We Are All Caregivers

Marian Wright Edelman (1993) states, “[We] Adults have failed dismally in our most basic responsibility—to protect our society’s children from violence,”-National Association for the Education of Young Children Position Paper

We are all caregiversA preschool director’s journey to a new second amendment.

At Maple Street School we get to invent the world, create culture, play deeply, breathe mindfully, include radically, strive for racial and economic justice and work toward a playful, responsible, just and peaceful world.

Through these philosophies and practices, I have come to realize that power and change can come from one sentence: “We are all caregivers.” That is our job in pre-school as for days and decades teachers lovingly change dozens of diapers, then transcend dirty diapers, and look into newer eyes with light and wonder. Additionally at preschool, young children learn how to share reluctantly and empathize slowly, holding that impulse to smash their friend in the head with a block and instead stating firmly, “I don’t like that” and, “Are you ok?” and, “How can I make you feel better?”

The concept of We are all caregivers may sound simple on the surface, but it is very, very deep. It’s a sentence that resonates in our souls, our homes, our places of school and work, our cities, our country and our world. I stand by this vision of change.

In fact, if I could change the constitution, I would repeal and replace the second amendment from one of individualism and fear to one of community, courage and even love.

Our second amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Imagine if that were replaced with: “We are all Caregivers.”  It sounds a little open ended but then so does the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which itself allows for safety, freedom, and joy, but in the individual and not the collective.

I am asking that we use the phrase We are all caregivers in reference to violence, guns, racism, immigration, being ourselves, owning our bodies, and other difficult choices.

The second amendment never was about hunting so let’s not use that as an excuse when children and families die from needless gun violence. Besides, first nations and diverse Americans have hunted on our earth before with love for the earth and caregiving intentions.

The problem of violence towards children has become out of control. According to The Telegraph toddlers in America have accidentally shot one person a week in 2015. We have abdicated our responsibility to the safety of children; we all need to show up as caregivers.

I don’t expect all of Maple Street or all readers of this blog post to agree with me, I just want to put it out there that if we were inspired and required to all be caregivers in the same way we had the right to own guns and bear arms, the world would look different, perhaps in these ways:

  1. Gun violence

If we were all caregivers, we would listen to our public health experts and adopt laws and practices to ensure the safety of our society no matter what state or political affiliation we had. The right to be safe would supersede the right to bear arms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2012 policy statement, Preventing Firearm-Related Injuries in the Pediatric Population, states that the absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents.

This seems like a fair position and yet it is extremely controversial, so much so that physicians have been challenged not only in recommending the absences of guns in children’s homes, but even in counseling families to ensure their guns are locked and stored away from children.

In 2011, the state of Florida enacted the Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act, which prevented physicians from providing such counsel under threat of financial penalty and potential loss of licensure. The law has been blocked from implementation by a U.S. District court but similar policies have been introduced in seven other states: Alabama, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia. The fundamental right of physicians to provide medical counsel to their patients must be protected to mitigate risk of injury—or even death—to children in the environments in which they live and play.

If we were all caregivers, it would be our job to protect children and each other. It is an obscenity that we have the right to bear arms but not the right to be free of gun violence. It is our time now to let go of the guns in favor of the right to be safer.

According to the Brady Center, Over 18,000 American children and teens are injured or killed each year due to gun violence. http://www.bradycampaign.org/gun-violence/topics/children-and-gun-violence,

We are not doing our job, bearing arms is not our job, caring for children and teens is our job. We are putting our second amendment before their first, their right to life.

  1. Racism

In America, we have lost our “caring for each other place.” Or perhaps we never had it to begin with. While the civil rights moments made strides and gave us strong, brilliant, beautiful and powerful heroes to honor and follow, it did not repair inequality and inequity, and it did not root out hate or change systems of power and privilege.

If we were all caregivers, we should not rest until the lyrics of Ella’s Song by Bernice Johnson Reagon have come to pass: “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons /Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons.”

If we were all caregivers, perhaps white people could show up better for racial justice, align with black lives matter, understand and make changes in our privilege, our assumptions, and our fragility.

If we were all caregivers in the universal sense—not just in watching over our own children on the subway or playground, but seeing every child and human as having the same rights and potential we see in our own offspring—we would make a difference.

I often call for micro-revolutions small changes in perspective and actions by each of us everyday to make our world safer, more just, more inclusive and kinder.

Being a white woman I do not know the impact on communities of color of being all caregivers. I can focus on my work and sweep my side of the street, stay in my lane, and make changes in my field such as paying worthy wages for early childhood teachers, childcare workers and domestic workers, advocating for access and equity in schools, acknowledging that each school and community has its own cultural context and values, and bringing to our community experts in areas where I am a learner.

If we were all caregivers, we would recognize that every human has the right to be free from racism and brutality, that black lives matter, and that allowing for oppression divides society. If we were all caregivers, we could live together in honest struggle instead of what Martin Luther King called perishing as fools.

  1. Immigration

If we were all caregivers, we would realize that families who take care of each other should be together. While adults may debate on borders and policies, we can learn from children, like five-year-old Sophie Cruz who ran up to Pope Francis (Papa Francisco) and gave him a letter. She wrote:

I want to tell you that my heart is sad about the discrimination of the immigrants in this country. [Immigrants] are good people, they work hard in the fields…like my dad, who I barely get to see.  I ask that they stop deporting our parents because we need them to grow and be happy. I have hope that this pain will come to peace.

Or perhaps we can learn from our own parent community…like Maple Street alumni parent Miriam Yeung, Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. She writes in her blog post, For my Mother, For My Daughters

We need to stop immigration enforcement policies that would keep a nursing mother away from her baby. We need to stop immigration enforcement policies, which will subject all women of color to increased racial profiling. This is not the America we should be.

If we were all caregivers, we would put nurturing before nationalism and make policies that protect families instead of borders.

  1. Being us, our bodies, our choices, complex identities, complex lives.

I often say when families go on a tour of Maple Street that you get to be you here, whether you are a baby or a grandparent. You can wear a dress or a cape no matter what gender you are and you know that you matter, every single one of you. I explain that everyone is central to our school and are to be treated well, included and visible. I explain that there is no child admission process and I have never met a child that should not get into Maple Street. We work toward a better world, a caregiving world.

When it comes to issues of choice I look to a Benedictine Nun, Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B. who writes:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

She too believes we are all caregivers.

Many people often tell me I don’t live in the real world and I agree and take this as a compliment. I do not deny abuse or atrocities and am willing to disagree and make room to hear your voice (as long as we are both being safe and kind).

I do firmly believe that we are creators of culture whether it is a pre-school, a family, a community, a village, or a country…and if our cultures put caregiving before the right to bear arms, we would do so much better.

That being said I laugh at my own idealism at times, as I know our lives, struggles, and identities are complex. I have witnessed or experienced abuse, addiction, racism, poverty, xenophobia and many injustices and I, as a white woman with family support, acknowledge my privilege and know both my education and my current job and lifestyle have benefitted from it.

That being said, I would love to end with a moment of sankofa—a word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates as “reach back and get it” or, as I have understood it, looking back to move forward—and leave you with a beautiful vintage 1960’s 1970’s vintage preschool moment where we remember deeply and on every level that arms are not something we should bear. They have another, much more essential purpose.

We are all caregivers.

With love and justice,