It takes a village.
I used to wonder what those words really meant. I mean, I live in the suburbs and I don’t even know my neighbors. What kind of village am I supposed to be a part of and how do I join?
When I first became a mother, I lived in a town in which I knew no one, my friends were not married, and my family lived in other parts of the state, country, even other parts of the world. There were times that I dreamt of having others to rely on -- someone to watch the baby when I needed to go to the doctor, or to baby-sit so my husband and I could have an evening “off,” or to just share my worries with over a cup of coffee -- but I was alone. Well, alone with my beautiful daughter and my loving husband, and we were enough.
By the time our daughter started school, we had moved to a new town -- a town very near, and very much like, the one I grew up in -- but little had changed in my life. I worked in the same office, I had the same friends -- some were married, but none had children -- and my mother and siblings still didn't live anywhere near me. It was while dropping my daughter off at school that I first caught a glimpse into this village that I wasn’t a part of -- the mothers chatting at drop off about PTO meetings and play-dates, the town sports teams that I didn’t know I was supposed to sign my daughter up for. I felt on the outside -- juggling two children, a job, my husband’s business, and our home. I told myself that I didn’t need to be part of this "suburban village” -- we would be fine on our own.
Then I met the mother of one my daughter’s classmates. She found out that I had been running home from work each day during lunch so that I could take my daughter to school, often eating my lunch as I drove. In order to give me a break one or two days a week, she offered to pick her up and take her to school for me. With that offer of her time, a few extra minutes out of her day twice a week, she suddenly made me feel -- for the very first time -- a little less alone.
Although I have never truly become friends with the mothers of my daughter’s friends, I have been able to form a kind of relationship with many of them. I know their names and occupations, the number of children each have and their corresponding ages, and for some, I even have their cell phone numbers. It's been enough.
It wasn’t until my son entered kindergarten, however, that my relationship with mothers in my town started to change. A month before school started, I was swimming with my son at the town pool when I heard someone say my name -- it was a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years. As it turned out, she had recently moved to my town and she had a son who would also be starting kindergarten that September. She was also expecting her second child. Over the next few weeks, whenever we saw each other at the pool, we would sit down and chat about the last two decades of our lives, often while our boys played together in the background. It was bliss.
Soon after our boys started school -- it was afternoon kindergarten once again -- she went out on maternity leave. I thought back on that year when my daughter was in kindergarten, and how much it meant to me to have someone to rely on. So, I offered to take her son to and from school each day, or whenever she needed me to. I wanted to do for her what had been done for me; I wanted to “pay it forward” in my own way.
I realized something this week that has taken me by surprise: I am part of a village and I wasn't even trying to be. It happened slowly, almost without effort. It started with a small conversation during drop off, a quick chat about school policies (I am somehow an expert after six years at the school), and the occasional commiseration over the "joys" of parenthood. These parents that I met at school have become more than just the parents of my son's classmates -- they have become my friends. They are there for me when I need them, like when I forgot to pick my kids up from school (it happened only once), or when they knew I was going to be stuck in meetings all afternoon so they invited my son over after school. These women are my village, and I am thankful each day that they are in my life.
My advice for my daughter is to know that if she ever feels isolated or alone -- whether it be in high school, college, or as an adult -- she should always know that there are people around her that she can lean on, even if she hasn't met them yet. She just needs to put herself out there -- maybe strike up a conversation -- for there is no reason to go through life alone.
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