It Takes a Village: Motherhood and the Moment I Knew I Needed a Tribe
I thought a lot about the name of my company before I settled on Happy Baby Village. I kicked around many ideas, but the word village kept coming back to me. I resisted this because ‘it takes a village’ has become a bit of a cliché. We all know it takes a village to rear a child, and I didn’t want to dumb-down, so to speak, issues of motherhood, parenting and the global nature of family life in its varied and unique forms. I worried that ‘it takes a village’ would do that, simplifying complex issues with a turn of phrase.
Still, I couldn’t shake it, and I finally decided that cliché or not, there is too much truth in the fact that it really does take a village to raise kids or, frankly, do much of anything, to describe it any other way. I remembered a poignant moment just after the birth of my second child, my son.
I was taking a long bath, in large part because my mother was visiting and helping me adjust to life with a newborn and an almost two-year-old. In the bath, I was reading Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonder. I won’t get into the details of that novel, except to say it’s one of those books that stays with you and is so moving it borders on haunting. Well, I sat in that bath a long time. I sat there so long, reading, turning pages, that the water turned cold, and I had to refill the tub. I was still sitting there when I read the epilogue, and when I finished it, I lay flat on my back and started crying. In the scene, the protagonist ends up far away from her home (England). She is in the Middle East, and she describes sitting in the area reserved for women, the ‘women’s quarters.’ She describes life as one of many wives, where the women remain together in their quarters and share the responsibility of caring for the children collectively. She describes the colors of the Middle East, so vibrant compared with the rest of the novel, which takes place in an English village. She describes the cacophony of life in this new world, the hustle and bustle.
In that bath, recovering from another C-section, far away from home and in a second-floor apartment, I felt the bleakness of the St. Louis winter and the isolation of trying to mother two children alone, without family and with few friends. I suddenly wanted a group of wives to help me. I wanted another woman to run after my daughter or feed her breakfast or sit with her while she settled for a nap. I wanted another woman to bring me food, not for a week or two but for years. Years. I wanted another woman to simply sit beside me, perhaps saying nothing at all. I just wanted to feel her there. I wanted to see sunshine so hot it shimmered. I wanted to eat a persimmon or a slice of dragon fruit or pop a fresh lychee into my mouth instead of the standard waxy apples I bought at the supermarket a few blocks away, under the flickering of fluorescent lights.
Most of all, I just didn’t want to be alone.
I realize my situation is unique, as I’m a military wife and often live in places I’ve never been, have few friends and in which I am utterly unfamiliar. I have moved my entire house and family to cities I’ve never before seen or even considered living in, and that life brings with it extreme isolation and unique challenges. It would be easy, then, to think that the feelings of loneliness or anxiety I have felt as a mother and wife are due to this nomadic life, but I think that would be missing the isolated nature of parenting in the modern world as a whole. I have spoken with many women, the majority of whom are not military wives, who have similar feelings. It seems acute in those of us who have lived in other cultures, particularly in the developing world, where community bonds and ties often overshadow the material riches of the ‘developed’ world.
It is hard, as an American mother, not to have moments of wishing I had a village of my own but realizing that my culture isn’t always set up to embrace that lifestyle. It’s even harder to realize that much of my own personal culture flies in the face of that village life, and that, to a certain extent, I only have myself to blame, if I was going to point fingers or shift blame at all.
I think what I felt in that bath was a natural, human compulsion toward community. I think what I felt was a desire to connect, particularly during a difficult, exhausting and emotional time in my life. The image from the book of those women, those sister wives, together in their women’s quarters seemed so soothing to me. The stark contrast of my daily life, most of it spent alone with two kids under the age of two, overwhelmed me. I look back on that now, ten years later, and I feel a lot of compassion for myself as a new mother and for all new moms who have felt that same isolation, even if only for a moment.
I think parenting takes a village. I think marriage takes a village. I think life takes a village.
In some places that village is inherent and natural. There is fertile ground in which it grows. I think in modern America, however, a village takes more awareness and effort to create and sustain. Community is fluid, and connection is precarious.
I have found nothing more soothing than simply being in the presence of other women. In that moment in the bath, when my children were still tiny and life felt overwhelming, I decided to reach out. It’s a decision I make regularly, each time we move, each time I see another person with whom I feel a desire to connect. I strike up a conversation. I invite people for dinner or coffee or tea. I listen to their stories and tell them mine. This life, motherhood and beyond, is meant to be shared, so that we are all a little happier, calmer and soothed by each other’s presence.