I remember very vividly the crazy, apocalyptic dreams that my pregnancy brought on. Every night for nine months, I dreamt of war zones, alien invasions, and zombie outbreaks. Every dream saw me transformed from mild-mannered waitress to Moira, Warrior Princess; the fearless mom who wore her baby in a kevlar papoose while fighting all manner of monsters. When I told my doctor, she laughed. “Pregnancy dreams are perfectly normal. It sounds as though yours are trying to prepare you for the unpredictability of motherhood.” As if I could have ever been prepared for the changes in my relationships, career trajectory, and interactions with the world around me.
It’s hard to even explain how dramatically becoming a mother changed my life. First, I left my son’s father when Malcolm was only three months old. I didn’t want Malcolm to have a single memory of his father and I fighting. And deep down, I also wanted to show my son that yes, men should respect women, but women should also stand up and demand the respect they deserve. Once I had demanded respect in my personal life, I started seeking respect in my work life too. I had been a waitress for the better part of a decade and it wasn’t until I was introduced to an organization called Restaurant Opportunity Center that it was explained to me that as a worker, I had rights and could stand up for them if I wanted to. I began volunteering with ROC to shine a spotlight on the sexual harassment, unpredictable income, and other commonplace problems in the restaurant industry. I started lobbying at the State House for a raise for waitresses like me, who were struggling to make ends meet with unpredictable tips and low base wages. I testified before the Senate, was interviewed by journalists, and dragged Malcolm from restaurant to restaurant organizing waitstaff. When all was said and done, we had secured a $1 raise for tipped workers - the first in RI in over 20 years. But even though the legislative session was over, I felt like my work wasn’t done.
Before Malcolm was born, I wasn’t acutely aware of how much my neighbors were struggling, so once I tuned in to what was happening in my community, I felt like I needed to work doubly hard to make up for lost time. I needed to not just tell my son but show him that taking care of your neighbors is just as important as taking care of yourself. I wanted to teach him, with actions as well as words, that a community only thrives when all of its members do - and that when even one of our neighbors is suffering, we all suffer with them. And my eyes had been opened to too much suffering already. While organizing with ROC, I met undocumented workers who were threatened, exploited and even physically abused by their employers. I saw moms like myself, spending 40, 50, 60 hours away from their children working multiple jobs and still struggling to feed their families. I spent that summer attending protests, standing on picket lines and attending volunteer meetings. I helped organize farm workers and restaurant workers with Malcolm on my hip every step of the way. But it still didn’t feel like enough. I felt like I couldn’t be in enough places at once and jumping from non-profit to non-profit every time my neighbors needed help simply wasn’t sustainable. So I did the only thing I could think to do: I ran for office. And wouldn’t you know, I won.
The comments and questions that folks have for me all run in the same vein: As a single mom, how did you find the time? Who watched your son? I could never… But my response is always the same. I ran not in spite of my son, but because of him. And while I admit that there are days when I have to cancel my events, appearances, and plans because my toddler is in a screaming, hitting, tantrum kind of mood, more often than not, Malcolm is my partner in crime. He came door-knocking with me, charmed voters at the polls and sat in on meetings. After the Presidential Election, Malcolm attended every event for the sole purpose of telling our neighbors that he loved them... one by one. Malcolm occasionally even attends session with me, where he sits in my lap patiently until it’s time to vote, and then (under mommy’s careful instruction) he presses either the green or red button and beams with joy, which reminds me again of my pregnancy dreams. In my dreams, long before I had left my son’s dad, it was always just Malcolm and I taking on the world. So it seems that my dreams did prepare me because it felt like the most natural thing in the world for Malcolm and I to travel our city, sowing the seeds of equity and respect, so that by the time he is grown we can see the fruits of our labors.