends of other friends have a four year old just diagnosed with leukemia. We help out where we can, cry when we are alone, and we guiltily spend time hoping it doesn’t happen to us.

When Milo was little I asked a friend with an older son, “How old was Jake before you stopped constantly worrying that he was dead?” She considered the question for a while before answering. “I guess he was four,” she finally said. Then added, “But really, never. You never stop. You just get used to the worry being there inside your brain.”

Getting used to the worry is all we can do. We don’t banish the fear that goes along with the love. We just let it lie there in bed with us, like an extra member of the family. We keep it warm. We try to sleep.

The Punk Parenthood Questionnaire

Years ago, in what feels like a different life, I was in an all-girl rock band here in Ottawa. The band was put together by our bassist, and it was through her that I first met Misse, who became our drummer. Misse was a bit of a local legend because she had a lot of punk cred and yet still had young kids. No one I knew had kids. The first time I walked into Misse’s house she was sitting on the floor with her daughters playing with toy animals. An hour later we were in her basement and she was drumming her way through our bad cover songs.

I didn’t realize at the time how much it must have taken for Misse to join our band when she did. Her kids were still young and she was a very dedicated parent, so for her to take one night—sometimes even two or three—a week “off” from parenting to play in our band was generous and brave.

I always knew I wanted to have kids someday, and Misse was a very early parenting role model for me. She obviously cared about her kids and thought a lot about being a parent, but she also made it look fun and fulfilling, even at times when it was probably just stressful and scary. She has maintained her strength and love through many unexpected and painful life events. She is now in the unique situation of having two almost-adult children and a brand new start with a new marriage and a new baby. I’ve wanted to have her answer these questions for a while and I’m so glad she finally did.

Jennifer: Hey, who are you?

Misse: I am Misse from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and I work as a childcare provider in my home daycare and have done so for the past seventeen years. In my after hours I have studied and worked as a personal trainer, with a huge focus on how nutrition impacts our health and hormones, and I am a Restorative Exercise Specialist in training. I tend to be more passionate about working with pre and post natal women—getting their bodies ready to healthily carry, deliver, and recover from babies and the birthing process.

Creatively, in the seconds of time I have left over, I love to sing duets with my husband and would like to learn how to play the harmonica. Very previously, I played drums in an all-girl punk band called Sophomore Level Psychology.

Jennifer: Who are your kids?

Misse: My kids are Kiana, age twenty, Kade, age seventeen, and Oliver, age one.

Kiana—who was born while her dad and I were still babies—has probably taught me the most, since I was still not a fully formed human when she was born. She was shy outside of our circle of family and friends, but for those she was close to, she was very comfortable being her goofy self. Some of my friends may have described Kiana as “spirited.” She taught me the patience that I would need to run a successful daycare. Growing up, Kiana was really into singing and songwriting, art, dancing, and just goofing around being silly. She still is.

Kade, the old soul, is and always has been a powerful, independent person. She taught me to step back and let her do it her way. Kade was, and still is, very artistic—in her fashion, in her writing, and in her art. She is a very passionate person about everything she does and her views.

I always joke that Oliver is my first baby as a grown up. He comes after raising my two girls and around forty or more daycare children. He shouldn’t get away with anything as a result of how experienced I am at this point, right? This should be a breeze! Oliver really is such an easy-going, happy, silly baby. So far. He learned mobility early and hasn’t stopped. I love watching the wonder with which he learns and explores. Oliver is truly a daycare baby. I only had one month off when he was born so he has spent his whole life with his daycare friends and he loves it.

Jennifer: How does your background in the punk/underground scene affect your parenting?

Misse: I’ve thought about this question a lot. I grew up in small town Ontario and there was a lot of small-mindedness growing up there. Not so much in my home, but definitely in my schools and neighborhoods. I have always had a tendency to reject the mainstream and had an easy time voicing my strong opinions.

Finding the punk/underground scene felt like coming home to me when I was a teenager. It was who I always was inside. The music and ideals resonated deeply for me, as I know they do for so many others.

Becoming a mom at such a young age—and moving to Ottawa all at the same time—caused me to have a brief identity crisis. I remember giving away all of my amazingly huge collection of prized thrift store clothing when I was packing up my teenage bedroom, to move away from home for the very first time to be a “grown up.”

It didn’t occur to me that I could keep any of it. I lost myself for a short time.

I was a rock widow. Kiana’s dad, Matt, went on a six-week tour when she was just two months old. Thankfully, for the time he was away, I had my own mom and her friend Joanne, who was a lactation consultant and mother of a million kids.

I wanted to do everything perfectly as a mom, so I read everything I could. I aligned myself with Dr. Sears and attachment-style parenting and thought if everyone could just co-sleep and breastfeed forever the world would be perfect. I was young and naive. Between Matt’s work, band practices, and shows, I was alone with Kiana a lot. It was a struggle.

When Kiana was ten months old, I met two really cool moms, Christine and Louise, in my upper-class, mostly older neighborhood, and got back in touch with myself. We talked about great music and had similar left wing views. I finally had friends with kids. All of my other friends were still many years from marriage or children. These ladies were cool and moms. I don’t think they even know today how meeting them was what put me back in touch with who I am.

I began to parent with way more confidence. I parented with intuition instead of books. I started to have more fun again.

Eventually, I went from being a rock widow to being in a band myself for the first time. The girls grew up surrounded by band practices in our home, parents playing shows, and lots of great music as the soundtrack to their childhoods. They had songs written about them, and some songs written by them. It was great. Some of those years were spent all together and then the rest were split between two homes. But they still had the music in both.

When I asked the girls how they feel about being raised in homes like ours, they said:

Kade: I think being raised in a household where both parents were so involved in the underground scene affected me by giving me the benefit of learning more liberal morals about not judging people and being super accepting of all backgrounds. My parents always gave me free reign to express myself however I pleased artistically and that’s helped me to blossom into the person I am today, not only with my music taste and style but my morals my strong political views.

Kiana: I agree with what Kade said. And being raised in a home where music was always playing has made me a very passionately musical person.

Misse: Years and a new marriage later, Oliver loves music just like the girls did. And my husband Jake is a musician, composer, and sound engineer, so it’s very important to him that Oliver play music. Piano is a must. And then he can choose any other instrument of his choice, which sounds good to me—as long as he isn’t into the Uberorgan.

Jennifer: What quality of yours do you most hope to pass on to your kids?

Misse: This is a great question for me to answer about the girls because they are almost grown.

Humor is the greatest thing in life. I grew up in a large family and things could get stressful at times. My dad is a very funny person and he had a way of breaking the tension during these times by cracking a joke. He always made everything more fun, and I’m a very silly person as a result. It has been such a joy to see the girls being so silly and fun as they have grown up.

There are times in your kids lives when they do lose the silly, or you just don’t get to see it as much because they are in a serious phase. Or just a rotten phase! But it’s still there. And hopefully it will be back more fully.

And now having such a younger brother, they get an opportunity to just have raw silliness with him. He sees them as giant toys and gets so excited when he sees them that he just starts laughing.

Oliver has understood humor since he was way too young to, yet he did and does have a wonderful sense of silly. I love it!

Another quality I really wish to pass on is an open mind and an open heart. Sometimes our views can become so strong that they harden us or close us off and—if and when that happens—it’s just sad. I wish for my children to never feel that their way of thinking is the only way to think. There are many different paths in life and we need to respect each other’s way of thinking and living, even if it’s not in line with our own.

Jennifer: What music are you most excited that your kids are into?

Misse: Over the years, the girls have gone through lots of different tastes in music. I’m talking Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne. But they have always loved the music they grew up with.

On Friday nights while cleaning up the house after daycare, I had a tradition of blaring loud music and making it into a dance party. We would play anything from Daft Punk to Postal Service, and very often old disco from my collection.

I’m always super excited to hear my old favorites blaring from behind a bedroom door without my prompting. Blondie, Breeders, Metric, The Clash, Camera Obscura, Cat Power, The Smiths, and so much more.

Jennifer: Describe a time your kids made you laugh really hard.

Well this story is something we all really laugh about now, but at the time it wasn’t funny at all. At least not to Kiana. We were on a very long car ride on our way home from a trip away and the kids were getting antsy. Very long. Like five hours long. We were all antsy. I think she was about five at the time.

We had made a stop earlier for a meal and it was one of those places with a toy chest for the kids to pick a cheap little dollar store type treasure after the meal. Kiana picked a little parachute guy. She started acting out because she was tired of the car and bored so she started throwing the parachute guy around the car. I guess back then I was all about chances because after the first time she threw it I said, “No throwing,” explained the danger of causing an accident, and gave it back to her. The second time she threw it towards Matt and me at the front of the car. I grabbed the little parachute guy, turned around in my seat to face her, and said in my business voice, “Kiana, if you throw this guy again, he’s going out the window!” Then I gave it back to her again.

She looked right at me and threw the parachute guy right at her dad’s head. I grabbed the parachute guy and out the window he went. Not one of my finer moments. For some bizarre reason I have a picture of her sad cry face during this tough part of the drive. Terrible. And hilarious. We laugh every time we see the picture.

I used to hold regular wrestling matches with the girls before PJ time. The location of this event was my big, giant bed. And because it became a regular thing we decided that we each needed wrestler names. Kiana was Flower Power, because she loved pink and flowers galore. This was her girlie stage. She dressed the part. The girls gave me the name Mama Mia. No need for a costume. Kade took this very seriously. She said she was going to present to us her name.

She left the room, and a minute later came running in with only a pair of underwear on and yelled, while pouncing on us, “I’m Naked Ninja!”—because at this time in her life she hated being dressed. Kiana and I started to laugh, which insulted her seriousness of the matter. Our punishment was to be defeated. She wrestled us and pinned us down until we cried defeat.

I have so many stories about Oliver but most are too personal or gross and involve farts or boogers. Kade will not let me tell one of those. When he learned to play peek-a-boo a few months ago, he didn’t understand that it was your eyes that are covered, just that we use our hands somewhere on our faces and say boo. So every time he would sit in his booster seat at snack time with his daycare friends, he would try to communicate with them by playing this game. But he ended up just slapping whatever messy food he was eating all over his ears, eyes, forehead, hair, while shouting “ba ba ba!!”