Thursday, September 16, 2010

The "Primary System" at Twin Oaks

Here I am in the Rainbow Room in Morningstar at Twin Oaks, the community in Louisa, VA where we are interviewing people about childcare because a member has given us a thesis on sf and feminist theory she wrote a few years ago that we are considering for our motherhood issue. The room is named for the large rainbow prism on the window made by a member in the south facing window of the living room where Elsa, age 35, lives. She is nursing Ridgely, age 8 months, as we speak. She is also the mother of Luuk, age 6. She moved here in order to raise chuildren collectively, among other reasons.

I asked Elsa to speak about the primary system because I first met her baby on some one else's body. Rick, a recent new member, wore her baby on his belly in the dining hall and I was surprised not realizing Rick had a child. I saw other children strapped to the bodies of people I did not realize had had children since my last visit. Then I realized I was looking at babies on the bodies of people who were not their biological parents. I asked Elsa how the system of primary care being provided as labor credit hours that all members  can perform effects her life as a mother, and the lives of her children.

Elsa: The kids here at the age of 6 or 7 need to start doing a tiny bit of community work (one hour a week). So teenagers need to work several hours a week, and one teenager here was interested in forming relationships with the younger kids. So one particularly responsible fourteen year old cares for my six year old once a week for two hours and takes labor credit for his time and takes labor credit towards meeting his work requirements.

Batya: How does this effect your life as a mother?

Elsa: I get a lot more free time than other mothers of a baby and a homeschooled child without having to pay money, although you can get childcare on the outside world. Here I pay labor because the commodity we trade at Twin Oaks is hours.

Batya: How do you trade hours?

Elsa: Well, I was just using that figuratively instead of trading money. In truth, the child gets hours for his care so the more hours I give away to other people to take care of him, the less hours I can take to take care of him myself.

Batya: So what work do you do for the community to substitute for the child care hours the community gives you to care for your own kid?

Elsa: I manage the fleet of 16 automobiles. This is a substantial amount of time. This takes all told to deal with the maintenance of the cars with me and a few helpers 15 hours of work a week.

Batya: So who are these people who help you?

Elsa: There is one man who worked as a mechanic on the outside before he moved here, but doesn't want the responsibility of management. There is one who is learning as he goes, and there one woman who knew absolutely nothing about cars when she started. Nothing. She couldn't check her oil level.

Batya: So when I see Rick wearing a skirt with your boy baby strapped on his belly, I can think of you teaching a woman how to change oil on cars?

Elsa: Yes. That sounds about right.

Batya: Thanks. I think that makes my point that Twin Oaks is using the collective imagination to challenge gender! But how do you think this primary system effects the lives of your two boys?

Elsa: Let's continue this later because I have to get some money and a bra and shoes to leave the farm.

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