Fashion Fasting

Since the start of the year*, I have been participating in a Fashion Fast. I’ve posted a little bit about it on Facebook and Instagram and wow people have questions. It’s been neat because a handful of friends have joined me. But, I thought I’d start talking long form about why.

In short, there are 1,000 reasons and no reasons. But there are some core reasons why it started. Probably the snowball started shortly after Sean was born and stuff was pouring into our house faster than we could keep up with it. Baby gifts, holiday gifts, diapers, crap I ordered while I was breastfeeding and sleep deprived, artwork by the truckload coming home from daycare, more, more, more. And coupled with less time to manage anything in my life, I was drowning.

Then when I coupled everything above with my growing concern for the environment and an acknowledgement that my own actions haven’t been in alignment with my politics, I knew I had to do something. I’ve also felt, for some time, that living in a position of abundance — and not that we’re independently wealthy or anything but that as middle class Americans, we have much, much more than we need — means that we should be giving. These issues that are concerning me right now from improved gun control, protecting women’s choice, and supporting environmental activism, all need dollars behind them. They also need focus and action, I felt the need to stop getting distracted by frivolity. 

This hasn’t been an easy thing to come to grips with. In a way it has contributed to my anxiety as I’ve figured out how to get my arms around it. But, now that I’m on a path it does seem to be helping. In thinking about writing this post, I felt like I could group the issues into four main reasons.

Financial – This one is pretty easy. Even though most of my life I’ve been a notorious bargain hunter, my spend in the last few years has jumped up as our income has grown. We’re lucky that our finances support this but with a business to run, two kids to send to college and the hopes of retiring some day, I have to acknowledge that every little bit helps. I also know that to support people in my community, politicians that I believe in and organizations that are out to do good, having financial resources to do so is really important.

Environmental – Clothing has quickly become the second-largest polluter in the world. While the US has put strict regulations on manufacturers, most of our clothing comes from overseas where regulations aren’t as strict, and you add on the carbon footprint of shipping and the true cost of these cheap tee-shirts really begins to add up. I also learned recently that 80 percent of donated clothing ends up in the landfill. In the past much of it has been shipped back overseas and many of the countries that previously accepted our clothing waste will no longer accept.

Political – Aside from the reasons I listed above about having the resources to support the candidates I believe in. I also have a vested interest in seeing the economy struggle during this administration. Our 401ks are invested in the stock market and the fact that we’ve made money during this administration makes me nuts. Keeping my dollars out of retail matters a lot to me right now.

Simplicity – In describing my fashion fast to a friend, I said it’s a lot like getting married. You get to opt out of dating, and so now I’m opting out of shopping. There’s just a relief to knowing I’m not looking. I’ve unsubscribed to so many emails, I don’t browse online or in stores and I skip huge sections of the stores I visit. Not to mention that by streamlining and simplifying my mornings are easier. At the start of the week I pull out a few items I haven’t worn recently and build outfits from there.

Closing out my fourth month, I haven’t dropped as many clothes from my life as I’d like. Each month I’ve posted things online to sell, and I’ve pulled a few things for donation as well. A friend I met through knitting/blogging has simplified her wardrobe to 33 items plus handknits. While that’s an ambition beyond my capacity, I have been bringing out more handknits and that’s a win to be sure.

What’s going on in your wardrobe these days Country Mama?


*technically since Thanksgiving since that was the last thing I purchased

The Little Activist That Couldn’t

My flavor of activism has always been craftivism. It feels like the perfect intersection of my passions: crafting and justice-seeking. I live for a beautiful and punny protest sign. I knit 25 pussy hats for the Women’s March last year, and 6 brain hats for the March for Science. I love the idea that something I made represented from DC to Denver. Sending my crafts out into the world helped me feel connected and productive. I crafted up a very symbolic sash for myself for the Women’s March. I am reworking it for the next march. My slogan: “Feminist as Fuck” will become “Feminist : Enough”.

While I have a lot of clarity about my own activism, I am still struggling to find the right balance of activism for my kids.

I don’t just want my kids to be aware; I would love for them to be Activist with a capital A, probably the way many parents want their kids to play sports or have a hobby. This strange desire makes sense given it was how I was raised. My dad is/was an activist. I grew up going to protests and marching. They were mostly fine, although one of my earliest memories was getting run off the road after a protest by an angry trucker. He followed us from a protest at Rocky Flats and road-raged us off the road. His semi flipped over in the process and he was ejected from the cab. I remember watching my dad care for him until the first responders arrived. I was probably 4 or 5. Obviously that doesn’t happen at every protest, but it was still scary and I still remember it, but it didn’t scare me or my dad off protesting.

As I grew, my activism grew. I protested throughout high school and into college. As you know, American University was a very politically active campus. I felt really at home there, even when Bush got elected. I am still ashamed that at the last minute I was offered a ticket and decided to attend George Bush’s 2001 inauguration instead of protest it as I had planned.

Before 2016 it was easier for me to involve my kids. We took Ellis to the Obama White House. The kids always come to vote with us. I took both the kids to a Hillary rally during the primary, by myself. Since November 9, 2016 my political engagement has shifted to resistance.

I went to the Women’s March with my dad and step-mom, but I left my kids at home. That was a good decision. Our march in Raleigh drew over 8,000 people and it would have been nearly impossible for me to parent my young kids in that crowd. I needed to be in that crowd that day. I was grateful that I had the opportunity to be fully in it.

We are talking about taking our kids to the local March For Our Lives because it is time and gun violence is an issue that has deeply impacted our family recently. This issue feels very personal and close to home. But I have concerns.

I get more concerned about what age is too young to create an activist? Or at what age is activism authentic and self-directed? My early activism was not of my choosing. Not that I didn’t enjoy it and ultimately mature into my own activism. And I loved seeing little kids at the Women’s March. They had the best signs (nothing beats a sleeping baby with a “I take naps, but I stay woke” sign) and they gave me the most hope. But I cringe when I see young kids protesting abortion. The double standard isn’t lost on me. I want my kids involved in activism because I think it is important and I want them to share my values, but I don’t want them to be my prop and I don’t want to use them for causes they don’t understand.

I agonized last week over the school walk out. Ellis is six and in kindergarten at a k-4 school. There were no walk-out activities planned and I couldn’t figure out how to have my kid participate in a non-existent walk-out at 10 am when he can’t tell time and isn’t even allowed to walk in the halls unsupervised. And I knew deep down it was my issue, not his (his awareness of the need for a walk-out is limited to lock-down drills and those are thankfully disconnected from current events).

I have similar conflict over reciting the pledge of allegiance. I haven’t stood for the pledge since second grade (when my Dad told me I didn’t have to stand for a flag if my country was doing things I wasn’t proud of—thanks activist dad!). I feel super uncomfortable that my kid is being indoctrinated by the mandatory pledge at school, but ultimately Adam and I decided that 6 years old was too young to take a knee or start a daily protest ritual.

If my kid was passionate about these issues on his own I would follow his lead and do everything I could to support his protest, but I also want that to be his choice, not mine. Until then we talk about issues and he knows mommy (and Opa) are out there protesting and I hope he knows he is welcome to join us when/if he is ready.

I am also starting to understand that context is as important as content when it comes to protesting. Ellis’ public school is not progressive. If he wants to be politically active there he will be alone. That’s a tall order for a short kid. I feel like we can fight the school or we can try to balance the scales for Ellis outside of school. We are acknowledging that school isn’t a perfect value match for us and believe me there are tons of things I am biting my tongue about at the moment: constantly separating by gender, only teaching about President Washington and Lincoln during Black History Month, the weird Dads only breakfast they have once a month at school, just to name a few. Instead of swimming up hill and protesting each of these things, we see them as an opportunity to talk about the things we do value. It has also spurred us to find a community that is engaged in justice seeking in an age-appropriate way. To do this we are in the process of joining a very progressive Unitarian Universalist church. This is where lots of my activism was nurtured growing up. (I petitioned to become the youngest voting member of my congregation at 14). I trust that the kids will grow in the right direction and see their peers engaging in social justice at church. It feels like a really satisfying answer to a really tricky predicament.

As for the March For Our Lives it was something you wrote, City Mama, that helped us make our decision about marching as a family this weekend. Adam and I need to be there for our own personal activism and healing. But for the kids we want them to be what you called “informed and innocent.” So yes, I want them to care deeply about creating a better world, but I don’t want that to come at the expense of their innocence. I know as parents we have to march to protect them in the long run and I know as kids we can’t let them march to protect them right now. Revealing the horrifying truth that Ellis could be shot at school is too much for a 6-year old to have to bear. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that is not in any way his burden.

The Little Activist that Could

Country Mama, I don’t think we could have made it through 4 years at American without a penchant for politics. So, it’s only natural that when a question regarding how to engage your child in activism was posted to a private Facebook parent group we participate in we were both quick to respond.

Growing up, we watched the news as a family every morning and every night. This lead to early exposure to a lot of complex issues that I never would have encountered in my very rural hometown. I remember starting a petition in the 3rd grade to get recycling bins at our elementary school and encouraging my family to conserve water and energy around that same time.

We also spent a lot of time in DC, taking frequent day trips during the summers. I remember that we happened to be in town when the AIDS quilt was displayed on the National Mall.  I was maybe 7 at the time, so the full implications of what I was seeing were lost on me, but I remember the protestors taking sides and the undeniable passion, compassion, and beauty that was displayed within the quilt. When the Holocaust museum open and we saw the piles of shoes left by the victims, I knew it was a site I would never forget. 

There’s no question that living in DC during the 2001 terrorist attacks forced us into the center of the war on terror and war in Iraq at a time in our lives where your own personal politics and values are being shaped. It’s safe to say that my political roots run deep.

As a parent, I’ve wanted to keep Lucas simultaneously informed and innocent. Knowing that far too soon we’ll be facing realities more complex than I want him to encounter, we have intentionally tried pick and choose what we watch, listen to and talk about while he’s still at this young age. That said, I’m attune to wanting him to have a grounded sense of reality and not keeping him so sheltered that he doesn’t understand the world around him.

This fall, the wildfires here in California were so rampant that there was no avoiding the significance and devastation that was going on just miles from our home. We could see the smoke plums and smell the fires as well as seeing ash on our cars and our yard. We spent a lot of time talking about firefighters and helpers, how they are working to keep us safe. We worked with him to figure out what we could do to help them and help the people who were impacted. We talked a lot about how you are never too little to help and to make a difference and that there’s always something we can do when something bad is happening.

I’ve never been so prescriptive as to list out my top parenting values but if I did, I know that activism, service and political engagement would rank highly on the list. Eric, coming from a military family, is no different, having personally felt the impact of decisions made by a commander in chief. His natural inclination to serve and to step up for those around him is high up on the list of reasons I chose to spend my life with him.

Still, I think it’s a careful balance of how much, when and with what objective we push our kids into the political arena. I had deep frustration after last year’s election that with my newborn, I couldn’t participate in the marches in the way I really wanted to. We found our own way to participate, but I still wish I would have been shoulder-to-shoulder in DC or Downtown LA with like-minded citizens.

I remember Eric asking me, “Who are you doing this for?” It’s one of his go-to parenting gut checks that have saved the boys from being forced onto Santa’s lap or being pushed front and center in some school performance or another. My visceral reaction to the election made me feel like there was no question I needed to participate, to let the people in my life know that I was hurting as deeply as they were, that I wasn’t going to sit down and let the next 4 years go by without putting up a fight. I have a desire to show my boys strong feminism early on and ensure they see females as true equals, not merely treating the a certain way out of a need to be politically correct. Ultimately, with an infant who had been in the hospital just days before, taking the kids into a crowd like that just wasn’t feasible. But it hasn’t stopped me from showing Lucas, and ultimately Sean, that there are ways to participate in the years until their ready for larger civil discourse.

After some reflection, here are the steps I think we’ll take in our house to get these guys well on their way to being citizens I can be proud of:

          Read together and get informed on both sides of an issue. This will start with us watching the news as a family and having dinner table discussions. We are pretty restrictive on the amount of screen time the boys have gotten their first two years. Sean is still within this window so we’ll probably be taking this up in another year or so.

          Vote. Luke’s already been to the polls with us and understands the importance of our political process.

          Make a local impact where the return on your investment and time can go a bit further to change your day to day. We’ve done a few volunteer projects as a family but this is something I’m eager to do more of.

          Find a career path or get involved in organizations that are focused on the issues that matter to you

          Write, call and visit local elected officials

          Take to the street for marches and protests.

The truth is, particularly these days, that my natural inclination is to start in the street. I’m so passionate about these core issues that my default setting is yelling. Maybe it’s because I’ve been politically engaged for decades and I’m frustrated that things haven’t moved faster. I haven’t missed an election. I spent 6 years working to deploy the affordable care act here in California. I’ve participated in town halls, writing campaigns and backing candidates with platforms I admire. Picking up a picket sign seems a natural next step.

I guess my long winded answer here is that there are dozens of doors into activism. And that while I think rallies and marches are among the most effective, I think at least for now, my starting point with these guys will be getting them informed on the issues of the day. Finding the areas that matter to them and allowing them to take the lead in finding their own activism, helping them shape it and supporting it along the way in the forms in which it matters to them. When it’s clear to me that they’re informed enough on an issue to have their own informed conversation on a matter, that’s when I’ll okay them taking to the streets.

How about you Country Mama? What’s been your flavor of activism these days?