catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 16 :: 2013.09.06 — 2013.09.19


It does take a village

My youngest daughter offered the alternate title: How to Have Awesome Kids and Make It Look Like You Did All the Work.  She’s so funny, right?

Really, that quip feels more true than false.  I did not earn, nor do I deserve, these four beautiful people who call me Mom. Of course, it’d be silly to believe that my husband and I had nothing to do with our children’s upbringing.  I feel like I’m self-aware enough to recognize some of the good decisions we made along with the parenting mistakes. 

At the top of the list of good decisions we’ve made, I’d put this one: we raised our kids in community.

Do you remember way back in 1996 when Hillary Clinton wrote It Takes A Village to Raise A Child and all of us conservative-types cheered when Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole gave her the what-for in his nomination speech? “With all due respect…it does not take a village to raise a child.  It takes a family to raise a child.”  Boy, we felt pretty pleased with ourselves for that sound bite, didn’t we? 

In 1996, I had just given birth to my third child in five years.  I was 27 years old.  We were elated that our daughter was born over spring break so my husband didn’t have to miss any classes for his undergraduate degree.  Two months later, in May, Brian stayed up for 38 hours straight writing his thesis because he was also working and we had three kids five and under.  We were barely making it any which way you measured it.  I mention all these details because it was our tribe of family, friends, neighbors and church community who held our frazzled parts together during that season.

In some ways, that season never ended.

Fast forward to 2012.  Our kids are older.  Now Brian’s working on his third degree — seminary, this time — and we still would not be making it as parents, as healthy human beings without our “village.”  Perhaps we should have paid more attention to the African proverb Ms. Clinton used for her book title; perhaps in a more humble, less Western  mindset, we could learn from the tribal cultures of our African neighbors. My 2012 self would love to tell Bob Dole that, with all due respect, it takes a family to raise a child and a village to raise a family.

The same daughter who offered the witty little title suggestion also gave me my most vivid “it takes a village” moment in all my years of parenting. She must have been about 22 months old, Labor Day, 1999.  Her sister and two brothers (ages eight, five and three) sat watching cartoons early in the morning.  Because it was a holiday, Brian had a rare opportunity to golf with friends.  I was asleep when he left and to absolve himself and treat me nice, he let me stay in bed, warning the older three children to “keep an eye on your sister.”  I’ll never know the exact timeline of the following events, but when my five-year-old started banging on my bedroom door hollering for me to wake up, one thing became pretty clear:  “MOM, THERE’S PEOPLE AT THE DOOR AND THEY’VE GOT NATALIE!!”

You ever have one of those weird moments when you’re so sound asleep that you can’t be quite certain whether you woke up or you’re still dreaming?  Yeah, me too. 

As I stumbled toward the door I wasn’t even sure what I was wearing, what day it was or if that baby looking back at me through the screen door actually belonged to me.  I definitely did not recognize the bathrobe-clad couple holding the baby.  In my sleep-walking state, it felt like it took me ten minutes of staring at them to register the fact that they held my daughter — wearing only her soft blonde curls, bare feet and diaper – and that she had toddled all the way to the end of our street alone, unharmed. Then it seemed like another ten minutes of feeling so embarrassed at what kind of mom I must look like to her rescuers before finally I opened the door and retrieved her.

In the haze of horror, I heard them tell their story, as if they were speaking to a reporter for the six o’clock news: “We were in our house and kept hearing a crying noise.  Finally we looked out our window and saw this baby and we didn’t know what to do.  We thought we’d walk up the street and try to remember which houses had children.”  For years afterward I avoided running into that couple at school and neighborhood functions. And you know, I never thought to ask them if ours was the first house they tried.

The illustration is a bit dramatic, possibly, but fitting.  It’s a good thing we lived in a village that September day because that child’s family wasn’t paying too much attention — not for malice; we were just plumb worn out!

In real-life ways for the twenty-two years since I was pregnant with our first child, we have walked from day to day fueled by the strength of community. We needed a village to help us when we were exhausted — to play with our kids, to let us go out once in awhile.  We needed a village to teach us how to properly slice a melon and balance a budget and cut tile for our bathroom remodel.  We needed a village to take our kids out for ice cream, to listen to their stories and their knock-knock jokes, to remember their important days and remind them how wonderful they are when we forgot.  We needed a village to sit around campfires and teach our kids Bob Dylan tunes.  To show up at birthday parties and graduation parties and school plays and post-alt-rock band gigs in unheated Elks lodges in the middle of winter in upstate New York.

In our tribe, we needed people of all ages.  We needed families with older kids than ours to model a way to grow up in this wily world.  We needed families with younger kids to remind ours that little eyes and ears were paying attention.  We needed gray-haired friends to tell stories about the war and the Depression and the old-time factories in our small town.  We needed babies and single people and newlyweds and pregnant women and barely-surviving Christians.

By grace we’ve gathered in our tribe musicians and artists and philosophers and carpenters and engineers and teachers and preachers and janitors and missionaries and students and unemployed and disabled and retired people.  Not everyone we’ve welcomed has stayed long, and some we’ve lost touch or fallen out of relationship with.  But even then, living in community trained us as parents and as a family.

This family needed a village to raise it like an old-time barn-raising: blood and sweat, tears and casseroles. 

your comments

comments powered by Disqus