Radical Mamas and the Naptime Revolution

 

By Audrey Gagnon

When we think zines we think adolescents and dissatisfied twentysomethings–punks, queer kids, nerds, knitters, Harry Potter fanatics, vegans, witches, rejects, and other lonely souls documenting their attempts to come to terms with rapidly changing lives.

So why, when the word zine comes to mind, don’t we automatically think of moms?

If zines are born out of difficult and confusing transitions, then mothers should be considered the ultimate zinester prototype. Ask your mom, or any mom for that matter, and she’ll tell you that the trials and tribulations of motherhood are intense enough to rival the most hormone-charged breakdown of your teenage perzinester.

“My life shifted so dramatically the year I became a mother,” recalls Nicole Chaison, creator of hausfrau muthah zine. “I felt like I really had no idea who I was or what I was doing. I had gone from being a freelance writer whose biggest care in the world was what colour shoes to wear to giving birth and being responsible for the life of another human being. I was incredibly lonely.”

In her introduction to her book The Big Rumpus, Ayun Halliday, a performance artist, writer, and creator of the hugely popular zine East Village Inky, describes the anxiety she felt throughout the first year of her daughter’s life: “I feared that a large and utterly tedious beast would devour me before my firstborn child could mount the tenement staircase, pronounce her own name or eat anything with a texture more robust than wallpaper paste.”

Prior to giving birth, Halliday had been somewhat of a bohemian. She spent her time fascinated by mail art projects and heavily involved in staging bizarre indie plays with an underground theater group in Chicago. Having a child meant big changes: she was no longer Ayun Halliday, the artist–she would now forever be known as “mom.”

“I couldn’t get the creative yayas out by performing anymore or even seeing performances,” Halliday recalls from her New York City apartment. “It was really difficult to feel like I was no longer part of that crowd.”

Staying true to her DIY roots, and remembering her former passion for mail art, Halliday found salvation by creating East Village Inky–a cross between a comic and a perzine–a little b&w creation that details the daily quirks and grind of motherhood.

“I’d always wanted to start a zine,” writes Halliday in The Big Rumpus. “I just couldn’t seem to come up with a compelling subject. To put out a zine, you have to find a sustainable passion, something that will drive you to create issue after issue, stapling them together long after everyone else in your house has gone to bed. It wasn’t until my daughter Inky turned one that I realized I had something to write about after all.”

Honest, and often touchingly funny, East Village Inky was created in that golden hour known as naptime–an act of creation that Halliday desperately needed, but that nevertheless filled her with doubt and anxiety.

With the first issue of her zine in hand, she headed over to the playground to face a gaggle of other mothers and their kids. “That was scary,” admits Halliday, “I was about to take the plunge and identify myself as something other than a mother.”

Halliday handed out her zine to other mothers and invited them all to a rooftop party to celebrate the launch of the first issue of the East Village Inky. Not everyone got it at first–many of the mothers showed up to the launch clutching gifts thinking that they had been invited to a child’s birthday party.

Halliday’s playground cronies might have been initially perplexed by her zine, but it certainly did not take long for them, as well as about 800 regular subscribers, to be charmed by the adventures of Inky, Milo, and their cat Jambo (I should say the late Jambo, since this beloved fixture of the Inky passed away in issue #29), and of course Dad Greg. Throughout the zine Greg graciously (often hilariously) puts up with his wife’s need to expose every detail of their family life–like the time little Inky looks up from a tea party she’s been having with her dolls, sees that the sun is about to set, and announces: “Shit. I missed Arthur!”

How can you not love this zine?!

When asked why she chose to express herself through a zine, Halliday reasons that she could have written stories or done paintings for herself, but that as a performer, she needed an audience made up of people she didn’t know.

Kate Hass, creator of the zine MIRANDA, had been a zinester prior to stepping into motherhood. While her initial attraction to zine making had to do with the “flying under the radar” aspect of DIY publishing, as a mother, making zines started to take on even greater meaning.

“When I became a mother, doing my zine was one of the few things that linked me back to the person I was before I had children,” explains Hass. “It gave me an identity other than ‘mother’.”

Being more than just “mom” is not something endorsed by the glossy parenting magazines. In fact, as mothers like Halliday and Chaison quickly discovered, there’s a lot about parenthood the glossy mags tend to ignore.

“I felt a strong urge to write about my experiences as a mother,” says Chaison. “But all the mainstream parenting publications out there only told half-truths or outright lies about what mothering and parenthood is about. They were either trying to sell you products or they painted motherhood as this sort of bliss festival or they made you feel bad if you didn’t use cloth diapers or grind your organic baby food in a food mill. They all made me feel more frantic and disconnected as a mother.”

The truth is, motherhood is not always pretty. New moms are sleep deprived. They’re perpetually baring their breasts in public and picking food paste off their outfits. Moms yearn for adult conversations, not the latest baby-mommy yoga craze, or picture spreads of sickeningly slim celebrity moms shopping with their perfectly outfitted toddler. Enter the mama zine, which doesn’t try and sell you on the latest SUV stroller. These DIY mama creations are there to remind you that you’re not alone in feeling panicked, confused, and obsessed with every little gesture made by your little one. Motherhood is all gook, puke, love, and frustration–there’s no need to disguise it.

One of the biggest players of the evolving mama zine scene is Ariel Gore. As a very young mother and burgeoning writer, Gore was compelled to write about what she was going through, but she quickly realized that she would never see herself represented in the mainstream mommy mags that lined the shelves of her local bookstore.

“I was doing a lot of writing and sending out my stuff to the mainstream parenting press and they would write back basically saying that they didn’t want to hear about somebody who had a baby as a teenager by choice.”

Determined to launch a publication that dealt with realistic and thoughtful parenting issues, Gore created the underground parenting zine Hip Mama from her tiny kitchen in the family student housing residence of her college. She was 23 when she published the first issue, and had no idea that so many mothers would embrace her zine the way they did.

“As soon as I put it out there, I was pretty astounded by the amount of people who contributed. So many people were just like: Yes! Finally we have a forum to talk about these issues that don’t have anything to do with useless mainstream stuff like ‘Here’s how to decorate your nursery for $7000′.”

Hip Mama was originally published to provide a forum for single parents, young mothers, and other marginalized voices, but the magazine has now grown to cater to the needs of a variety of progressive families across North America. Each issue is full of political commentary and tales from the mouth of radical mamas themselves, riveting readers with stories taken directly from the front lines of motherhood. This ain’t your grandma’s parenting magazine, that’s for sure.

Thirteen years and 35 issues later, Gore is still proudly publishing Hip Mama–a project that has influenced many other mothers to start their own zine endeavors. Halliday, Chaison, and Stacey Greenberg, creator of the zine Fertile Ground who had never heard the word zine prior to coming across a copy of Hip Mama, all credit Gore for encouraging and influencing their own projects.

But though the zine had a huge impact on the emerging DIY parenting zine genre, Hip Mama was by no means the first mama-focused zine to make an appearance.

The 1960s and ’70s saw their share of parenting and home schooling pamphlets from the feminist, counter-cultural and radical press. Mothering magazine, which focused on natural parenting, was first published in 1981. A lesbian group self-published Children and Feminism in 1982, and newsletters on mothering and poverty popped up here and there throughout the 1980s.

Still, moms didn’t formally enter the cut’n’paste realm until the Spring of 1990 when China Martens–widely known as the Grandma of the mama zine scene–put out the first issue of her zine The Future Generation.

“When I started my zine in 1990,” recalls Martens, “there was no world wide web which now facilitates so much of this kind of thing. I was really familiar with the zine-world; zines were a big part of the punk rock, anarchist, and fringe scene, which was my subculture, but there weren’t any parenting zines out there. Heck, there weren’t many other parents in my scene.”

Wanting to make connections with other punk/radical/socially conscious mothers was part of Marten’s motivation for starting TFG, but, always the revolutionary at heart, she also had bigger plans in mind.

“I was growing up in the middle of daily experiences, as a radical mother, as the caretaker of a new being–which I could not ignore. I wanted to start a movement: for change, for better. I was compelled to start my zine, to share ideas, write manifestos, and get people working together.”

Martens admits that being a radical mom can be difficult at times. “The biggest challenge is perhaps the isolation. And sometimes a certain vulnerability, be it from fearing that the state will take away your child because you don’t believe in vaccination and you have green hair, or having to deal with judgments from others and sometimes internalizing their doubts.”

But sticking to her beliefs and pouring her heart and soul into the pages of TFG has paid off. In the 16 years since she launched the first issue of her zine, Martens has inspired a whole network of radical moms and mama zinesters anxious to share their thoughts, ideas, and stories through zine making.

With the advancement of blogging software and Internet boards such as mamaphonic (www.mamaphonic.com), zine-making is no longer such a solitary act. Mamas are starting to find each other online, making it easier to support each other’s zines and projects.

In 2003, the mamas came together to create Mamaphiles (now in its second issue) a compilation zine from mama zinesters from all over. Martens, who took part in the project, was amazed at the number of moms who showed up to help.

“I sure was surprised by how big the scene got. I mean 33 contributors! When I began there was no mama zine scene. I think we coined the term with mamaphiles, but I’m not sure. I’m just happy there’s a scene!”

Martens is proud to have helped kick start the mama zine movement, but by far her biggest source of pride is her daughter, now 18 years old and publishing a zine of her own.

Nadja [see this issue’s Zine Philosophy column] admits that growing up with a radical mom made her relationship with zines and counter-culture one of love and hate.

“The only real way to rebel against [my mom] was to be everything I now hate,” explains Nadja.

With a few years of maturity behind her, this second generation zinester now sees things differently: “She’s given me an interesting childhood. It’s given me the sticks to build strong opinions. She has also always told me that when I’m feeling something I should be creative: write it down, draw it, anything. The combination of my opinions and creative output, I hope, make for a good zine.”

Nadja launched the first issue of her zine DILDO, alongside her mom, during last year’s Montreal Anarchist Bookfair.

“That was big! Huge! A mother-daughter duo adventure,” recalls Martens. “Running around beforehand, going Xeroxing, showing my daughter tricks with the copy machine–I felt as proud as some old dad whose son finally took over the family business.”

The Future Generation is being compiled into a best-of anthology and will be published by Atomic Books this fall. When asked if this will be the end of Martens’ zinester career, the veteran punk parent queen let out a big nope.

“How can one ever stop doing zines? They are so immediate and free. I have all kinds of one-shot zines that don’t even go out into the world. I make little books and they lay around the house. I’m just that kind of person. And The Future Generation doesn’t have to end even though a huge segment of my parenting continuum has turned a new leaf.”

Kids or no kids, once a zinester always a zinester.

In the introduction to their book, Mamaphonic, editors and mothers Bee Lavender and Maia Rossini philosophize on what it means to balance motherhood with creating art: “Motherhood might slow down art,” they write. “Children might interrupt those moments of concentration. We’re not saying that this is the easiest path to take, but we flatly refuse to agree with the idea that becoming a mother is the end because it is not. It is the beginning.”

These mamas are making it happen: One nap at a time.

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