Since becoming a mom I’ve come across a lot of rhetoric on the internet bemoaning the current social structure in which we are expected to raise our children in North America. Case in point: Scary Mummy, Motherly, Romper, and the ParentMap have all published pieces about this topic in the last two years. Parents are, in many cases, physically isolated and far removed from friends and family, or just expected to be completely independent, which makes this whole parenting thing even harder than it needs to be, and I can speak from experience here. Staying home alone with my baby all day while on maternity leave, away from my village, often made me feel stressed, scared, and inadequate.
In a recent article on Motherly called In the absence of ‘the village’ mothers struggle the most, author Beth Berry defines the village in this way:
I’m referring to the way of life inherent to relatively small, relatively contained multigenerational communities. Communities within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the well-being of each other’s ever-roaming children and increasingly dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.
When asked by several well-meaning people in Vermilion why the heck I’d ever want to move back to Beaverlodge, I wish I could have expressed myself as eloquently as Beth Berry. The impression of the town they received while passing through on the highway while on the way to somewhere else is so very incomplete. I wanted to come home so I could have my village. With my people. Where I belong.
I think an example explains what I mean when I say where I belong better than anything else: last Tuesday I took my toddler to morning family swim.
We’re greeted with a friendly “good morning” from a young lifeguard – I taught her level 4 at the old outdoor pool many years ago; I distinctly remember that she was the only swimmer in her level during that particular set of lessons, listened exceptionally well, and spent a lot of time working on back glides while clutching an old yellow flutter board across her chest.
Shortly after, a young mom wearing a black one piece brings two boys, one school aged and one preschool aged, into the leisure pool – She doesn’t live here and doesn’t know me, but I know how she fits. Her mom taught me English 30-1, (and my mom English 30-1!) and inspired me to read more, write more, and to become an English teacher.
Soon, another lifeguard appears, wearing a vibrant Speedo in a kaleidoscope of colours, smiling widely and carrying a giant basket filled with plastic bath toys to set on the edge for my son – I worked with her when I used to lifeguard at this same pool, and she’s a dear friend with one of the largest, most genuine caring hearts I know. She stayed up all night dancing at my wedding.
At that moment, an older lady wearing a skort and carrying a fancy Canon camera comes in through the side entrance and perches herself on the edge of the hot tub, snapping photos of a very pregnant girl splashing in the shallows with a toddler – My old gymnastics coach who taught me to be strong on the uneven bars at a very young age, and her daughter, my old babysitter, who used to let my brothers style her hair, only to have them tie it into horrible little knots.
Then, another mom arrives on the scene, and two excited kids follow her out of the change room on foot, while a nervous one-year-old stays glued to her hip – it’s my third cousin on my Grama’s side, with her two youngest plus another third cousin’s little guy. Since “Auntie Debbie’s busy,” she’s babysitting for the day.
Finally, a third lifeguard comes on deck for a shift, red uniform, sandals, a beard – Another cousin, a little further removed, and, this time, on my Grandpa’ side. My toddler smiles and him and waves, saying “hi!” as we float by on the lazy river.
In that same Motherly article, Beth Berry also explains the benefits of the village, saying that
Village life fostered a sense of safety, inclusivity, purpose, acceptance and importance. These essential elements of thriving were built in.
So, while on the surface, our morning experience at the pool seemed to be nothing more than an hour of family swim, to me, it was a powerful confirmation that the decision to move home was, overwhelmingly, the right one. One day, many years dow the road, I hope my son can look around and take stock of his own collection of connections, pause for a moment to appreciate the incredible bands of family, friendship, sport, education, and volunteerism that literally bind a small community together, and feel that he to, has found his village.