Sunday, January 10, 2010

It Takes a Village

"It takes a whole village to raise a child." This African proverb makes so much sense in the context of a rural village... small huts with thatched roofs, fire pits where women roast vegetables and pound grains, men hunt and build and worship, grandmothers weave baskets and share stories while children play about their feet. We can visualize this village. But what is a village in America in 2010?

I gave birth to my son when I was twenty-three. One of the first gifts I received was Dr. Spock's "manual for raising children." I was also in Montessori training at the time, where I was introduced to Waldorf, attachment parenting, and the Montessori method, just to name a few. I had no shortage of experts instructing me on the best way to be a parent. But in spite of hours of study on the subject, when my mother left my home to go back to Chicago, and I found myself standing in my living room with a week-old son, I felt unsure of myself and very alone.

It wasn't until my daughter was born that I really identified that feeling of solitude. We had just moved to an apartment in Northville, Chailyn was three, Jason was working, and I knew no-one. I wanted to pack up everything I owned and move "home!" Well, at least back to where I had my career, my work community (which was a school), where I knew the stores and the parks and the routine. But I knew that was not possible, so I set out to make friends. I began to take the kids (double stroller and all) to the coffee hour at our complex's clubhouse. This is where I met the four women who got me through the next year... ahhh, but my memory fails, and now I can't even remember all of their names. But Marla was from northern Michigan originally, like me. We began to work out together and have play dates. Priti was from India, and I can still remember the deicious smells in her apartment and the way she entertained the children with her piano. Then there was the woman from Mexico, whose children barely spoke English... but they had a traditional Mexican birthday party for the son complete with an indoor pinata!! Chailyn loved that! Finally, a fourth woman from Finland who moved to a condominium in Novi before we moved to Livonia.

These women, from all over the world, became my little "family." While my mother, aunts, and mother-in-law were reachable by phone, I had no women (sisters, cousins, friends) close to me that I could turn to for help walking this tightrope that is mothering. And the pages of a book provided no comfort. But these women gave me with a taste of what I needed to make it through those really tough years. Sometimes it was as simple as suggesting a toy, a food, or a relaxation technique. Other times it was sharing a glass of wine and some quiet time without the kids. These connections meant so much to all of us. But, as apartment living often dictates, we all moved away into homes or to different states following husbands' jobs. Our little cluster of women broke apart.

I found myself in Livonia, once again in search of a "community." I was determined to create my own "village" no matter what it took. Nearly four years ago, when my family walked the gravel parking lot into a little white chapel on a hill, that is exactly what we did. We began to build relationships that would fill the gaps in our family, which is spread all over the country. We have made close friends that are like aunts and uncles to our children... I have met women who have become like sisters to me.

I have also developed relationships with women who have experienced life, who share their stories and their knowledge with such openness and honesty. These women have given me a shoulder to cry on, advice when I sought it, laughter to rejoice in, and a smile or a hug to greet me on Sunday morning. These are women who have been through so much, who have so much to give, and they hold a very special place in my heart.

My family has also become close with several families in our neighborhood. We help eachother with child care, with home projects, with rides to basketball practice or bus pickup. We watch out for eachothers' homes, pets, children. Sometimes we just share lemonade on the back porch while kids play together in the yard. Sometimes we share sorrows and cry. They are also a part of my village.

This village is a place where I feel safe, where I feel loved, where I feel accepted for who and what I am. This village is a place where I give just as much as I receive... where I give my time, love, and energy with an open heart, and without keeping a log of what I have spent. And that is what I receive in return.

Without my village, I would not be who I am today... as I would like to think that without me, my village would not be the same. Together we become just exactly the community we need. Thank you, sincerely, for being a part of my village.

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