She's an artist, writer and political activist. She's also a musician, playing in several bands, most notably Citizen Fish. But first of all, Jessica Mills is a mom - a mom who wears combat boots.
When I first heard AK Press was putting out a book of My Mother Wears Combat Boots, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I've been a fan of Mills' MRR columns of the same title for a long time, and I had expected that the book would simply be a compilation of her columns, a collection of anecdotes about raising a child in a way that agreed with her ethics, taking a baby on tour and the secret behind her legendary White Russians (if you read her column, you'd know, if not, read the book; I won't spoil it for you!).
While all these do get referenced and retold, My Mother Wears Combat Boots is more than just a collection of punk rock mama stories, it is essentially what I thought it wouldn't be – it actually is a parenting guide with advice tips and references on pregnancy and child-rearing. By creating an in-depth punk parenting reference, Mills has filled a much-needed void created by the simple fact that a portion of the punk generation is getting older and entering the realm of parenting.
Whereas In Punk Rock Dad, Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg relayed a series of humorous stories and ideas with some parenting advice thrown in, Mills has taken the opposite track, creating a veritable tome on alternative parenting with stories thrown in.
Mills deals heavily with many issues anyone would be concerned with when it comes to raising an infant, like breast feeding, nutrition and education, and she also deals with issues that are distinctly in left field – issues that many other parenting guides probably ignore but are very important to an ever-increasing number of parents. Those issues include raising a child that isn't being babysat by a television, learning to communicate (and negotiate) with an angry toddler, instilling ideals and social awareness in a toddler (up to and including taking them to political demonstration), organizing cooperative childcare, taking babies on tour with the band (which could probably be translated to general road trips with a baby - for the record one should note rule #1, which is to bring snacks) and generally discovering that punk rock and parenting are not incompatible ideals.
Generally, this is a book that's 85 to 90 percent directed at parents or parents-to-be, and as one who's not the target market for a book on parenting – i.e. a parent – I wouldn't recommend it to someone who's not a parent or planning on being one. Then again, if your random punk fan ended up with it, I wouldn't dissuade them from reading it either. I found it to be very interesting and entertaining, not only for its anecdotal stories about dealing with being a punk rock mama and juggling touring with parenting, but also for Mills' well-researched information on non-mainstream theories of parenting, gender politics and schooling. It's informative, witty and often humorous, and Mills comes across as a parent who is cool yet responsible, very focused on the needs of her kids as well as her needs, and intent on raising fiercely free-willed kids without allowing them to run wild without responsibilities.
If you or someone you know is raising or planning on raising a child with any level of political or social consciousness, My Mother Wears Combat Boots is a great guide to start with. Even if you feel like Mills may go to the extreme on certain issues, it's nice to see that those extremes exist, and that it is possible for a generation of punks to raise children in the way we're seeing fit to do, a way that allows us to raise kids who are well-adjusted and physically and emotionally healthy, without ever compromising punk sensibilities or ethics or losing one's identity to the moniker of "parent".