It Really Does Take A Village

takes a village to raise a child, don't raise children alone, parenting in isolation, isolated mother, community supported parenting,

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You’ve heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” You’ve probably also noticed slap backs like, “I’ve seen the village and it’s not raising my kids.”

If we actually consider the proverb we see the wisdom it contains. Throughout nearly all eras of human history, parents weren’t isolated from a supportive network of other people. Grandparents, siblings, cousins, and friends not only nurtured children, they made good parenting much easier. When a baby cried there were other arms to carry it or carry on the mother’s tasks as she nursed. When a toddler played there were other eyes keeping watch. When a child was ready to learn there were people available to show him how to fashion reeds into a basket, to fish in the river, to tan hides, to choose the right plants to make medicines. When a teen sought role models there were many to emulate, people who had been guiding forces her whole life. Children grew up with an invaluable sense of connection to kinfolk and community.

Today we don’t benefit from the educational richness of traditional village life where children can see and take part in the real work necessary to sustain life. Few of us live near extended family members. But we can foster the development of our own “villages” in at least three ways. Here’s how it worked for me.

1. Establish a supportive network.

When my first child arrived I didn’t know another soul mothering a newborn. Although my parenting and life choices were far different than my mother’s, I found myself calling her nearly every day. It was comforting to talk to someone who cared that I’d been up all night, even if I had to filter out suggestions like feeding rice cereal to a newborn. I also started attending a nearby Le Leche League group to be around other mothers with small babies. There I found women who shared ideas, laughter, and lightly used baby clothes.

When we began homeschooling, once again I felt isolated. All my friends’ children were school bound. So I linked up with several homeschooling groups. Online is great but in-person is better in dozens of ways. My new homeschooling buddies and I had approaches to learning that spanned the spectrum from unschooling to school-at-home, but our lively conversations veered away from judgment. We cared about each other, looking forward to field trips and park days as much as our kids. We particularly enjoyed the way our kids’ unique curiosities blended, creating the kind of quirky fun so typical of homeschooled kids.

2. Create a “chosen” extended family.

Sure, I felt closer to my parents once I became a mother, but I also needed to expand my tribe. The first woman I met with a newborn became like a sister to me. We didn’t always agree on politics or religion but it didn’t matter. As more children came into both our families we watched each other’s kids, exchanged household items, went on day trips, and supported each other through crises.

My group of parent-friends expanded. This made it easy to take turns carpooling and babysitting. It also made for wonderfully boisterous get-togethers. My extended family also included a group of women who called themselves “crones,” new farming friends, and an elderly Scottish bagpipe instructor. These people cast all sorts of light in our lives.

3. Develop rich connections in the community.

When I moved it took a year to meet the people across the street. It was not an overtly friendly place. I was determined to make it into a real neighborhood. I invited people over for potlucks, Halloween parties, and all sorts of kid-centric fun. When new families moved in, I greeted them with homemade goods and an invite to my next event. It became a place where my kids felt known and accepted. One son learned small engine repair from a retired man who liked to tinker, another son liked to visit the guy a few doors down who sculpted in stone, my daughter sang impromptu operas in the front yard without a moment’s self-consciousness.

We stretched to make community connections as well. We struck up conversations that turned into remarkable learning experiences, giving us access to experts in all sorts of fields. My kids have spent years volunteering in Red Cross, recreation programs, wildlife rescue, and more. We make our home part of a larger village, for example hosting people from overseas, running a food co-op, and holding social action meetings. Like our home, the community became a place where my children’s interests were nourished. We have a village now. Whatever direction we extend a hand, we find a friendly hand waiting

Village building resources.

*Get in touch with family members, near or far. Reach out for support even if it doesn’t come in the exact flavor you’d prefer.

*Connect with other parents at the park, playgroups, and nature preserve. Build mutually supportive networks by exchanging your time and talents.

*Join groups that sustain your interests in a positive way. Ask for information about homeschooling groups and programs at your public library. If you are nursing a child, try your local Le Leche League chapter.  Consider joining the Holistic Moms Network. Find or start any sort of group on Meetup.com, from a stroller-pushing-dog-walking get-together to a kids’ chess club. 

*Enjoy the sense of belonging found in active membership in a church, charity, outdoor group, or any organization where families are welcome.

*Establish connections by becoming “regulars.” You may choose to go out for breakfast each Saturday at the same locally owned place where the staff knows your kids. You may help out at a CSA farm as a family. You’ll also feel more at home in your community through regular visits to your library, recreation center, and park.

*Be the neighbor you’d like to have. Extend kindness and warmth as you get to know people. Perform acts of service along with your kids, whether shoveling the driveway of an elderly neighbor or volunteering with Meals on Wheels. Even the smallest children can perform acts of kindness.

*Develop a tradition of community service. There are plenty of ways for kids, toddler to teen, can volunteer.  And help them get involved in civic affairs, clubs, and community organizations. They’re creating their own place in the village too.

it takes a village, community building for families,  isolated parents, parent friendships,

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Get Kids To Predict The Future

Back in 1964, sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke introduced a program on future predictions by stating:

The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So, if what I say to you now seems to be very reasonable then I’ll have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

Among other developments, Clarke predicted the emergence of the Internet, telecommuting, and remote surgery.

Fantastic. More science fictions are becoming science facts all the time.

Just like the predictions kids gave when I asked them about the future at a multi-age enrichment program. The youngest ones jumped in eagerly.

“Robots will do all our chores.”

“Dogs will come in a bunch of different colors.”

“Kids can fly little space cars around wherever they want.”

“You’ll think of anything you like to eat and it’ll appear.”

What the teens predicted was more complex and somewhat darker. They talked about the necessity of space exploration to seek out scarce resources on other planets. They discussed enhanced ESP abilities for communication and intuitive powers to diagnose illness, although those topics raised a lot of debate. Most of them hoped teleporting would eventually replace the difficulties of travel. And quite a few envisioned grim scenarios of global scarcity complicated by the use of advanced weaponry.

The future may hinge on optimists with a can-do attitude. So after the group discussed their predictions I headed the conversation in a more positive direction. We discussed what kind of future the kids wanted to live in, what steps were already underway to make that happen, and how the kids themselves could take part. By the close of our session the kids were energized about envisioning and creating a hopeful future, one that included space cars as well as peace. Envisioning that future is the first step.

I wish I’d had the participants in my enrichment program write down their predictions so their parents could save those speculations for a decade or two. Better yet, I wish I’d copied all the predictions so that someday the kids could find out which of their many ideas had come to fruition.

Consider asking your kids to make their own predictions.  It’s an interesting way to stimulate conversation about their hopes and fears. Written or recorded predictions are also a wonderful contribution to a scrapbook, family blog, or time capsule.

Let us know in the comment section what your kids had to say. Consider making your own. And go one step farther than I did. Remember to save them!

kids see future, kids predict future, arthur c. clarke future,

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Fighting Crazed Holiday Syndrome

un-busy your holiday, un-crazy Christmas, slow Christmas, slow holiday,

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Who isn’t busy all the time? But around the holidays we’re crazy busy. I venture to say women are especially busy and those lights in our lives we call children make the pace even more frantic.

Sure we make all sorts of efforts to simplify and de-stress but for most of us the joys of holiday shopping, gifting, cooking, decorating, visiting, hosting and merrymaking have to fit right into our regular (overburdened) schedules.

It’s not like we can make more time where there is none. Well, maybe we can. Or at least use our time differently. I confess to the Crazed Holiday Syndrome but I fight back with these tactics.

Renounce the How-Does-She-Do-It-All Disease. You know the symptoms. You show excessive responsible because you’re sure no one else will do it (or do it right). You uphold traditions your family counts on. You pay close attention to get just the right gifts. You worry about money more than usual. You try to keep the focus on intangibles like faith and togetherness. When the frenzy is over you end up with an empty feeling. I’m the first to stand and admit that I’m still in recovery from this disease.

The cure? Talk to your loved ones about what means the most to them, slice away the rest. If that doesn’t work, slice anyway.

Shun Those Voices. They’re everywhere around the holidays. They seem so genuine and alluring but their sole aim is to make you feel insufficient. They speak to you from Pinterest, TV, magazines, websites, blogs, store displays— let’s admit they’re ubiquitous. These voices tell you that you’re not enough. To compensate you must do more. Dress beautifully, make elaborate meals, buy lavish gifts (and wrap them a whole lot better too).

This is the only diet you need to go on. Don’t watch a single cooking show, don’t open one slick women’s magazine, it’s best if you avoid stores as much as possible. You’ll have a lot more time plus you won’t have to reassemble what’s left of your self esteem.

Screw Tradition. No, I don’t mean avoiding your house of worship or shunning Grandma’s house. I do mean it’s possible to celebrate the season without so much of the heavy Gotta Do It weight hanging over you.

Some of our most memorable holidays have actually been those that veered wildly from tradition. My family will not forget a holiday dinner at Becky’s house featuring walls of wet paint, an oven on fire, and a dog getting sick everywhere. The zinger? She was eager to show foreign guests how we celebrate here in the U.S.

Try doing things a little differently, a little more slowly. If you’ve always gone to the movie theater to see the newest holiday releases after a day of shopping, skip both and go to a play at your community theater. If you’ve accepted every holiday invitation despite the costs of babysitters, travel, and lost sleep instead limit your selections to a few events that are reliably warm and wonderful. If you’ve always made a big meal, consider ordering take-out from a locally owned restaurant and serve it on your best plates. If you’ve always accommodated your kids’ requests for gifts because it’s Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanzaa put new limits on materialism, letting them know you’ll consider one or two items they consider their highest priorities. If you’ve always driven around to see the holiday lights, go outside on a frosty night to sing together (even if only to a lone tree lit by moonlight). You’ll not only save time and money, you’ll also create new traditions.

Rethink Gift-Giving. Things have gotten out of hand. Children in this country once looked forward to a fresh orange, maybe a piece of candy and if they were lucky a toy or useful gift like a pocketknife or sewing kit. Historian Howard Chudacoff writes in Children at Play: An American History that most toys co-opt and control a child’s play. They’re better off with free time and objects they can use to fuel their imaginations (yes, a cardboard box). I even know a child being raised, quite happily, without a single purchased toy.

I admit things got out of hand in my own house. In a quest for meaning (let’s rephrase that to my quest for meaning) we’ve always had handmade holidays. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people….. Meals from scratch, homemade organic cookies, handmade gifts. Each of my four children made gifts for everyone every year, gifts that took substantial effort such as woodworking, felting, and ceramics. My teens still make some of the gifts they give although thankfully I’m not the one coming up with the ideas and supervising the process. The last few years economic realities have made hand made gifts ever more necessary, for other gifts I turn to non-profit and artisan sources. Try products offered by non-profits you support, works of art sold at local galleries, items directly available from artisans at Etsy, gifts of service or gifts of experience.

Last Resort. This tactic is heavy duty, the one I bring out when I start to feel sorry for myself. Because we’re not crazy busy in comparison to women throughout history. We think we’re stressed? Our foremothers hauled water; carded, spun and sewed clothes; chopped firewood and maintained the fire they cooked on; ground grain and made bread each day; planted and weeded gardens, then canned or dried the harvest; stretched limited food reserves with careful planning to last until the next harvest; cared for babies, children and the elderly with no professional help; treated the sick, stitched wounds and prepared the dead for burial; well, you get the idea.

Worse, many many women in the world still do this sort of grinding labor each day. Typically, women in developing countries work 17 hours a day.  Our sisters receive a tenth of the world’s income while performing two-thirds of the world’s work. These harsh realities put any concept of busy or stressed right out of my head. (For more information and ways to help, check out the wonderful book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.)

So fight the Crazy Busy Syndrome with all you’ve got. Remember to count your blessings, including the joy of not eating my homemade buckwheat cookies!

 

What’s The Perfect Age?

what is the perfect age,growing older is perfect, child is not an ungrown adult, baby is not an unformed child,

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There must be an ideal age floating around in our collective unconscious. This is such a fixed part of our media-driven culture that it’s hard to focus on it. But let’s give it a try. Allow a number come to you as you consider the following questions.

 What age do parents have in mind as they groom their kids for success?

 What age do kids have in mind as they imagine growing up?

 What age do older adults have in mind as they try to look and act younger?

I’m guessing it’s somewhere between 21 and 35, a time when we’re supposed to be brimming with youthful good looks and potential. Or maybe it’s not a number but just a fundamental belief that young adulthood is some sort of peak. Everything before that is preparation, everything after a slide toward old age.

Consciously or unconsciously, believing in this ideal age uses up a large part of all our other ages.

Consider how relentlessly the adult world prods children to get (or at least act) older. I know I’m somewhat guilty. I did my very best to savor the baby and toddler years but honestly, it’s hard. I found myself thinking that it would just get better after they finished teething, or could talk, or finally mastered toilet training. Even the most sainted in-the-moment parent will find him or herself bombarded with well-intended, future-oriented inquiries from others like, “Is she sleeping through the night?” and “Does he talk in sentences yet?” Such questions don’t stop as the child gets older, instead they have to do with bigger topics like academic abilities, athletic achievement, even popularity. Admiration is heaped on little ones who act much older than their developmental age, especially those children who exhibit social poise beyond their years, as if six-year-olds who act like six-year-olds are already somehow behind.

The pressure becomes more intense with each passing year. Parents often find themselves buying all sorts of educational toys and electronics, filling what could be free time with an ambitious schedule of practices and enrichment programs, and of course, pushing educational achievement. We’re told that these efforts “count” as if there’s a permanent record for eight-year-olds or 13-year-olds. There isn’t.

We’re assured that getting kids ahead in sports or hobbies will create passionate engagement, but research affirms that children build rewardingly intense interests when they are free to explore activities without adult pressure and interference

We’re led to believe that early academic accomplishment is the path to later success. Too often, that’s not true either. Success is closely linked to much more nuanced personal factors which develop quite nicely, research tells us, during free play, early participation in household tasks, conversation, and other experiences that foster self- control as well as an internal locus of control

Pushing our children toward adulthood takes us (and them) away from seeing that each of us are whole people exactly as we are. A baby is not an unformed child, a child is not an ungrown adult, an elder is not an age-ruined version of a once younger self.

Each of us is wonderfully unique. Of course we’re flawed and often foundering. But at the same time we are also brimming with emerging possibilities. We don’t have to paddle away from the moment we live in toward some ideal age. Doing so doesn’t just wish away right now, it also condemns every other age we live in to be something less.

Truly seeing our children and our elders as complete and whole, right now, means seeing ourselves that way too.

Monday Hearts For Madalene

art from found objects, love made visible,

Page Hodel

A heart-shaped anything used to seem overly sentimental, even mawkish, to me until I encountered those created by Page Hodel. Her hearts are ephemeral and made from the unexpected. Things like chile peppers, paper clips, postage stamps, kumquats, metal bolts, cast-off sneakers, green onions, all sorts of colorful objects.

The story behind her art is equally unexpected and poignant. Page is a disc jockey whose presence unifies and enlivens a crowd. Billboard magazine named her one of the country’s best. She also works for the non-profit Rhythmic Concepts to foster jazz education. Before she started making hearts her hands-on creative efforts took place on a larger scale, including the renovation of large vehicles and homes. Her life seemed full. Then she met her neighbor, Madalene Louise Rodriguez, a librarian and glass artist. The moment they met, they both fell in love. As Page writes on her site,

There is something extraordinary about falling so deeply in love later in your life. The profound awareness of the miracle of finding the love you have looked for all your life, and the realization of how much you each have to share having lived so long and experienced so much.

Page began making hearts out of buttons, leaves, anything she could find to leave on Madalene’s doorstep late each Sunday night. That way when Madalene stepped out to go to work the next morning, she’d be greeting by a beautiful reminder of their love.

Page Hodel

Page Hodel

Only seven months after they met, Madalene was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. Page promised to continue making hearts for her each week, no matter what. After a courageous battle, four months later Madalene died.

Page never intended the hearts she created to be anything more than a private way of expressing her feelings. Thanks to a request by Madalene’s brother, she gradually began sending online photos of each week’s heart to loved ones, inviting them to forward the images as a way of putting more love out in the world.

Page initially refused offers to collect the photos into a book. The feeling associated with them was too painful. But she kept hearing from strangers whose lives were affected by the hearts. She realized that her love for Madalene could touch others.

Now you can find 100 hearts collected in a beautiful volume titled Monday Hearts for Madalene as well as Hearts for Madalene Notecards. Page donates a portion of the proceeds from each sale to the Women’s Cancer Resource Center.  Anyone who would like to receive a weekly email with the newest Monday Hearts For Madalene, simply email  page.hodel@gmail.com with “subscribe” in the subject line.

Seeing these images, hearts can’t help but take on a larger meaning.

Page Hodel

Page Hodel