Hey, do you guys read the New York Times? There was a powerful piece by Deborah Sontag last week about the restaveks in Haiti. Restaveks are children who work as unpaid domestic servants after their families, who can’t afford to raise them, give them away. The story was accompanied by 20 devastating photographs.
My three children are not working as unpaid domestic servants today. That kind of puts every parenting issue into perspective, doesn’t it? The tantrums, the sleep issues, the picky eating?
And yet, the fact that children are enslaved in Haiti—and elsewhere, Lord knows—doesn’t change the fact that I am still raising my children not-as-domestic-servants, and still have many (luxury) problems that need my attention, an attention that—until the great moment arrives when the Internet and I finally merge—is mine and only mine to give, although it increasingly seems less mine, and more scattered, willy-nilly, like tiny droplets of lavender air freshener a friendly-seeming robot is continually spraying from a can he positions a few inches over my head.
But back to the Internet. One of the great benefits of the Internet is that I get to learn about restaveks in Haiti at the same time that I am bemoaning my luxury problems, including one luxury problem in particular that is this performance piece that I have been engaged in since September, and which is just wrapping up now, as the school year ends. It’s called: “The Uneaten Lunch.”
So far, my piece has been very private, but I am ready for my “moment” now, and I would like to share with you this press release that I have prepared for worldwide distribution on the Internet.
New York, NY — “The Uneaten Lunch,” by “Dr.” Amy Fusselman, appearing very soon at a gallery space TBA, highlights the pain of the disconnect between that artist’s work and its intended audience. Upending conventional wisdom about who school lunches are prepared for, “Dr.” Fusselman has created a somber and affecting tableaux addressing the invisibility and absurdity of domestic work.
In the act of lovingly preparing fresh, nutritious foods—i.e., sandwiches cut into in stars and placed artfully in bento boxes, or red peppers that have been carefully cut and gathered in small, waxed-paper bags—“Dr.” Fusselman crafts a meal that she knows her son will refuse in favor of the single cookie or small bag of popcorn that she casually tosses into the lunch bag at the end of her preparations.
Yet the entire meal continues to be made, because to send her son to school with only the cookie or small bag of popcorn that she knows, and he knows, is the only thing that he will eat, is to admit defeat, to admit the relinquishing of a critical act of mothering—proper feeding—which the artist cannot do because of the failure in caregiving that it represents. Thus, daily, “Dr.” Fusselman rises at 6 AM and pads to her kitchen alone in the dark in order to create this meal which she knows will come home uneaten, untouched and perhaps even unseen by any other human.
A powerful commentary on the invisibility and futility of domestic labor, “The Uneaten Lunch” will be performed each weekday at 3:30 PM, when “Dr.” Fusselman will arrive at the gallery with the lunch her son has not eaten in school that day. “Dr.” Fusselman will then contemplate, weep over, and even possibly eat, the lunch. Parents and other lunchmakers who wish to join the artist in this activity are welcome to come (with their own food).
For more details on the time and place of this exhibit please email the intern josh at firstname.lastname@example.org
But back to restaveks in Haiti. What do we do about them? Well, there is a seemingly reputable organization for helping them that is mentioned in the article, but, interestingly, now that I have just returned to my better half, the Internet, to look it up, there is a nice note from the editors at the Times saying that they just discovered that the photographer who took the photos for the piece employed his subject. That is, the photographer employed the father in the family who in turn employed the child servant who was the primary focus of the photo essay. The editors note that had they known that the subject of the photos was being employed by the photographer, they never would have asked their reporter to write the piece about the photos. So now the Times has taken the whole thing down.
Lavender-smelling droplets are exploding over me. Does the possibility that that the photos were staged mean that the plight of the restaveks—all 250,000 of them? Can this be possible?—is not as bad as was depicted? If so, this would surely be a cause for happiness, yes?
But I’m not happy, I’m disappointed. I trusted my narrator and my narrator was untrustworthy. And in fact, I had put his name in the first paragraph of this column but now I, like the Times, have deleted it in favor of simply referring to him as “the photographer.” There, you silly photographer. You’ve been erased. It’s hard to know who to trust in the world, children. I continue to try to figure it out.
I found the seemingly reputable organization that supports the restaveks in Haiti. It is here.
Children, slaved and unslaved, listen: I believe in you and I am grateful for my life.