Yes, the whole “It Takes A Village” thing is cliche, but this week I am truly living that statement and reminded that cliches exist because, well, they’re often true.
It’s hard to go far in the parenting literature without coming across an article about the differences in how U.S. parents raise their (our) children now versus how it all worked just a few generations ago. The specific topic that’s hitting home for me today is that so many of us live so far away from our extended families whereas not so long ago the opposite was true. For many Pine Village families this is even more acute because of the many whose families don’t just live a city or state away, but an entire continent. Or, to come at it from a different angle, those who have come to the U.S. from a culture in which living in the same city/neighborhood/house (pick all that apply) is still the norm.
Both my parents grew up in neighborhoods that were filled with family. My mother often speaks of the Brooklyn triple-decker in which she grew up along with her grandmother in the apartment below her, her aunt and uncle in the apartment above, and many more aunts, uncles, and cousins living on the same block or right around the corner. I have memories as a young girl going to visit my father’s grandmother in a different triple-decker, but one similarly filled with various generations of his family. (The major difference between the two was that in my mom’s family they all talked to each other whereas in my dad’s they stopped speaking to each other at least a decade or two before. But that’s another story entirely.) As the parent of three, I can only imagine what it would have been like to know that, regardless of what time I had to leave the house or come home there would be someone there to let the kids out or in. I recently read an article by Rod Dreher in which he talks about moving his family from Philadelphia to his very small hometown of Saint Francisville, Louisiana. He recounts an incident where his cousin happened to come across his 8-year-old son after a bicycle mishap. “When I crashed,” he quotes his son as saying, “so many people came to help me, and they all knew who I was.”
To be honest, my small(ish) hometown wasn’t anything like his. In fact, once, when my children were much younger (and before James even existed), we attended the City of Boston’s tree-lighting ceremony in Brighton’s Oak Square. While looking around at the children all running and playing together, the families greeting each other, the general goodwill and, yes, holiday spirit, my mother commented that she’d always wanted to experience that kind of town-center feeling — who would have thought that the place she would see it was in Boston, a city ten times the size of where I grew up in terms of population.
This week I would have done just about anything to be living in one of those triple deckers in Brooklyn. This week I happen to be playing single parent and am having to navigate the daycare drop off and pick up, the vacation camp drop off and pick up, the getting to work (reasonably) on time, not to mention the snow/ice banks that still exist everywhere and add in a whole other dimension of the commuting experience that I could very easily live without. If only I had the aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., who could come to the rescue.
But I am grateful that in this big “impersonal” city, I have the next best thing. I have the housemate who sat in the car with two-year-old James this morning while I parked two snowbanks away from the Y and then took ten minutes to get in and out of there while dropping off ten-year-old Will. (Not to mention who actually strapped James into his car seat while Will played on the ice-covered mountain in our front yard and I carried out the various bags that everyone needed for their day.) And, with a class that I couldn’t skip last night, I was grateful that my mother-in-law, who had James for the day, then picked up Will and brought both of them home. And that our housemate got them dinner and played cars with James and generally kept Will occupied so that he didn’t destroy the house while I was out. And that our next door neighbor was willing to have a two-year-old and ten-year-old dropped off for a half hour in between just in case the mother-in-law and housemate schedules didn’t quite match up.
So although I will still be at a pretty high stress level for most of the time my husband is out of town, I am so very grateful for the village that will help me get through until he returns.