Growing up, my parents were nomads, traversing the country and the globe, fighting for the rights of working-class people. I was raised by my maternal grandparents in a three-family house also inhabited by my grandmother’s sisters, with more sisters just a stone’s throw away. On Sundays, we got in the car and drove across Brooklyn to spend the day surrounded by all of my grandfather’s sisters and their children. And in the summer, I was put on a plane to California, and my caretaking was done by my paternal grandmother and her sister. My mother was absent, but in her place a dozen other mothers stepped in. For this reason, though I myself don’t have children, I’ve always seen mothering as a collective concern.
This pandemic has laid bare the fact that mothers in America—and particularly low-income mothers of color—are in crisis. So a few months ago, when I received a copy of Angela Garbes’ second book, Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, despite not being a mother myself, I picked it up with great interest. I’ve been watching up close and personally as too many women who are dear to me have struggled these past two-plus years, attempting to juggle child care, Zoom school, work responsibilities, and a semblance of sanity. Garbes’ book—a mix of personal essays and deeply researched analysis about mothering and the economy—dives headfirst into the complicated thicket of mothering in America today with humor and heart and, above all, intention to help us do better as a society.
Last week I spoke with Angela in my Brooklyn apartment, in a conversation that was livestreamed for the Marlene Meyerson JCC, and it touched on so many things that I am fascinated with here in this space. This conversation has been edited and condensed, but the full version is available to stream here.