Three excellent days up here in Copake, locale of the aformentioned house.
First, on Friday, instead of leaving brooklyn early for Copake we ended up helping my friend, owner of the most excellent Brooklyn General Store (www.brooklyngeneral.com) move the store out of the ground floor of her home and across the street to her new, gigantic space. As children aged 2-10 and assorted parents ferried across the street masses of gorgeous yarn stuffed into assorted vintage-y containers like woven baskets, galvanized containers, and old wooden blueberry boxes, along with bolt after bolt of vintage and modern fabrics, rainbow stacks of fuzzy felt, assorted notions, farm tables, felted toys, old farmhouse-y green bowls, and all the other deliciously Little House on the Prairie drygoods into the new place, it was transformed from barren and cavernous into homey, warm, and full, just purring with the promise of future days spent there knitting and spinning and sewing and having the children run around. As we worked, many of the store's devotees and friends stopped by, and all the shopkeepers and neighbors chatted and watched and commented. A guy who'd worked for forty-five years in the family-owned department store that the space used to house even carried a few things. It was, as Catherine had said it would be, "a community effort, a barn raising."
This place has been a salvation for me for the last two years, and for many other women I know. I'm gonna tell you why because I think it contains an answer for What Women Need. At least what some women do, and definately what Most Women With New Babies or Small Children Need. Actually, women of all ages come to this place and they all seem to react like desert camels who've gotten to the watering hole, so it's not just Those With Small Children, et al. Reduced to its essence, the list is this:
1. Somewhere to go early in the morning with (or without) your baby/small child where there are other women doing things and eating the following (see number 3).
2. Somewhere where there are midwives and/or women who have one or more kids already that know the score and when you need to worry and when you don't and who don't get flapped up over anything and who aren't sinking in exhaustion and half-soaked breast pads and worries over the start of kindergarten or how to get special services for their kids or deal with their husbands or anyone else, but who know exactly what it's like and that you'll survive and have lots of funny crap to say that you repeat to your husband later so that he says, "I don't want you going to that place anymore."
2. Somewhere with a big farm table you sit around that has on it coffee in a big thermos, half-and-half, and an open box of freshly-baked, still-warm, blueberry muffins.
3. Somewhere that is not a sterile room or even someone else's house, but is a public place that feels cozy, is filled with warming beautiful textiles and fibers and other organic, lush, fertile with the promise of what they can be things.
4. Somewhere where you can be making something or learning how, while you are with your baby, or at least watching others making things while you wait to be able to once the baby falls asleep.
5. Somewhere that you can say anything or nothing at all.
6. Somewhere that you can spread all your stuff and all your kids' stuff out and they don't care.
7. Somewhere where you can pretty much stay as long as you want.
Catherine, who owns the Brooklyn General Store, was my midwife at a local hospital (she now has a solo practice, www.bluebirdmidwifery.com), and when she found out I had started knitting she suggested I come to the Friday morning Knitting Breakfast that would be starting right around the time of my due date with my second child, in September 2004.
It was freakily perfect. My son (and hers and another knitting breakfast woman's) would be going to preschool across the street. I could come at 9:30, eat, drink, nurse the baby, and knit, and then we would go across the street at 11:45 to pick up our sons. Then we'd all come back to the store, the boys would play and eat muffins, and we'd knit some more. Two years has passed and I never went to a new mother's group or really got to know many other new mothers outside of the store. I realized that I didn't need to because that soul-filling half-day on Friday was keeping me right where I needed to be: this side of insanity and overwhelmedness. Eventually, too, about five regulars had first or second kids and the once-baby Eva grew into a toddler. One of her first sentances was "Dop Ninning, Mama!"
But it's not just me that has discovered that women need community, but not just that. I think they also need it in a nice place, and with something to do, too. Sitting in a mothers group can be a lifesaver and and I liked it with my first, but sometimes it's good not to talk, or not to talk to just other new mothers. I think this alchemy, of all the factors I've listed in The List combined, is a magic formula. But as I said, it's not just me.
In the 1970s in Italy, in the intense early days of the women's feminist movement, when women were just coming to realize that they wanted and needed to excavate and create new identities for themselves as women, when they needed to figure out who they were besides mothers and wives and people who could not do much else or speak up, they formed women's centres. At these places they did all sorts of things, from thinking and talking and researching and organizing to Between 1976 and 1986 a hundred such Centri had formed around Italy. These weren't consciousness-raising groups, but something that evolved out of them. The idea was to produce, preserve and transmit culture by and for women. There was day care, classes, craft groups, politics, and so much more. Different classes and needs came together across all the fragmentation of Italian life.
Now, I'm not sayin' that what we're doing is political work, intellectual research, or even anything of an activist political nature. But this is a place where the personal is most definately political in the sense that sistahs are working for themselves. We've found a place of community that I think has a profound effect on each woman there that may never be expressed, but it dawns, internally, as a spur to and support of the idea that one needs other women, one needs places where one is supported, one needs to follow one's own drummer, and one has a right to whatever freakin' kind of self-determination one wants. Most of the women work or have and will again and most are combining huge amounts of things in their lives, and are seeking to preserve their sanity while they knit in the work of mothering while keeping alive who they were and where they want to go. That these things are compatible and incompatible at the same time is a given. To me, this is in a small way, exactly the kind of DNA-related spawn of the Italian Centri that those women might have applauded, understaning that in 40 years what women needed might have evolved a little. The knitting and fiber arts thing is not unrelated, I think. But I'll get to that later.