One of the more common quotes you hear about parenthood is “it takes a village”. So what happens when you don’t have such a village – at least not one nearby? People who can watch the kids while you get a haircut or go to an appointment. People who you give a house key to in case you need them to let the dog out or check on something at the house when you are gone. People you call to stop over at the last minute when you make too much food or decide you want to see another adult face to face besides your spouse. People who you can call in a middle of the night emergency who can be there ASAP. People who you can arrange a last minute outing to the park or to get ice cream when the sun suddenly comes out on a rainy day. People who can watch the kids so you can actually go on a date with your husband more than once or twice a year.
We have plenty of people who would be happy to help out in these situations…they just aren’t nearby. That makes it hard.
I know, I know…we both chose to move away from our families – Lo when he left for college and never went back, and myself when I moved to Columbus on a whim at age 23. Columbus is a city full of people who aren’t from Columbus though, so a lot of people are looking to form their own villages and second families. In addition to our families (3 hours away and 1.25 hours away), we built our Columbus village from people we knew in college, coworkers, teammates, friends of friends, neighbors. When we needed company, needed someone to stop by to get the backpack off of Boof’s head, needed a sitter (for a baby or dog) – we had a list of people we could count on to help out.
When my water broke in the middle of the night with Jenson, we had a few people on standby who would be able to come get Boof in the morning while we were at the hospital. We had a sitter who we trusted with Jenson for daycare who came to our house, plus neighbors who were always willing to watch him or Boof. While we didn’t leave Jenson much with anyone other than them or family, we had nearby friends who were willing to watch him too.
And then we moved. It’s only 45 minutes away, but it’s just out of reach to make it easy or convenient to utilize our village, and it took us 30 minutes further from Lo’s family, without being any closer to mine. It was especially isolating at first. A few weeks after we moved, I found out I was pregnant and the all-day-sickness set in soon after. So I was a new stay-at-home mom, unfamiliar with the area, and siiiiiick. It was a struggle to get through the days sometimes. I thought – well, I’ll just meet other moms. I started going to the library with Jenson for storytime and would talk to the other moms while the kids played. Eventually I discovered that everyone who lives here is actually from here. So they have their parents, their high school friends, their in-laws, their siblings – their villages. Other than a couple of playdates and seeing each other regularly at the library, there wasn’t much more of a bond formed with them. We don’t live in a neighborhood, but I tried to meet the two neighbors that we do have bordering our property and it really just didn’t work out (that’s a whole different story). They aren’t close enough that we actually see them, so its likely that we won’t really ever get to know them.
I got along fine though…made the regular trips to Columbus to see our friends, did fun local things with Jenson during the day. Our sitter was still available to watch him during my constant prenatal appointments up near our old house. We went to the library once or twice every week, to the grocery store, and even had a few local playdates. I wasn’t lonely…I still talked to my friends regularly, had company, visited them, but knowing they were 45 minutes away was hard – especially with a kid who sometimes gets carsick around the 40 minute mark.
As we got closer to my due date, we had to figure out what we were going to do if my water broke. Lo’s parents were going to keep Jenson and Boof, but since we were 45 minutes from the hospital, we couldn’t wait the 2 hours it would take them to get to our house. We were going to have to gather them up (no matter what time of day) and meet his parents at the hospital. I ended up going in for an induction (though I was technically already in labor), so that wasn’t an issue. But when I started cramping and bleeding too heavily in the night a few days after we were home from the hospital, I laid awake worrying what we were supposed to do if it didn’t slow down and I needed to go to the hospital. I hemorrhaged a little in the hospital after Marlowe was born, so I was definitely worried. We were going to have to drag a toddler and newborn to the hospital in the middle of the night, or call an ambulance for me so Lo could stay with the kids. Luckily, it slowed and I was just careful to really take it easy the next day, but it was a pretty scary night for me.
We don’t have a sitter in this area. It’s scary to trust a stranger with your kids. All of the mom’s I’ve met around here use their families for sitters, so they don’t have any recommendations. Our friends are too far away to ask them to stay with the kids, unless we drop them off at their house. If I have an appointment, Lo has to leave work or I have to take them with me. Since Marlowe was born, Lo and I have left the house together kid-free once…when Lo’s mom was here one afternoon in April. Marlowe is over 5 months old now. But we do have a Flight of the Conchords concert to go to next week. Lo’s mom is going to watch the kids – it’s not convenient for her in any way, so we’re thankful that she’s able. We aren’t quite ready to leave Marlowe with many people….she’s a bit of a firecracker and kind of unpredictable, so we have even more limited options than usual. But part of that is because she’s not used to being with anyone other than me and Lo. The concert is in the evening in Columbus, so it’s during bedtime and someone would have to come to our house for that, which rules out most of our willing friends (they have kids of their own). When we bought the tickets months ago, it didn’t seem like planning a night out by the time Marlowe was 6 months old would be that hard or take that much consideration, but it did.
We’re lucky enough to have our families within driving distance. They help out when they are here with things around the house that we can’t get to, or even just entertaining the kids long enough so I can paint my toenails. Without our families’ help, our upstairs bathroom and the trim for our new windows would still need painted, some dead trees and branches would still be hanging out lifelessly in our yard, and we wouldn’t get to go to their houses to relax and recharge while they play with and hold our kids. Most importantly, our kids know them and Jenson talks about everyone in our family all of the time.
Building a village takes time – Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? We’ll build our village up…it may not be while we’re in the trenches of baby/toddler hood, but it’ll happen. Someday we won’t have to take turns at leaving the house or socializing with friends. Someday we’ll get to go out as a couple and have more to talk about than the kids again. We are so rarely out without them, that when we don’t need to constantly tend to them, it almost awkward, like a first date with someone you’ve known forever. It’s different when you aren’t trying to entertain a toddler, or shush a fussy baby, or color the kids’ menu, or wish upon a star through your meal that Marlowe will stay asleep long enough that we can wolf down your food. It takes some adapting to, or so I assume. You get good at trying to manage things without extra help – and we still have it easier than single parents – even if they have a strong village, they are likely spread too thin. It would be much harder if we didn’t have the other to say “tag, your it” to at home when we really need a break.
As I mentioned recently, we have new (old) friends who live 10 minutes away. They don’t have a nearby village either, and they very much want us to help each other out and take turns watching each others kids, and get together so the kids can play and we can have adult conversation. We watched their kids for a bit one evening while they worked in their garden and they are ready and willing to watch ours when we need. They’re in the same boat as us – they’ve been so long without a village that they’ve just grown accustomed to not being able to do anything without the kids. I know if we had an emergency, they’d do what they could to help – at least until our family could get here to take over – and we would do the same for them. When I had to cancel our plans to take the kids for a walk when Marlowe had a fever, she asked if I needed anything at the store, since she knows its hard to get out when you have a sick kid. While we were fine, it was nice knowing there was someone who could help.
Sometimes you have temporary visitors in your village – a librarian who comes up with special activities after your child show an interest, a person at the grocery store who gets the stuff from the bottom of your cart so you don’t have to bend over with the baby in the carrier, or even the people who I encountered at Target today. Marlowe was in the carseat down in the main part of the cart because she was sleeping and I didn’t want to disturb her to put her in the kinderpack, Jenson was in the kid seat. An employee saw me struggling to figure out where to put the boxes of diapers I was buying, so she took them up front for me for when I checked out. I bought a storage bin, so most of the items were able to fit down in there to take to the car, but I was struggling with where to put that to get out to the car. I was moving things around and trying to decide if it would be easier to carry the baby seat and put the bin in the cart, and a boy who was about 10 or 11 asked if I needed some help. I almost said no thank you, but honestly, there really wasn’t a good way for me to do it on my own. It’s not like putting the kids in the car and coming back in was an option. His mom was checking out and I looked at her and asked if that was ok and she said – “absolutely” and told him to meet her at the truck when he was done. I tried to give him a dollar for helping and he said “oh no, I couldn’t, I was glad to help”. I thanked him and told him to tell his mom she did a good job at raising him. The people who step in when you really need it help round out your village.
I guess I just need to think of our village as an extended village. We HAVE the people who are willing, just not as easily. Neither of us are willing to ask for help much because we hate inconveniencing our people. We just need to make sure we reach out when we really need it, that we invite our friends over to visit even if we feel bad about asking them to drive 45 minutes, that we text or email when we need to vent about how hard parenting can be – so even if our village is far away, we can still keep it intact.