Mothers come together, create Berkeley ‘hacker’ space

The women in Mothership Hacker Moms gather together in their space on Berkeley's Adeline Street. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

They call themselves the Mothership HackerMoms, but they are not referring to breaking into distant computers and tinkering with code.

In their definition, a Hacker Mom is a “bad ass,” who is “creative, curious, inventive, indie, artsy/crafty, designy/techy, visionary, outspoken, scrappy,” and much more.

The “do it yourself/I can do anything” attitude was on full display Wednesday morning in a light-filled, bright white storefront on Adeline Street in Berkeley. A group of six women, all mothers of young children, some pregnant with their next, gathered around a long table, creating together.

Babies crawled on the ground. Toddlers ran around. Infants suckled. But while the children were playing or seeking nourishment, their mothers knitted, focused on writing their screenplays and essays, and strategized about tonight’s open house where mothers will be shown how to make industrial hula-hoops.


“Hacker Moms was a term we coined to give us a certain identity as moms who are creative and think in different ways,” said Sho Sho Smith, the mother of two daughters and a freelance copywriter.

"Booby" hats made by Mothership HackerMoms

Mothership HackerMoms is part of a worldwide movement of “hackers” – people who come together in a physical space to make things. Until five years ago, there were only about 50 hacker spaces around the world. But, as Mitch Altman, the co-founder of Noise Bridge, a 5,200 sq ft hack space in the Mission District in San Francisco told KQED, a conference in Germany in the summer of 2007 inspired numerous Americans to open their own communal workspaces. Now there are more than 1,000 spaces around the world, including in New York, Philadelphia, and Oakland.

HackerMoms may be the first all-women hack space, said Smith. It hopes to be a model – and catalyst – for many more.

The group of women has only been together for a few months, but in that short time they have explored numerous creative arts, teaching one another what they know as they go along. The group produced an art show in December named “Leave it to Beaver!”where they sold goods they had made themselves. They have held held workshops on how to use Drupal and Illustrator, how to lay a resin coating on a canvas, done painting, drawing, photography, and made linoprints.

They collectively knitted a number of “booby hats” (breastfeeding moms will get the joke), which they are selling in their store. The women see their new organization – which has an open membership – as a place to learn new skills and explore their own creativity. One member is even planning to start a business – a breast-milk bank — as a result of the group.

“We want to show our kids we are fearless and we will try anything,” said Shannon Nichols, a photographer and the mother of a son, Callan.

The women came together after deciding that something was lacking in traditional mothers’ groups. Too many of them focused on diapers and what their babies ate, said Karen Agresti, who has a son Noah, and who is expecting her next child in two weeks. The conversation wasn’t intellectual enough.

Kids play as their mothers create. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“I come here for community,” said Agresti, who was working on her second screenplay on Wednesday. “It’s a place to come where I can bring my kid and where we don’t talk about diapers and food.”

One of the pitfalls of having children is that it is easy to subsume one’s life. The Mothership HackersMom is dedicated to reclaiming one’s sense of self in a way that does not exclude the children.

“Moms default into hiding behind their kids sometimes,” said Smith. “In a mom’s group, I felt I was always waiting for the mom to emerge and it often doesn’t happen. I wanted to find women I could relate to. We are a bunch of scrappy women. Whatever we need, we will find. This is one of the definitions of hacker mom. There is no such thing as “no.”

Hadley Sims, whose son Breccan is 1, felt lonely spending so much time with her child.

The "Leave it to Beaver" art show. Photo courtesy of Mothership HackerMoms

“I focused more on survival rather than my own creativity,” she said. “To have a space where I can come and cultivate creativity – I’m really grateful for the space.”

The group, which plans to file for non-profit status soon, has been meeting twice a week and only moved into its space at 3288 Adeline Street a few weeks ago. On Thursday nights, the group hires a babysitter to watch the children and holds a drop-in workshop that teaches something.

The group hopes to attract more members and eventually find an even bigger space where they can build more things on site. In the meantime, they plan to let groups use the space during off-hours to increase the sense of community.

“Motherhood can be a very isolating space,” said Smith. “There are dark sides to motherhood that Hallmark never tells you about. We’re not here to create a whole bunch of Martha Stewarts — unless Martha Stewart had a lot of tattoos.”

“The moment you say Hacker Moms, if you are one something in your soul wakes up,” said Smith. “You know these are your people.”

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