Sunday, May 26, 2013

The New Village

I wrote before about finally accepting that I do not live, and will not be living, in a village in Africa. But when I look around, I do have a village. A different kind of village, but one that works (or can work) in similar ways. I/we just have to start seeing it that way.

It's hard to not act like a nuclear family. With one car, a single-family house, four part-time jobs between us, a mortgage, and significant debt, it's culturally easy to feel alone.

But if I examine just a little bit further into my actual life (rather than skim the surface with statistics), I can see the remnants of The Village (and no, not the movie).

My family and Josh's family, (except for second cousins), all live in Washington. And most of the Washingtonians live in Greater Seattle. So even though we are a 30-45 minute drive, at the most, from our flesh and blood, that's nothing! When K was born, our immediate family all came to the hospital the next day(if asked, almost all 20 of them would have attended the birth, they were THAT excited!). When our house flooded two years ago, three family members were there in 15 minutes to help! We have been blessed with closeness, literally and figuratively. All of our family has helped us with our house several times, doing really important things (painting, remodeling, helping with financing, dealing with the backyard, electrical wiring, etc). Their blood, sweat, and sometimes tears are sewn into the fabric of the foundation.

Our friends, who act more like family, have also been there. Helping us, living with us, celebrating with us, mourning with us, and just chillin' with us. They have shown up for the fun parts, the hard parts, the annoying parts, the challenging parts, and their blood, sweat, and tears are also woven into the home fabric.

We have shared meals, we have played games, we have birthed our first child, we have endured remodels and floods, we have grown vegetables and sat around fires.

And now I/we are entering this new phase, and the community village keeps growing. We have met an ever-growing group of mamas and papas who have donated milk, watched K when we were both working, given us clothes and toys, reassured us that we were doing a good job, fed us delicious meals, given us advice we didn't know we needed (miracle blanket!!!!), supported our businesses, read our blogs, kissed our baby's head, and were available at 2:48am, when we couldn't sleep.

Now, other than a few travel experiences, I have not really lived in a "traditional" village, so technically, this is all I've really known. I've lived in an intentional community, that I thoroughly loved, but it was only for three months, so my extensive knowledge comes from just living my life here, this way.

I call this life, my life, with all the wonderful people in it, The New Village. It's not new, it's not really *mine*, but when I see it for what it is, I am able to see all its glory.

That glory includes:
- Not feeling alone anymore. With cell phones and computers I am 1's and 0's away from over 500 people. And those are the people I *know*.
- I have experience and wisdom at my fingertips. When I was a kid, I had to go to the library, read books, and make educated guesses. I had to know things or know people who knew things (which I didn't, really). Now I can find graphic designers, house-sitters, nannies, contractors, plumbers, ice-cream makers, and hundreds more awesome people because of my huge network. In minutes.
- I have resources. In addition to people, I am able to borrow and lend a huge assortment of things, that normally wouldn't be in our budget. Cars, vans, toys, clothes, recipes, etc. are all within reach now.
- K has teams of people to go to, ask questions of, share stories with, and learn from. His social skills are in direct correlation to the strength of our Village. Even the B&B guests touch his life and become part of his learning.
- Saving money. The above-mentioned things include saving money, but for us, this is a stand-alone item. I used to go shopping to fill a huge void. And now, that void either doesn't show up as much, or is non-existent. I am blessed with things to do, places to go, and people to see that is pretty much un-ending. We know people who like playing games, taking walks, having potluck dinners, sharing clothes, and just hanging out around a fire.
- We are supported. When the natural disasters strike, when we lose people, when horrible things happen, or even when we're just having a bad day, our amazing Village is THERE. In seconds. With phone calls, emails, texts and kind words. With cleaning supplies and a free hand. With bathtubs, delicious food, and hugs.

I was talking to a few mamas (several I didn't know that well) about life with a newborn baby. We were talking about showers and cleaning houses and making meals and how to get those things done. But in many of the examples I imagined a solitary mama, juggling her new responsibilities and judgments and fears, eventually collapsing into overwhelm because she thought she was alone. Ugh. I wanted to reach out and offer support and really it came out as, "I can definitely help clean your house." Because I can. My kid is already old enough to be away from me for hours at a time and we're cool, and if I can scrub a toilet or tub or do some dishes, then by all means, call a sister up. But we're practically strangers, so our inclination is NOT to call. Our inclination is to be polite and brush it off, cry ourselves to sleep, and soldier on. No no no nonononono! There are no bonus points for doing this alone. Just because we have a good day where we didn't cry and our child managed to stay alive, does not mean we are meant to do this alone. Not only that, but it's boring alone. And even if we don't live in Africa, that doesn't mean we can't make a village of our own.

Josh and I have cultivated and worked on creating our community. We have big families and lots of amazing friends. But lots of people/families don't have this. And a lot of those people don't know how to create that community (Josh and I actually studied this, isn't not innate!). Several friends of mine I  barely have time to visit, but I make an effort to at least try. I "practice" calling them and asking them to hang out. Even if it's just for an hour. Right before bed. Or on Facebook. Or on the phone. Even though it sounds corny and a bit intense, I tell the families that have saved our butts multiple times, that their presence in our lives is a blessing. Seriously. I'm being sincere. Because it is. When I can leave my child with people that I haven't had 23 years of friendship with and feel that K is safe, loved, and taken care of, that's better than any gift. And I tell them that.

When I see another papa loving on K, marveling at his growth and agility, it warms my heart. Because that papa doesn't HAVE to love OUR kid. He has his own precious person to adore. But the fact that both children can be loved (and we can love THEIR kid too!) by two sets of parents is how the New Village works.

It takes effort. And there are many bumps and questions and embarrassing moments as the Village engages. It can be awkward. It can feel unnatural. But as it begins working, it's a miraculous sight. And worth the weirdness in the beginning. Because now K has people to go to. He has friends and trusted adults and his love circle is exponentially bigger than mine. And in the end, if he never learned to read or went to college or whatever, I would relax in the fact that he had an awesome circle of love to fall back on. We're building our network AND his network. We are strengthening the bonds of the Village so that no family has to fear homelessness, poverty, hunger, or solitude.

It's constant work. It's worthwhile work. And it's spiritual work. But for me this is THE work. Everything else just feeds this.

So count us in.


  1. I'm not caught up on your posts, but oh YES YES YES to this one. We were told in my childbirth to practice saying "yes" to offers of help, because we'd need it. And sometimes it's hard to say yes, but it makes such a difference, and not only do you end up with the help, it also increases the connections and closeness we feel with each other (in my experience). I think about you regularly when I'm dressing Z or changing his diaper, because YOU were here for me to help get all that stuff set up and ready for his entrance into the world. I feel like I'm pretty picky about my village, but I'm awfully glad you're now in it. :)

  2. I've been struggling with creating this supportive village ever since my son was born ( 3 years ago) can you have some advise about how to go about it?

  3. I've been struggling with creating this supportive village ever since my son was born ( 3 years ago) can you have some advise about how to go about it?

  4. Hoor, I won't pretend it's easy. Here are a few things I have done since having a kid. 1) I am honest about what I need and what I can offer to anyone who will listen (that I like, share similar values, etc.) 2) I try to come from a place of connection first, even if it's just about our kid at first ("Oh, your kid hits too? Yeah, that sucks") 3) Then if I like the person/people, I actually say, "I like you. We have things in common. I'm not always amazing at friendship but i can offer humor and listening. Let's hang out." 4) I try to include them in small things like spontaneous meals and we're going to the park, etc. Honestly, some people aren't close friends in the way I had close friends in the past. But this new village gets that I am tired often, that my kid is tough, that I need company, and that I like an audience. I'm rough around the edges (meaning, I am sincere, but rarely classy). I'm loud. I am horrible on the phone. I forget things a lot (I'm ADHD too!), but I come from the heart and I just start there. I also have a lot of get-togethers, so people know who else is in the village and I go to a lot of parties, even if sometimes I don't exactly know who will be there. I try to just connect minimally at first. I tell people I know I'm intense, so they don't have to run away screaming to "fend me off." And then, I show my gratitude at who stays. I try hard to keep the good ones. I make a lot of amends, I own that I isolate (if I haven't been in contact). That's the starter kit. What has been your struggle, exactly?



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