Dear Raffi,

I’ve long been a fan. 32 years I’ve loved you. When I was little I would put on your records and dance around my living room with abandoned child glee. As I grew older and myself became an advocate of civil rights and children’s rights I was thrilled to learn of all your work as a child advocate. Loving your music and respecting you as an ethical person made me feel good. I knew I had a passion I could pass safely on to my own children.

And I did. I sang your lullabies as I rocked my babies to sleep. The first song my son ever sang was “Down by the Bay”. We sang your songs on road trips. I watched my own child dance around my living room with abandoned child glee. I attended a concert when I was about four years old, a beautiful memory I’ve thought back on often. When I heard you were coming to Toronto, I rushed to get tickets so that I could share that magic with my three-year son, to whom I’ve passed my love for you. You were our hero.

And now I am crushed.

I learned a week before your concert that a ticket would be required for my four-month old daughter. I was so taken aback, never had anyone charged money for babe-in-arms to attend a function, let alone a family function geared towards an older sibling. I was outraged. My husband said to me, “Certainly Raffi doesn’t know about this, he would never allow it.” So we angrily called Roy Thomson Hall to get to the bottom of this matter. Imagine our surprise when we learned it was you, the child advocate that expected us to pay for a seat no child
would ever sit in.
I now have to pay $80 for my ticket to take my babe-in-arms to your concert, while the other members of my family pay only $40. I have to pay double to watch my son’s face light up with joy and wonder as he sees his hero on stage, live for the first time. Why do I have to pay double? Because I have a nursling. A baby who cannot, nor should not be separated from her mother. A baby who, by your own admission, is not there for the show; is too young to appreciate the show.

Speaking of which, I’m confused by your facebook post which reads:

Should I take my baby to a Raffi concert?

This is a question we hear often. While Raffi’s music is enjoyed by babies at home, a first-time concert can be a very different experience.
In an unfamiliar setting, with thousands singing along, the live music is much louder and very different than hearing the recorded songs at home. That’s why we say that a Raffi concert is best suited for children old enough to talk, sing or clap along. Also, please keep in mind that theatre ticket policy is that every person needs a ticket. We hope this helps answer questions about whom to bring to the concert. Thanks for your consideration.

Are you discouraging babies from attending? Babies belong with their families. We struggle to find family functions we can enjoy as a family. Surely a Raffi concert is such an event. I cannot go anywhere without my nursling. She is exclusively breastfed. We are a dyad, bonded by breastfeeding and where I go, she must go. This is one of the reasons laws were created to respect that bond, the right to have that bond. Almost every free country in the world has laws that state mother is free to nurse her babe anywhere she is otherwise entitled to
be. I have a ticket. I am entitled to be at that concert. But without paying $40 my nursling is not? She doesn’t have the right to access her mother, her food without paying a price?

In fact, I should point out Ontario, the province in which you are performing has such a law. A very strong one laid out by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It states that we have a right to be free from systemic discrimination, which happens when acts or policies that someone thinks are neutral create barriers for women who are, have been, or may become pregnant. They explicitly clarify that breastfeeding is a special need that arises because a woman has had a baby. They also explicitly say service providers have a legal duty to accommodate women who have special needs because of breastfeeding

I know I don’t need to tell you how important breastfeeding is. You have followed me on Twitter and you have participated in my efforts to advocate for mothers who breastfeed, all of whom need to be able to nurse in public. I’m sure you know how difficult it can be for women to breastfeed. Not being able to nurse in public is a particularly thorny issue in which women are often discriminated against. The barriers we face as nursing mothers is astronomical, which is reflected in the abysmal breastfeeding rates in both Canada and the USA.

When women don’t feel free to feed their babies in public, they don’t feel free to leave their homes. Our babies need to eat often and they need to eat only breastmilk. Our babies are a part of us, with our bodies we continue to give them nourishment, immunities, and the love they so critically need. You cannot separate us from our babies. By insisting that women must pay twice to attend a concert with their infants, that is what you are doing. We have to choose. It is an unfair choice.

In my particular case, I also have to choose now between my two children. For while I have a nursling who is so dependent upon my care, I also have a three-year old who needs my time and attentions. Sure, I could just send my husband and son. But don’t you agree that parents need to spend time with their children? The family unit
which so often falls apart in society today needs to function as a unit in order to survive. And why should I be penalized because I am breastfeeding my daughter? Why are you forcing me to choose between spending time with my son or staying away with my daughter? And if I do agree to pay the extra $40, why do I need to spend more money than everyone else for the experience of spending this special time with my family?

Your policy of charging a mother twice to take her infant into a family concert is certainly a barrier visited upon breastfeeding women. I also believe your policy is discriminatory against women as laid out by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Your policy is restricting breastfeeding mothers from an opportunity that is
available to non-breastfeeding people.

I am not asking for special treatment. I am asking that I am able to attend a function, the same way everyone else is–without having to pay twice. I am asking not to penalized because I have a breastfeeding infant that is dependent upon my physical body for care. I am asking you, Raffi, to be an advocate for children, to help more mothers to breastfeed by not creating inhibitory policies which restrict their ability to take part in family functions such as children’s concerts.
And on a more personal note, I am asking you to be the Hero my son thinks you are, the one I thought you were. Do the right thing. Don’t make the mothers of breastfed infants pay extra.