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Hi friends!

Just a quick heads up that you can sign up for my monthly newsletter here— just enter your email address. You’ll be able to see past newsletters in the archive.

A reminder that my current writing and links to my mini-blog posts on instagram can now be found at stephebert.com

What’s the newsletter about?

The various pressures of twentieth-century living have made it almost impossible for the young mother with preschool children to have any solitude.”

– Madeline L’Engle, on writing in her 30’s with small kids.

While this quote could depress me, as the eternal optimist, I find hope in the “almost”. Mothers have always done almost impossible things: from giving birth, to scraping together enough pantry scraps to make a meal, to caring for family members, to getting us the right to vote, to managing to find missing lego pieces. 

I am interested in walking in the legacy of these literary foremothers who somehow managed to write while having children: from Anne Bradstreet, a puritan poet with 8 kids, to Ida B. Wells who led the crusade against lynching, nursing children in tow. 

What to expect

Each newsletter comes out monthly, and has a snippet of research about our literary foremothers, highlights on our tiny house adventure (with toddlers!) and links to my thoughts on simple living, minimalism, tiny houses, literature, and occasional poetry found on my blog and instagram. 

Thanks for reading!

Hey there— I’m moving!

Hey friends,

Thanks so much for following along my (increasingly sporadic) blogging over the past several…eight?!… years! I just wanted to let you know that as I’m concentrating more on writing this year, I’m moving my writing over to my site stephebert.com

If I did it right, you should be able to still find all the old blog posts under “articles”… and hopefully some new writing will be coming out of there soon.

I’ll still be blogging over there occasionally, so you’re welcome to subscribe, but I’m hoping to set up a monthly substack newsletter pretty soon. In the mean time you can find me on facebook or instagram: steph.e.writes

My big writing goal for the year is to research literary foremothers: writers who were also mothers — and how they did it. I’ll still be writing about social justice stuff, because it seems to be the only way I can process it all. And of course I’ll also be trying to share more about simplicity and tiny house living.

Thanks for following along this journey with me… some of you I’m now friends with in real life because of this blog, which is fun! Others of you I’ve always known in real life, and the thought you read my writing (and talk to me about it) is a real joy. Your comments, encouragement, and questions were always so thoughtful, and it has been a real privilege to get to process my life experiences in community with you. Thank you!

Juneteenth & Youth Day

It’s been a strange few weeks, and there are many better equipped people to be talking about this! If you don’t have much time or mental space, just stop reading this and go become a Patreon member at First Name Basis or follow Equal Justice Initiative and read their stuff! But writing has always been how I put things together, and maybe it will help someone.

My family is from Texas, my mom actually grew up near Galveston, and I have vague recollections of being told about Juneteenth and why it is important. But living in South Africa, we never celebrated it (although we did celebrate Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July with our American friends).

These past few weeks, we’ve seen statues of confederate generals coming down, and calls to include Juneteenth as a national holiday at the same time that people have also been advocating for an end to police violence and full scale criminal justice reform. The Equal Justice Initiative has been advocating for an American version of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to talk about the history of terror that has been visited on black people in America from enslavement to lynching to incarceration. Meanwhile there is a push towards discussion of reparations at the national governmental level.

On the one hand, taking down statues and making public holidays seems kind of like “window dressing” when compared to abolishing the police or ending mass incarceration. Like, are we going to take down some statues, declare some national holidays and call it all good? Hopefully, hopefully not. If I’m honest, though, there is also a part of me that feels uncomfortable about Juneteenth as a white person.  Yes, it’s celebrating the end of enslavement for so many people, but it also highlights the fact that there were enslavers. Explaining to my white three year old why we are having strawberry lemonade and red velvet cake feels way more complicated than explaining why we are having sugar covered sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving (of course, it’s shouldn’t be, but that’s another post).

But then I remind myself, that I’m already doing this. In South Africa, we just celebrated Youth Day. It’s a public holiday- no work, no school. We remember the youth of South Africa in 1976 who protested against the apartheid government for the right to education. They took to the streets, and children were injured. Children were killed. Police violence at its height. It made headlines. It “woke” some people. It was still many years until our first democratic election in 1994. It is in no ways a “happy” day to remember. It wasn’t a memory of a victory. But it was a memory of resistance, and a memory that needed to be mourned.

And so, when our first democratic government had power, one of their tasks, along with the constitution, was to come up with a way to have a shared history for our country. The Truth And Reconciliation commission gets a LOT of flak in South Africa these days for being ineffective. It was ineffective at reparations and convictions of crime. Almost thirty years on, we still have massive economic inequality on racial lines and many feel the TRC was just to make white people feel they had “done something” so they didn’t need to take the next step to restitution.

But, for all its flaws, I think it was pretty effective at helping us come up with a shared narrative for our history. Most of us agree what happened. Eight years after the TRC, I was taught from the South African national syllabus a very robust condemnation of apartheid. I was taught about the human rights violations, about the massacres and deaths, about forced removals and the Bantu Education Act, which denied black people access to quality education. People might argue and complain about the details, or where we go from here, but at least we have a basic agreement on the essentials of what happened. The conversation is in the same universe.

Our government also had the task of taking moments from history that had previously been celebrated, and reworking them into a new narrative.

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Nelson Mandela statue at the Union Buildings in Pretoria

They erected new statues next to the old colonial ones. Sometimes they removed the old ones, sometimes they just built much, much bigger ones of newer heroes to dwarf the old ones. They built new museums. They created a new national anthem. They re-named streets to be for apartheid activists, rather than colonial or apartheid heroes.

And they gave us new public holidays. Now, as a nation, we remember the women who marched to parliament to protest pass laws on Women’s Day. We remember the youth who marched for education and died on Youth Day. We remember the Sharpville Massacre every year on Human Rights Day. And sure, for some it’s just a day off. But even then, even if I have no traditions, I have to answer the “Why?” question.

“Mommy, why doesn’t Daddy have to work today?”
“It’s Youth Day.”
“What’s Youth Day?”
“Uhh, so remember we were talking about melanin and how some people have more and their skin is more brown? Well, youth day is a day that …. hmm…grown ups with skin like ours were being bad and saying that people with brown skin were not allowed to learn and have books they could read. Is that right?”
“NO!”
“Who made us?”
“God made us.”
“Yes, so that’s why it was very bad the white people were trying to stop people from learning. So the kids had to tell the grown ups they were doing something bad and to stop it. So its’ a day we remember the brave kids who said, “Stop doing those bad things!”

Yes. It is extremely awkward. Someone please tell me a better way to talk about this!!
It’s awkward telling your three year old, “White people oppressed people, and we’re white.” On the other hand — because of the bravery and sacrifice of those youth, my life is much richer and freer. There are heroes in this history that I want my son to learn from. I want him to be the kind of person who stands up to injustice. How’s he going to learn that unless I talk about it? Heck, I even wrote a blog post once about how I wanted more white people in my life to talk about this stuff. Why is it so much harder when it’s my own kid? And why is it easier for me to do with South African history than American history?

For me, I think a tiny part is that I didn’t learn this as a child. I learned about apartheid as a child- it was a fact of life. There were no “good old days” for me. Whereas my American history came through nostalgic children’s books and museums on visits to the States, which did not address a lot of these stories, or treated them as a “special interest group” part of history. American history is the history of AMERICANS. All of us. It’s white supremacy says that Juneteenth is a sideline celebration for some of us- not an integral part of our history. I need to reject that that lie. So when Jasmine from First Name Basis podcast shared ways to celebrate Juneteenth with your family, and why you should, I realized: this has to be for us, too. If we’re going to celebrate July 4th all the way over here in South Africa, we can celebrate Juneteenth!

We can make some red velvet cupcakes and talk about the resilience of enslaved people, their joy at their freedom, and the evils of slavery. We can talk about the resistors, black and white. And we can join with those who are asking all of America to do the same.

WAYS TO CELEBRATE:

Making Space

0-1.jpgPerhaps the strangest thing about motherhood, the part no one really told you, is how it takes up your space. How it hems you in.

How you used to start a day with endless choices and opportunities, and suddenly your options are limited by a tiny human who wants to eat at certain times, or needs you to get to sleep, or bring a cup of milk, or sing a song, or watch a duplo tower come crashing down and then wants help building it up again.

How you used to end the day with a soft collapse on your pillow, and now you tentatively lay down, shoulders still tense, ear cocked for a cry or a “MoooOOOOoooommmm!” How you wake up the next day with the same crick in your neck, to the same call.

There’s just not as much space. Continue reading

Lockdown Activities

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Things to remember when our kids ask us about the pandemic. So far, in this 40+ day lockdown, we have:

Handmade pasta

Let the toddler watch a “How stuff works” about corn, only to realise most of the video is about making whiskey.

Handmade most forms of bread: dinner rolls, tortillas, sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread, croissants, cinnamon rolls, naan.  Continue reading

Living in a tiny house with a one year old

We’ve officially lived in our house for 6 weeks now. We love it. We’ll see if we still love it 6 months from now, but I have a feeling we will. When we were researching tiny-house living, I didn’t see much about families in tiny houses. Mostly single people, or couples. I figured other people might be interested, since inevitably when people hear we live in a tiny house (with a one year old)  they say, “But how do you….(insert normal daily activity here)”.

So this is an attempt to answer that. It also feels very strange writing this, since we live in 16m2 house with two lofts and only one child… when very many people in our country live with more people in equally small (or smaller!) spaces, and no one wonders how they do it. Living in a smaller space than our income appears to afford seems strange to people… but living in a small space is the norm for lots of people, and we had the privilege of choosing this, when they don’t. Continue reading

“I just called for help and you came and killed him”

 

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Source: npr

“I just called for help, and you came and killed him,” she said. “I told you guys he’s sick. You guys came and killed my brother.” – sister of Alfred Olango, a mentally ill, unarmed black man who was killed in California.

She called the police herself, because her brother was acting erratically and walking into traffic. “He’s mentally ill,” she told the police. “He’s unarmed, but he’s mentally ill, and I’m worried about him because he’s blocking traffic.”  Continue reading

The first American missionary was black

I only learned about this a few weeks ago. For most people, you’re probably like, “I don’t even know what a missionary is, so what if the first one was black?” But when you’re a missionary kid like me who grew up in church hearing stories of missionaries all the time, the fact that this was unknown to you throughout your childhood is kind of a big deal.

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credit: ebay

I grew up hearing stories about Hudson Taylor and the Judsons (I distinctly remember two-tone flashcard pictures to go along with these Sunday school lessons) who were missionaries to Asia. My parents were always good about colouring the flannel-graph Jesus in a little bit darker to be more realistic for the Bible stories, but we didn’t do that with the missionary stories because, duh, they were all from England or America (or Sweden) and all very white.  Continue reading

Scariness and Suffering pt 2

The previous post talked about introducing your kids to scary topics, and helping them build resilience. This post will talk more about building compassion in the face of suffering and injustice.

While I grew up with a lot of childhood fear—and I think, did a pretty good job of battling against it—I’ve always had a pretty firm grasp of justice. I think most children do: “That’s not fair!” is heard in any house with a four year old. Of course, as we grow up we learn that life isn’t fair—but we don’t want to squelch that inner cry, to just tell children to suck it up and let the injustice slide by. Rather, we want to help kids channel that frustration they feel at personal injustices into compassion for those facing more serious injustice. Continue reading

Scariness and Suffering: Should I take my 5 year old to an anti-sex-trafficking event?

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Cambodia: from IJM’s website

Actually, this post is not going to outright answer whether you should take your five year old to an anti-sex-trafficking rally, but it is going to try and look at the underlying assumption: how sheltered should I keep my children? Should I be telling them about the harsh realities of life- slavery, racism, crime, war, rape, tsunamis ? Or, should I preserve the safe innocence of childhood as long as possible? Continue reading