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Punk Parenthood For The Sleep Deprived IX: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

When I was eight years old, I was pretty certain that I would feel grown up when I was in high school. I had babysitters who were in high school, and they seemed incredibly mature. They wore tight jeans, drank Coke, and talked about their boyfriends. If I was well behaved they used their power (benevolently) to let me watch Flashdance on my parents’ Betamax. And what could be more grown up than Flashdance?

When I was in high school I thought I would feel grown up when I went to university. I saw the University of Toronto students hanging out when my friends and I went record shopping downtown. They lugged textbooks and wore vintage glasses, perfectly broken-in band shirts, and Doc Martens. I pictured myself living in a one bedroom apartment and taking the subway to campus to host my own show on CIUT. No parents, no guidance counselors, no more living in the suburbs. Now that was grown up.

But I didn’t feel grown up in university. So I imagined that the grown-up feeling would come after I graduated. And then, perpetually belittled by customers while working a crummy retail job, I thought I’d probably feel grown up once I got a better gig. Or once my first book was published. Or once I settled down with a decent guy. When none of that made me feel like I was finally an adult, I figured, well, at least when I have kids I’ll have no choice. I’ll be someone’s parent. I’ll be the one making dentist appointments and signing daycare forms and buying snowsuits. Grown-up stuff.

Joke’s on me. I wake up as myself every day and no educational, financial, or parental milestones will ever alter that. I just turned forty; I have a home, a husband, two kids, and a solid job. But I’m typing this slumped in a chair, my eyes still teary from a freak out over trying to learn how to use a FTP client program, my heart pumping hard because of the songs my computer is spitting out. I’m wearing an ancient Rock for Choice T-shirt and some second-hand shorts with stains on them. Suffice to say I still don’t feel like a grown up. The difference now is: I’ve decided that the idea growing up is kind of bullshit.

I work as a child care inspector for my day job (yep, pretty grown up) and lately we’ve been taking a lot of direction from a document that talks about viewing children as “capable, curious, and competent.” It entreats educators to start respecting children as actual people with interests and passions and personalities, not to wait for them to outgrow the qualities we view as “childish.” Basically it says, “Let’s step aside and watch them be themselves.”

My older son loves music and fire trucks and shrieks at me to remove his pants if he drops so much as one molecule of juice on them. He is also thoughtful and kind and tells me he missed me when we spend a day apart. His idea of a good time is a bike ride that leads to both a library and a bakery.

My younger son is a tiny daredevil. My husband had to rescue him yesterday when he was hanging like an action hero from the baby gate we installed to keep him safe. He smiles constantly and is quickly at ease in most situations. He cackles with excitement when he makes it to the dish of dog food on the floor before I can scoop him up away from it.

When they are my age will they still have some variation on these traits? Probably. I still have feelings and character traits that I remember having as early as the third grade: I have a hard time talking without cracking jokes; I get so wound up about music I spend days not thinking about much else; math makes me nervous; I cry when I am really stressed, happy, angry, or nervous; I hate bananas.

Unfortunately “growing up” has become shorthand for “giving up everything fun.” I think this concept is particularly interesting through the lens of the punk community. I’m sure I’m not the only person whose relatives are surprised that I haven’t given up on music fandom, zine writing, or shirts with the sleeves cut off. I don’t know what I’d prove by getting over the things that I’ve always been interested in, but I do know I wouldn’t be any happier for it. And this realization has changed not only the way I view myself, but the way I view my kids. I will try to let them know that as they grow older I want them to become the best versions of themselves, not brand new people with a list of qualities we’ve randomly decided add up to maturity.

Being a parent has made me a more focused, kind, and hard-working version of myself. But it hasn’t made me into a grown up. And I’m thankful for that.

The Punk Parenthood Questionnaire

Dave Williams and Jessica Gilmore are the kind of people I am always excited to run into on the street. And I do run into them on the street because they are busy, friendly, and into interesting things—so we see each other around. Conversation with one or more members of their family—their daughter Audrey confidently ordered me, a relative stranger in her life, to get her a balloon at a recent birthday party—always involves entertaining stories and commentary with a bunch of laughs. I have wanted Dave and Jessica to answer these questions since this column began, and their answers turned out to be worth the wait. They make me excited to be a part of our city’s small-but-mighty community of punk-affiliated parents. Our second kids are only a few months apart in age, so if kids actually do rebel by rejecting what is important to their parents they will probably be in the same Conservative Hockey Players For Christ group when they’re teenagers.

Jennifer: Who are you?

Jessica: I am Jessica Gilmore from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and I work for the human resources branch in a department of the Canadian government. I work in talent management, which essentially means that we support our branch in acquiring, developing, and retaining a workforce.

Dave: Dave Williams. Ottawa-based since 2001, I was born and raised in Greely, a rural area south of Ottawa, before it became a yuppie hotspot. I am a stay-at-home-parent and work from home as an audio mastering engineer at my own “company” Eight Floors Above Audio Mastering. I currently play in two bands, Crusades and Black Tower, but I am moonlighting as a member of The Steve Adamyk Band, which I was once a full-time member of before Jessica and I found out we were “in a family way.” I was a regular contributor at Razorcake for a good five years or so prior to our second kiddo being born and I became concerned that I was phoning things in due to a lack of appropriate time to dedicate to the magazine. I’ll always consider myself part of the family though. Todd Taylor, je t’aime.

Jennifer: Who are your kids?

Jessica: Our kids are Audrey, age three, and Nicke, age eleven months. Audrey is high energy, hilarious, smart, friendly, creative, inquisitive, and thoughtful. Her current favorite songs are “I Get Wet” by Andrew WK, “Bubble in My Bloodstream” by Martha, all of Taylor Swift’s 1989, and Sharon, Lois And Bram’s One Elephant, Deux éléphants. She can air guitar way better than me.

Dave: Audge has been my constant sidekick since Jessica’s maternity leave ended three years ago and I’d like to believe is my hilarious, adorable, explosive, unreasonable, wonderful, and terrifying protégé. She starts school tomorrow so I am losing my constant companion to educational institutions for the foreseeable future. My feelings on this topic are mixed.

Jessica: Nicke is laid back, always smiling, always eating, adorably chunky, and everywhere. He thinks his sister is hysterical and she loves it.

Dave: Nicke is taking over as sidekick. He has some serious boots to fill. Luckily he’s already adorable and hilarious. Oh, and he’s recently taken to throwing brief, face-smashing-into-floor tantrums, so perhaps he’s explosive as well. This might be a smooth transition. He sang along to Worriers’ “Glutton for Distance” this morning, which is the first time he’s done something of the sort. So yeah, we’re getting along swimmingly thus far.

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

Jessica: I’ve thought about this question a lot. The quick answer is that we have a three year old who has danced to Nato Coles and Earth Girls, who sings along to Wonk Unit as much as the Bubble Guppies. But is that really parenting, or is it just a byproduct of living with Dave and me? When I first started thinking about the origins of my parenting ideals and values, I realized that most of them come from my parents. They managed to raise four happy, respectful, kind, hard-working adults, all of whom love them and respect them deeply.

If my kids grow up to feel the same way about Dave and me, I’ll feel like we really nailed it. My mother in particular was always my greatest supporter, sounding board, teacher, friend, and soft place to land. So now when it comes to my day-to-day parenting, particularly since she passed last year, I am always asking myself, “What would Mum have done here? What were the things she said or did to steer me onto the right path while always making me feel safe and loved?” So upon first reflection, I’m not sure how much punk affected the core of my parenting choices. I learned how to be a parent from my parents.

Dave: I’ve been struggling to think of specific ways in which punk has affected my parenting, in that I struggle to think of ways that punk hasn’t informed every facet of my life and who I am. Unlike Jessica, I’d pretty safely say that my parents didn’t teach me to parent as much they taught me to either to fend for myself or find others to fend for me.

My mom and my siblings relocated when I was sixteen and while I chose to stay in Ottawa and live with my Dad, he was never really the Dad-ing type, so I was essentially on my own from then on. Really, any parenting I observed after my mom moved was in the homes of friends who regularly took me in—Jessica’s first and foremost. So I’d say that the Gilmores were solid parenting role models for me, although I’d already fostered a rather contrarian independence and general distaste for being parented.

While I’d always liked kids a lot, I never had any real aspirations of being a parent until my late twenties-early thirties. Something just clicked at that point. The future of Jessica’s and my life together simply had kids in it. But I struggled with what it meant to be both a punk and a parent, particularly a punk who viewed society and its formative institutions as not only flawed, but in many ways inherently wrong. My preconceived notions of modern society as an “inescapable factory for cogs in a capitalist democracy” and innumerable other anarcho-DIY-punk tenets I clung to—thank you, PC-‘90s-straightedge-hardcore scene—caused a real crisis of conscience.

As the first person in my bands and “punk circle” to have kids in the foreseeable future, I didn’t initially have anyone to discuss these things with. The whole proposition was confusing and frightening, yet still felt right. Luckily it was around this same time that my surrogate big brother Rob Seaton, of Statues and Der Faden, and I became quite close. Anyone who knows Rob well knows that he simply oozes wisdom and sincerity. And suddenly—for the first time, really—I had someone to look up to who I genuinely admired, who was a few steps ahead of me and making the punk/parent balance not only look natural, but like a genuine service to society. What could be more important than raising passionate, forward-thinking kids in a community focused on inclusion, expression, and questioning?

Jessica: I did realize that my involvement in the punk and underground community was ultimately as much a part of my upbringing as the way I was parented, certainly at least since those impressionable teenage years. Bands like The Mr. T Experience and Zoinks! were the soundtrack to falling in love, getting my driver’s license, riding in cars without parents, and essentially figuring out what kind of person I wanted to be.

In Grade Eleven, I had a crush on the boy with bleached hair and crooked teeth who looked like Billie Joe Armstrong. I married him and had a couple of kids. Punk’s penchant for critical thinking and questioning the norm led me to like-minded people, and later to like-minded parents. Don’t get me wrong, my parent pals and I get together and talk about poo and post-partum body odor and toddler meltdowns and the crap we’re watching on Netflix. But we also share concerns about raising socially responsible humans and all of the challenges that come along with that.

The people and parents I have connected with through the punk and underground community have helped to bring my attention to issues that never came up in my safe, white, privileged childhood. My social media feeds are full of blogs and articles that teach me new ideas and perspectives every day that I apply to my parenting, but which also help me to reflect on myself and my relationships with others. So while the parenting choices I make are very much the result of growing up as Gerry and Nicole Gilmore’s daughter, they can’t help but also be influenced by my community. And I largely credit punk for setting me on a path that led me here.

Dave: And so, with Audrey about to turn four, the last few years have been a process of coming to terms with what it means to raise two children while remaining rooted in the art and ideals that have become an inextricable part of me—the occasional compromises that entails, as well as the opportunities that presents. As Jessica mentioned above, the punk community has led to us meeting and knowing many like-minded parents, others who are interested and involved in creative arts and performance, in social justice, in feminism, and in many—if not all—of the other elements I once feared would take a back seat to raising kids.

If anything, the passions I hold so near and dear have only burned brighter with the arrival of our kids and I revel in the chance to expose them to the things that Jessica and I see as beacons in an often stormy world. And I think that’s the true influence that punk has had on my parenting: the ability to show my kids that there’s another way to do things outside of what mainstream society will hand-feed you. There’s a better, more passionate and compassionate, more discerning and insightful, more contemplative and inventive way to spend your life, and a wonderful place to spend it in.

Jennifer: Which of your qualities do you most hope to pass on to your kids?

Jessica: Our kids would be lucky to inherit many of Dave’s qualities, like his creativity and the way he approaches all his creative endeavors with genuine passion. Dave also has the ability to walk into a room and make friends with anyone, particularly the person who may have come alone, or who looks like they could use a friend. I hope the kids inherit his ease with people and his ability to put others at ease, rather than my social awkwardness.

Dave: Nice of Jessica to take the high road on this one and mention my desirable qualities instead of her own. That makes my job easy. Basically, if both of our children were carbon copies of Jessica, they’d be spectacular. Jessica’s drive, her focus, her ability to look at the bigger picture in the present and future tenses, her passion for parenting and its place in our world, her sensitivity and sensibility—and can I mention her foxiness? Is that uncouth? Anyway, to say that our children have someone to admire in their mother is a wild understatement. I do hope they want to play music, though. And Jessica could pick her guitar up again, too.

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

Jessica: Dave will probably have a different answer, but honestly I’m just happy that Audrey is super into music at all. She knows how to use the record and CD players in her room. We’ll often find her there listening to whatever music she put on. It could be an old Fred Penner LP or a Misfits mix Dave made her, which she recognizes by the hand-drawn Crimson Ghost on the CD. Listening to music is very often an active activity for her, rather than something happening in the background, and I think that’s awesome.

Dave: Luckily, being a stay-at-home parent means that my kids are pretty deeply immersed in the music that is constantly on at home. But it’s still obvious when they dig something in particular. Audrey is often quick to ask about something she’s genuinely enjoying. Lately it’s Worriers’ Imaginary Life that I’m being regularly questioned about—that there are three women in the band and that one is named Audrey is all very exciting.

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

Jessica: Nicke has us laughing all the time because he’s just such an awesome little dude. He giggles with his whole face and body, dances with his head and butt, and he’s just fun to be around. As for Audrey, she just kills me every day. Often it’s because she’s actively trying to be funny, other times it’s because she’ll do something like refer to Gene Simmons as Gene Cinnamons or emerge from her bedroom wearing a hair band on top of an underwear hat, with some rubber boots.

Dave: I guess the most recent laugh-out-loud moment I can think of is Audrey’s full-blown air-guitar-and-vocal reenactment of Martha’s “Bubble in My Bloodstream.” As I mentioned, Audge becomes quite taken with fellow women wielding guitars and singing. Liz from Earth Girls, the aforementioned Worriers crew, Erin from Black Tower, and Naomi from Martha are big faves. There is video evidence of Audrey “playing Naomi”—lovingly pronounced “My Omi”: thrashing about through the loud sections, air-picking and foot-tapping through the instrumental bridge, wigging out during Naomi’s big finish. It was hilarious, heartwarming, embarrassingly self-congratulating, and shockingly accurate. We were amazed.