I was just about to go onstage in front of the darkened, subterranean room, full of polite punks sitting on the floor, when the text message appeared on my phone. A thumbs up emoji preceded a photo of my seven-month-old son Joey grinning wildly and staring, enraptured, at a toddler beside him who was banging on a wooden drum.
Even with a very unwanted migraine headache pounding behind my right eye socket and the nervous shakes that came along with doing a reading after months of barely leaving my house, the photo gave me a sense of peaceful joy. Joey had just been checked into the on-site childcare at the Ottawa Explosion Weekend punk rock fest. He was tired when I left him, I’d forgotten to change his diaper, and for all I knew he was about to have a huge meltdown that would make the childcare volunteers curse my name.
But, realistically, no one was cursing anybody. Because, like so many things associated with Ottawa Explosion Weekend, this year’s inaugural child care venture was buoyed by enthusiastic, generous, organized people, who all wanted everything to work as well as possible. And a funny thing happens when good people work hard at something: it turns out pretty great.
Earlier this year, I read a post on the Mutha Magazine site written by writer and artist Sara Zia Ebrahimi titled “Whose Burden.” In it, she wrestled with the idea that parenthood naturally comes with a certain level of social isolation. She wrote about her frustration attending events rooted in her activist and artistic communities where her child was not welcome. She wondered why it had to be that way.
I wonder the same thing. Having children is a choice of course, and with all choices come automatic limitations. I’m not inclined to bring my noisy preschooler to a midnight showing of The Decline of Western Civilization or anything bananas like that. But attending safe, fun, interesting events during daylight hours? It doesn’t seem far fetched that I might want to bring my kids along.
Ottawa Explosion Weekend has pretty much always been kid friendly. There are daytime shows, outside, in a central location. Check. People are not being drunken assholes. Check. Bands are having fun and the audience isn’t taking themselves too seriously. Check. There are picnic tables. And bathrooms. And food. Check, check, check. However, 2015 was the first year the festival included a space on-site where parents could actually leave their kids for a little while. I am proud to have been part of the three-person organizing team behind what we ended up calling Ottawa Explosion Kidzone.
The photo of Joey was sent by my friend and co-organizer Jessica, who’d been sitting amid the roomful of bouncing preschoolers and crawling babies when I’d dropped Joey off and then raced down two flights of stairs to make it to my reading on time. If I had needed to bring him back to my house, I don’t think I would have been able to see any bands play that afternoon. Or I’d have had to force my non-music loving husband to attend the day with me. With two small kids at home, attending and participating in a weekend punk fest becomes somewhat of a logistical nightmare.
And even though our punk community in Ottawa includes what I’d guess is an above average number of participatory dads, the truth is that often it is the female parent who ends up sacrificing time spent at shows or events. She might be nursing and therefore unable to physically be apart from a baby for any significant length of time. Her partner might be in three bands playing shows that night so she is automatically a solo parent. (I am aware that lots of women play in bands and that Ottawa Explosion in particular has a high number of women musicians participating. But the frank truth is that there are still fewer women in bands than men and way fewer women who are in multiple bands.) Having childcare on-site at an event is obviously creating the opportunity for children to attend. It is also, perhaps less obviously, creating the opportunity for women to attend.
Like so many great things, the idea for the on-site childcare came from a joke. Months before the Explosion weekend, I’d written a Facebook post inviting friends from afar to come stay in my basement if they wanted to attend. Replies to the post quickly veered off topic and one friend, whose wife was about to give birth to their first child, asked jokingly, “So what’s the deal with childcare at the thing, anyway?” Friends instantly began flooding the thread with photos of their kids at Explosions past. We all had similar feelings about bringing our kids to the festival. It’s super great that it’s kid friendly and everything, but it’s also a pain in the ass when you just want to watch Needles//Pins and not worry that your toddler will come out of the super fascinating bushes around the corner from the stage. Was there a way to have our kids there but also, at key moments, not have our kids there?
My friends Jessica and Fred thought so, as did I. A flurry of emails and text messages followed. Jessica took the lead and began talking with the Explosion organizers, then found us a room we could book for free in the arts building where the bulk of the weekend’s shows took place. We checked in with each other between park dates and playgroups and after bedtimes. All it took was one in-person meeting and a bunch of individual preparation and then suddenly we had safe, free, on-site childcare planned for the entire Saturday afternoon of the festival.
I showed up half an hour before the childcare was set to begin and let Joey crawl around amid the equipment we’d all brought from home while I set up a few last minute toys and activities. At one PM I welcomed our first two volunteer caregivers, Rob Seaton and his partner Sarah. The fact that Rob chose to start his day sitting on the floor surrounded by babies and toddlers and then a few hours later was on stage playing a surprise Statues reunion show was pretty much the perfect illustration of the punk rock community spirit we were going for.
A few hours later there I was again, dropping off my kid who had previously only been cared for by family members, in a well-equipped room with friendly parent volunteers. And feeling surprisingly okay about it. Jessica used the childcare for her own two kids that day as well, leaving them there to play while she and her husband Dave Williams, from Ottawa band Crusades, checked out bands. She then spent time with them and other children as a volunteer, then finally took them out to watch bands in the late afternoon. Fred and her partner Mike came later in the day to work a volunteer shift between letting their little girl dance in the front row for various bands.
Other families used the childcare in similar ways. Two different couples with kids under a year old told me that they were so grateful to have a “date” that afternoon, since neither had much family in town to help with babysitting. Free childcare at an event you’d want to attend anyway? That equals a date. Even if all the date consists of is sitting, slightly stunned, beside your partner on a grassy hill sharing a beer while a band you’ve never heard before plays in the courtyard below you. People with babies are too tired to do much more than that anyway. But like everyone else, they’re always happy to be included in all the amazing things our community is able to create.
The Punk Parenthood Questionnaire
Earlier this year, in the interest of broadening my scope of parents to interview for this column, I put out a call for interested parents to contact me with their stories. Stacey was one of the first to get in touch. I found her situation especially interesting because of her remote location, and how she manages to hang on to her ethics and ideals while physically separated from the city environment where her connection to the punk scene began.
Jennifer: Hey! So who are you?
Stacey: My name is Stacey. I live in a small town in the flyover now, but I was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. My partner and I came up through the punk scene in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s there. It was a tough scene—a few scattered punks and other misfits basically banded together as the antidote to—and as protection from—the vast majority of people who lived in Calgary at the time. Rednecks, neo-nazi skinheads—of which there were a lot—and jocks. It was a dangerous time to be different, and the scene that came out of those early days was pretty tight and cohesive. It pretty much set the tone for everything that came after. Calgary is a very, very different place than it was twenty-five, thirty years ago. The art and music scene is a lot bigger than it used to be, but a lot of that cohesiveness remains.
These days I am an Early Childhood Educator and culinary professional, and together with my partner and children, run an outdoor Early Learning program from our home. We work with children from all walks of life, and have particular success with children that don’t “fit” other ECE programs—kids who have processing issues, who have various “learning disabilities,” who are from terrible homes, who have super high energy.
Our program philosophy is based in honoring the whole child, scars and all. We foster a strong connection to nature, to self, and to community, and we’ve been very well-received as an alternative to regular programs.
Jennifer: And who are your kids?
Stacey:I prefer not to use their real names, but my blessings are Captain Chaos, age six, and The Calamity Kid, age four. Chaos is into climbing all the things and making the Starbucks moms at the park wonder if they should call CPS on me, and Calamity is into metal screams right now. I think he’ll make a great powwow singer when he gets older.
Jennifer:How does your background in the punk/underground scene affect your parenting?
Stacey: My background in the scene has informed everything that came after. I don’t know where I’d be today if I hadn’t had that first taste of Dayglo Abortions in, like, ‘87—and frankly I don’t want to know.
In the years that have passed since that day, I’ve lived and learned a lot. I’ve learned what it means to create beauty from ugliness, in all things. I’ve also seen what happens when the ugliness wins. I’ve learned about politics, music, and people. I’ve seen things I probably shouldn’t have and I’ve done things I definitely shouldn’t have. I’ve made lifelong friends and been a part of community building. I’ve traveled widely and met people who spoke my language even though we didn’t speak the same language. I’ve learned acceptance and I’ve learned to stand up for myself and others, to be heard and to help amplify the voices of those who aren’t heard.
My partner and I came together after a long friendship/courtship to raise these kids as a family, and we share a lot of the same political ideas—and inappropriate humor. We talk to each other a lot—about raising independent children, about the politics of race—we are a racially mixed/blended family—about the politics of economics and wealth, about basically just life outside the norm. Our kids are loud and proud, and while that bites us in the ass on the regular, it’s basically the whole tenet of our philosophy as parents and as individuals.
Jennifer: What quality of yours do you most hope to pass on to your kids?
Stacey: My strong DIY work ethic, sense of empathy, creativity, and the willingness to fight for self and for others. Jeez, that sounds like I’m blowing my own horn but I really think that my children’s generation is going to be challenged in ways that we are just beginning to grasp. I think they’re going to see big changes in our political and economic landscapes and I want them to be prepared for that. I think a staunch sense of independence, the ability to build community, and the willingness to work hard for yourself and others is going to be key to their wellbeing as they get older.
Jennifer: What music are you most excited that your kids are into?
Stacey: Calamity is totally into early Alice Cooper and At The Drive In right now. Chaos really likes Of Monsters And Men and Pachelbel.
Jennifer: Describe the last time your kids made you laugh really hard.
Stacey: Yesterday, when they came racing through the kitchen toward the basement. Chaos was laughing and instructing Calamity, “Okay, now push me down the stairs…” I caught myself yelling, “Calamity! Don’t push your brother down the stairs even if he tells you to!” and then laughed at my life until my sides hurt. Seriously. Some of the shit you have to say when you have two little dudes is just ridiculous.