In 1996, not long after I had my first child, Hillary Clinton’s book “It Takes a Village” hit the shelves. While I haven’t read the book yet, I’ve often thought about the premise behind its title, attributed to an old African proverb. “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Parenting has been the most rewarding, gut-wrenching, frustrating and exhilarating thing I’ve ever attempted. I can’t imagine doing it without my village and I wish more parents had a village like mine. When I stop to think of all the ways our family and friends have helped Curtis and me and our children, I could fill a hundred columns.
During those first weeks with a newborn, while I was weepy and bleary-eyed, my mom came with encouraging words and meals. My mother-in-law, Penny, offered to fly to Spokane whenever I needed and when she came, she volunteered to clean my house in between baby holding sessions.
Both sets of grandparents have extended that active and emotional support over the years, while showering my children with unconditional love. They’ve changed diapers, read stories, played games and listened – really listened – for countless hours. They’ve cheered at games, clapped at concerts and offered congratulations when the kids called with good news. And they’ve offered comfort at bad news. That kind of care is fertile soil to a childhood.
This week I was reminded of how fortunate my family is to have such wonderful grandparents when our fifth-grader Ian spent a couple of hours filling backpacks for foster children as part of his community service project.
According to CASA Partners, a nonprofit organization that provides filled backpacks to area kids when they enter foster care, by the end of the year they’ll have given out 600 to 800 bags. That’s about 60 kids each month who don’t have the family support my kids take for granted. Those kids desperately need a village.
But really, every child and parent should have the support of a village. While ours starts with a supportive family, it includes many friends.
I’ll never forget how, nine years ago, my friend Mindy rearranged her schedule to pick up Emily and Isaac after school when Ian suddenly went to the hospital.
I’ll never forget how, six years ago, Ruth’s last-minute help enabled me to go out of town with my parents to clean out my grandmother’s apartment. Curtis didn’t have to call a substitute teacher because Ruth came over and got the kids ready and off to school. She said she was happy to help, because she loved my kids and she would want someone to do the same for her grandkids.
During every bump along life’s road, my village has helped like that. They’ve also smoothed the road between the bumps. For years, Perri has shared school carpooling with me. It’s a convenience that saves time and money but it’s also a daily interaction that has given my kids another family to know and trust.
Our village has helped us in many other ways, from carrying boxes when we moved to feeding our dogs or getting our mail when we went on vacation. Our neighbors have lent us ladders and helped us put up a fence. While these things may not look like they help us parent, they do. Each act of assistance, however big or small, eases our stress so we can be better parents. At the same time my children see first-hand how good it is to help each other.
This summer, when Emily left to spend her junior year of high school in Germany, we discovered that her village extends around the world. When friends heard of her adventure, several families in Germany immediately sent Facebook messages that she could call them if she needs anything, day or night.
Since then, even more people have offered to make connections for Emily, from the family Curtis stayed with in Germany more than 20 years ago to the soccer mom we met this summer who has family there. We do live in a global community. We do have a global village.
This fact hit home last week when we had an unexpected visit with a friend from Uruguay who now lives in Argentina. Over dinner Talo asked about Emily and immediately offered to email his friends there, to see who lives near her. Her village just got bigger and while she’s overseas she’s making her own friends that will extend it even further.
When my kids were babies, I remember fighting back the fear that I couldn’t protect them when they weren’t with me. Now that Emily’s a confident, competent young woman, I still wish I could be with her in minutes. Since I can’t, I’m especially thankful for her village. It not only helps my parenting, it helps me sleep at night.