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Thanks, Village

May 13, 2013

My Mother’s Day weekend was a good one. Quiet. We went to the nearby farmer’s market on Saturday and I watched Dot plunge into the playground. Not so long ago, it seems, I used to follow her up the climber, hovering and hoping that my impetuous toddler wouldn’t find herself stepped on or squished by the much larger children climbing up the slide instead of following proper procedure and sliding down. And now she’s nimbly climbing up the slide, mostly careful not to step on the other kids.

Sunday we met up with another family for a picnic at the arboretum. We don’t know them especially well, and they don’t know anything about our life before Dot, but we like them. Our daughters love playing together, and we had a really nice time. There were frogs in the stream, large families of goslings, ladybugs, and butterflies. The sun shone down, diffused by clouds and leaf shadows – warm and gentle, like a blessing.

And, not far from me, a dear friend lives alone after years of wanting children, trying for children, helping to raise others’ children. On the other side of the country, my sister-in-law faced another Mother’s Day (and all of the ad campaigns leading up to it) without a baby of her own. In the town where I grew up, my mother misses her own mom, gone three years now. In my own heart, the imprint of an absence and the place where love stretches out in feeble attempts to mother a child I cannot see or hear or touch. This holiday, that I used to associate with planting marigolds in paper cups and putting Mom’s flowers on the table, it’s just so full of different kinds of emotional land mines.

Four years ago I received flowers on Mother’s Day, a gift from three good friends at work. They remembered and acknowledged Teddy at a time when I was just starting to see, with painful and bitter clarity, that his existence and loss weren’t really things I could discuss in public. At a time when Mother’s Day made me feel like an outcast and a secret circus freak, I had friends who told me I was a mother, too. I think of those flowers and what they meant to me every year at this time. I will think of them every Mother’s Day, I am convinced, until the day I die.

I have so many mixed feelings about mother’s day. I love the idea of honoring mothers, but I hate the way doing this shuts so many out in the cold. I’m also not particularly happy about how narrowly we define mothers or about the let’s-use-this-to-sell-stuff aspect of the holiday, or about they way we honor mothers on this one day and then fail on so many fronts to improve life for women (mothers or not) and families. Mother’s do a lot of work, and it’s good to see them valued. There are certainly plenty of days where I head to bed frazzled and unwashed and tired and knowing I have to do it all again tomorrow, and a day when people say “thank you” is kind of encouraging. But so many others do vital and thankless work that is unrecognized by cards and flowers and brunches.

Looking back at the labor-intensive first years of Dot’s life, I see over and over again that “It takes a village to raise a child” is adamantly, unavoidably true. An anthropologist I work with has spent quite a bit of time exploring the way support networks have been invaluable to raising children to adulthood. This is as true now as ever. The very rich may be able to hire their villages (cooks, housekeepers, nannies, psychologists, masseurs), but most of us find ourselves living in hybrid villages made up of some combination of family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers – not necessarily all located in the same geographic location. While I wouldn’t mind having a masseur on staff, I think I prefer the village I’ve found myself belonging to. My paths to motherhood have not been easy, and I wouldn’t have made it without a workplace that includes health care in its benefits, without colleagues and co-workers who are (most of them, anyway) compassionate and sensible and fair, without friends who are encouraging and funny and wise, without my family who support me with time and takeout food and love. Without the community I’ve found online who know what it is to miss a child and who let me howl and wonder and rant and try to write my way into some sort of sanity.

If Dot grows into anything resembling the well-adjusted, smart, caring, take-no-prisoners woman I imagine her becoming, she will owe so much of that to this untraditional village of ours. This year especially I am humbled by how many friends of mine, who are not in the traditional sense mothers, have enriched and enabled and encouraged my growth as a mother. I know not everyone has this kind of support, but many of us do, and at times when the world seems grim and violent this is something that gives me great hope.

On the day after so much of the world has offered floral tributes to the maternal principle, I want to offer my thanks to all of the villages out there, to all of the people who work to enable mothering and to create opportunities for laughter and picnics and the wonder of watching babies grow into amazing human beings. I want to offer thanks to my own village in particular, because it is widespread and deep-rooted and wonderful, and I am grateful for the shoulders to cry on, the strong arms to lean on, the voices cheering us on, and for everyone lighting the way.

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3 comments

  1. I don’t know where I’d be without my village. I was writing about it just the other day. Thank you for being a part of my village.


  2. I am glad you are part of my village too. 🙂


  3. This is beautiful. I never imagined that it was so hard, or so amazing, or so lonely, or so complicated. Being a mother, raising a child. But I do know that I would also be lost without my village.



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