In my defense, it’s not very easy to take good pictures or videos while holding a wriggling human megaphone.
“Too youd!” yelled this human megaphone, also known as my two-year-old son, Jack. I was aiming my phone at his mom. You can’t tell in the resulting blurry photo, but Abby was up on a stage at the Los Angeles Convention Center, speaking through a microphone to a large room full of mothers and babies (and a few stunned fathers). Jack was right, it was pretty youd. The sound hit me as a good thing, the wide, warm buzz of people coming together, but Jack disagreed.
“Go! This! Way!” he yelled. He spiked each syllable with a jerking full-body wiggle in the direction of the closest exit. (He views me primarily as a mule he can steer with his wiggles.) I tried to stand my ground for a moment and took a four-second video of my sneakers.
And that’s about all I was able to capture in terms of visual documentation of my wife’s appearance as a featured speaker at the record-breaking MommyCon gathering in Los Angeles. However, the event, unlike almost all events in my daily life since Jack’s arrival, has not faded entirely from my increasingly porous memory, so I jotted down a few notes:
My one qualm with MommyCon was that it was pretty dusty. This doesn’t show up in any of my blurry pictures, or even in any of the other focused pictures I’ve seen from the event, but it had to have been dusty, because I kept getting something stuck in my eye. This first happened a few minutes after we arrived. A woman carrying her baby on her chest approached my wife hesitantly.
“You’re Abby,” she said. Her voice was shaking.
“Hi!” my wife said.
“I just want to tell you how much you mean to me,” the woman said. She described how she had moved 3,000 miles away from her family just before she had her baby. There were tears in her eyes as she expressed how grateful she was for the support and sense of community she got from The Badass Breastfeeder page. My wife’s eyes were wet, too. As the two mamas hugged, I stood there in a manly, rock-jawed fashion with no tears whatsoever, but as mentioned earlier there seems to be an issue with dust in the Los Angeles Convention Center. Someone should look into this.
Versions of this with other mamas kept repeating throughout the day. Sometimes Abby was approached by groups of women who had traveled together to the conference and who were part of local support groups that had been launched on The Badass Breastfeeder private group. This made me particularly proud of my wife. When Jack was in the first few months of his life, Abby saw how powerful it was to be a part of a local group of other like-minded moms, and on her blog and her Facebook page she encouraged everyone to find their own “Mama Tribe.”
It’s a lonely time to be living on earth. The dominant economic and political systems we live in aren’t set up to foster human connection. For most of my life, I’ve resigned myself to being a loner, powerless to do much about the way things are.
“You’ve got to fight,” my wife said at one point during her speech. These are words she lives by. She doesn’t do resignation. She fights by speaking out about what she believes in and by helping to build communities.
She’s not alone, of course, which is the point. The building was packed with mommas fighting the tendency in our culture to separate everyone from everyone. I was particularly moved by the warm welcome we got from two other crusading writer-mothers at the conference, Jen from Our Muddy Boots and January from Birth Without Fear. Kevin, the husband of the conference founder, Xza, was also very nice to both of us. (Xza herself, in constant motion, was experienced by me primarily as a benevolent blur.)
But I’m prone to thinking that my wife is something special. This tendency on my part became clear when a woman walking by us said this to Abby:
“You saved my life!”
I’d already heard a lot of glowing words lobbed toward my wife, but this was the topper. My jaw hung open as I looked at Abby.
“You’re . . . you’re like some kind of superher—” I said.
“Yeah, relax,” she said. “I got her a coffee when I went to Starbucks.”
Really, Really Far
To be honest, I’m not really qualified as a reliable MommyCon correspondent, as the majority of my day was spent outside the conference, playing with Jack. His favorite thing was a wide hallway with high ceilings and a sloping ramp. I sat at the bottom of the ramp and he walked up it again and again, a few steps at first, than farther and farther. On each of his walks he stopped for a second before starting back toward me. I put my arms out, and he ran toward them and knocked me onto the ground. He understood that each time he was getting farther and farther away.
“Really, really far,” he said after one of his runs.
“Really, really, really far,” he said after the following run.
On his next run he went all the way to the top of the long down-sloping passageway. If he went any farther, he’d have been out of my sight altogether. It was the farthest he’d ever been from me without being with Abby. He looked very small, a baby. An instant later he was tumbling into my arms, knocking me flat on my back, a full-grown boy. Where did this boy come from? Where was my baby? I held him up in the air and he laughed down at me.
“Really, really, really, really,” he said. His words dissolved into more laughs. I wanted to hold onto him longer, but he wriggled out of my arms and started running again.
Okay, I did get one photo on the day of MommyCon that I liked. At one point during the day, the battery on Abby’s phone started running out, and I went with Jack to our hotel room to change his diaper and get a phone charger. On the way back to the conference center, I set Jack down by a statue of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar outside the Staples Center and stepped away quickly to take a photo of him standing beside it. He wanted to climb it. (He wants to climb everything.) In the photo, it looks like he’s putting his arms up to try to defend Kareem’s sky hook.
The sky hook is legendary, the single most lethal and unstoppable shot in basketball history. Skilled, agile behemoths couldn’t stop it, and now here my hydrant-sized two-year-old looked like he was trying to stop it.
You can’t stop it. You can’t stop anything, really. Forces greater than you will roll on without even acknowledging your existence. Your baby will grow up and out of your arms. The world he runs into will be filled with injustice and loneliness and pain. How could you even begin to try to stop any of this?
For most of my life, I was all too familiar with the alternative to trying, which is quitting. At the gathering of gentle mamas a few hundred yards away from the Kareem statue, this alternative dissolved. It made me think of some Buddhist vows I try to remember whenever I manage to sit on a little pillow and meditate.
Though the many beings are numberless, I vow to save them;
though greed, hatred, and ignorance rise endlessly, I vow to cut them off;
though the Dharma is vast and fathomless, I vow to understand it;
though Buddha’s way is beyond attainment, I vow to embody it fully.
(“The Four Great Vows,” Manual of Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki)
Love and Fear
My wife is a fearless leader, but she isn’t fearless. She’s terrified of flying, for one thing. I mean terrified. She decided to get on a plane to go to MommyCon because she believes in what she’s doing with The Badass Breastfeeder. When the plane touched down in Los Angeles, Abby moved immediately from dwelling on one huge fear to dwelling on another.
“Great,” she said. She was breastfeeding Jack and glaring out the little airplane window at the terminal. “We didn’t die. Now I get to public speak.”
She got through that fear, too, and when that was behind her she had to get back on an airplane again. Besides being a scary experience for her, the flights to and from Los Angeles were also our first time traveling on an airplane with Jack. We weren’t sure how he’d react, and this uncertainty was intensified by his tendency lately to have operatic meltdowns far beyond the magnitude of any he’s had before. We were afraid he’d feel trapped and inconsolable.
He got through the flight to Los Angeles with only a couple of brief unhappy moments, and he slept for a large part of the flight home. However, when he finally woke from his long return-flight nap he was very unhappy. My wife had been cradling him on her lap and attached to her boob for the duration of his nap, and for a long time she had needed to go to the bathroom. When he woke she tried to pass Jack to me, but Jack didn’t want to be anywhere but in her arms. Abby walked with him toward the bathroom at the back of the plane. After a moment, I followed, still hoping I could find a way to help.
By the time I got to the back, a flight attendant was talking to Abby. My guess is that she had offered to take Jack. I reached out for Jack, which caused him to cry harder.
“No, no,” Jack wailed miserably.
“My husband is right here,” Abby explained to the flight attendant, “so that [handing Jack to someone else] is not the answer.”
The flight attendant stared at her.
“Your first one?” she asked Abby. Before getting an answer, she launched into a monologue. “My first one, I boiled a binky if it hit the floor. By the fourth one I was having the older ones teach the younger ones to ride motorbikes.”
The door to the bathroom opened, and Abby took Jack in with her.
“Let him cry,” the flight attendant said. “It’s good for his lungs!”
When the bathroom door was shut, the flight attendant continued.
“Now, I’m sorry, but that’s just gross,” she announced. “How is she going to go to the bathroom with him in there?”
Oh fucking world, you are full of casual cruelty and assholes. I am glad my wife found a way to a warmer world within this world. For me, being a parent has been about love and fear. On good days, love overcomes fear.
I did manage to take a short video from a good day, the day after the MommyCon gathering. It’s from just before we boarded our flight home. You may be able to notice the fear on my wife’s face as she glances out the terminal window toward our airplane. You may be able to notice that she is not letting this fear stop her from filling our boy with happiness.
Josh Wilker is the author of Cardboard Gods.
MommyCon Photo Gallery by a slightly less lousy photographer, Abby.