It takes a village, part one

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. Now that I am a mother, I agree with it more than ever, and am grateful for the varied and wonderful village of friends and acquaintances who love my son. But the last few weeks have lead me to believe that it also takes a village to raise a mother.

image by Erin at laughpaintcreate.com

Leaving my DC neighborhood for a suburban Maryland apartment near my husband’s work a few weeks ago has been … hard. To gain proximity to Zach’s job (and an end to his hour-plus commute), and an apartment both larger and cheaper than our DC place, and a less-expensive existence for our now single-income family, I lost several important things: familiar neighborhood, easy travel (DC is very walkable and has great public transit) and most importantly, easy access to my village. A Village doesn’t come easy – it’s curated over time as we meet many different people over years of interacting around shared interests, activities and values. We drift away from people you don’t connect with. And with others, we resonate; there is harmony of thought, similar sense of humor, sympathy and support. They become your village.

Nothing in my life has affected me like becoming a mother – it is joyful, and challenging. Without your village, it is desperately isolating.

I am a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom (I am a photographer, and am also venturing into social media consulting for small businesses) so most of my days are focused on Del or on some compromise of working while entertaining him. My little business partner. Five month olds are adorable but not always the best conversationalists, and seldom have a valuable contribution to a business issue. In the first few weeks after his birth, I realized that if I stay home all day every day I get sad, bored and lonely. Even with my awesome husband’s company on weekends and in the evenings. Days can be long, no matter how quickly they fly by. But a walk through the city, the bustle of other humans going about their busy lives, brief interludes of commerce – these all gave me the sense that I was part of a larger whole. My child was a new member of this community. People say hello to babies. Strangers ask details of his life and stats: “He’s 2 weeks (10 weeks, 5 months!) old. He is big! He weighs 15 lbs now!” Random women offer encouragement or advice. At the park, other mothers with strollers nod and smile, silently acknowledging that We Two are successfully surviving the sleeplessness, the giving of our bodies over and over every day to feed and carry and comfort these babies, and we’re Out, Walking, Being Well. The community is invested in the life of it’s littlest members — humans innately appreciate the continuation of our species — and by chatting with me, they’re validating my role in caring for the new little villager.

Even more important are the networks of acquaintances and friends – the yarn shop owners, the former co-workers at the office a short walk away, the security guard in your building. The lifelong friends and the friends you made in birth class and the friends who had babies that you’ve now reconnected with because you now have this primary thing in common and need each other. All within a walk, a bus ride, a metro ride. Company, caring, suggestions, compassion, coffee, lunch, a walk, babysitting… these things are how you get by. These people are your village and no new mother should be without them.

Then we moved to the suburbs.

Here, everyone drives a car where they’re going and they play in their own backyards. I discovered parks empty during the day. I can walk the three-quarters of a mile to Trader Joes and back again and see only a few Latina grandmothers with a grocery bag, but usually No One. My apartment complex is largely quiet. I spend my day with Diane Rehm and Kojo Nnamdi, and even talk out loud along with their radio show guests about the topics being discussed. Oh NPR – friend of lonely mothers everywhere! Zach’s arrival home for lunch, and later, home from work in the evening, are the social highlights of my day. That’s a bit of a burden on one man who is tired from his day of work and usually still has other jobs that need doing before he can get his downtime – his rest from the stimulation of being out with people all day long. I remember what that’s like.

So I trek to the city at least once each week, arranging coffee there, a meeting there, lunch with that friend, and a couple hours to knit at the yarn shop. Del and I sit among humanity in Dupont Circle and smile at everyone. The hour long metro ride each way is time to nurse Del and read emails. We visit our village. I am happier for it, refreshed with conversation, delighted by the sagas of someone other than myself, encouraged by the attentions of our friends, and energized from time with friends of the mom and non-mom varieties. I am a better mother for it and a better wife.

And I’ve *finally* found a mothers’ group out here. That is a whole other story – next post!

Do not take your villages lightly.

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3 responses to “It takes a village, part one

  • Anna

    This is so true – we very nearly had R across the country from our village, and I’m so glad we came home, because it really is amazing how much more it means to you. Sorry that things have been difficult in your new neighborhood! Hope the moms group goes well… I go to a couple, and even if I haven’t found a new best friend there, it’s something to do with my day and it feels like being part of something.

  • Jess

    I feel your pain. We moved to Old Town Alexandria from Minneapolis eight months ago and I find that our new village (quaint as it is on the outside) and the DC area in general is very different than the village we had in Minnesota. One example is that there aren’t the abundance of welcoming community gathering places like cafes, coffee shops and other such places where you feel comfortable sitting for hours and run into familiar faces to chat with. We’ve had a hard time finding other couples we “click” with despite much effort on my part joining MeetUp groups, yoga, volunteering, etc. These activities have helped me meet a couple friends and do make me feel part of something though, even if it’s not all I had hoped for. We are awaiting our first baby in three months and I’m getting nervous about staying at home with her, afraid of this isolation you’re experiencing and worried about how it might impact her. I think we’ll be taking a lot of metro rides into DC to be among the masses and bum around all the museums and parks like you and Del are doing!

    • DragonKat

      Hi Jess, I hear you about “clicking” – I worry about that too, because connecting with someone is about more than just doing the same thing together or having similar circumstances. This is why I was first focusing on something I was already interested in – learning baby sign or a multilingual story time. I thought it would better to start with some ideas in common. Better than just showing up at a playdate and trusting we all like each other because hey, we are all moms. My friends in DC are already friends, already connected. It’s hard.

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