What “It Takes a Village” Really Looks Like
Parenting in a community-first culture.
Yesterday while visiting a coffee shop, the barista was so taken with our daughter that he forgot to make our coffees.
We go to the same place almost every Sunday morning and there’s a fair amount of staff turnover, so although we recognized the twenty-something guy who took our order, he was still pretty much a stranger.
That didn’t stop him from coming over to our table, taking our daughter from my arms and placing two big smooches on her cheeks. Over the next fifteen or so minutes he came back several times to check on her as she cycled through a pretty typical routine of giggle/cry/diaper/talk/cry/pretzel/happy scream/sad scream/bottle.
The barista was so interested in doing his part to entertain her that my husband finally had to ask about our coffees, which it seems he had completely forgotten. He looked horrified, apologized several times, and got right to work.
We left pretty soon after, coffees in hand, because our daughter has tragically grown out of the all-to-brief phase where she appreciated sitting quietly in our laps, listening to us plan our week.
A block down the street we were stopped by another twenty-something male worker outside a restaurant. He leaned over and chatted with our daughter, then said come to me, come to me and grabbed her hands.
She watched him speculatively for a half minute, but you could see the moment she committed to his request because she started leaning forward against her seat belt. I decided not to unbuckle her this time, so we exchanged a few more pleasantries and then continued on our walk, at which point our daughter started shrieking because she’d thought she was getting a jail-break.
An hour later at church she was taken from me directly after waking from her nap and passed from arm to arm of people we know, spent a few moments with the babysitter she’s still getting used to, and then I briefly lost track of her in the small living-room-sized area where we meet until I saw her being fought over by two visitors I’d never seen before.
On one of the two metros we took to get home, two ladies grabbed her feet while three people groupings interacted with her. There would probably have been a few more interactions, but there was a soccer match so the first metro was full of men singing and banging the walls, leaving no time to notice a baby.
When we got home I calculated that our daughter had direct contact with about 50 people. Not all of them touched her, but the majority did and everyone else made eye contact and talked to her. And a lot of them were strangers.
That was just one trip of a couple hours out of the house.
In a normal week on our street, she’s called to by name by a couple grocers, the barber, the guys who deliver our water, the four twenty-something workers at the burrito stand, and several restaurant and store owners.
She’s taken from our arms, her hands and feet are grabbed, and she’s smooched countless times as we walk on our street. It doesn’t matter if she’s buckled into the stroller, strapped into the backpack, raging with hunger or nearly asleep — someone will stop us and want to give her some love.
My husband and I are given unsolicited advice about how we dress her, how we hold her, what she’s eating or doing at a particular stage, how big she is and/or should be, and everything in between.
And I wouldn’t say any of that comes from close, personal friends. The closest of our Turkish friends go even further in their remarks and actions, although we’ve seen it be a case of we-but-not-thee as they’ve fiercely defended our parenting style in front of others in the neighborhood when they were just criticizing us themselves the day before.
Hillary Clinton famously cribbed the old cliche It Takes a Village to name her best-selling work — and it’s a lovely thought!
But as someone raised in a radically individualistic culture, I’ve found parenting to provide one of the most difficult aspects of culture shock yet — and that’s after living in five different countries and working with people from over 20 widely-differing cultures during the past decade.
If you can just manage to go with the flow, parenting in a community-first or village culture can be a real kick!
As I mentioned, we’re trying out a new babysitter, and last week as my husband and I were strolling home without the baby, three different people on our street asked where she was: the lady that checked us out at the grocery store; my husband’s barber; and a store-owner we recognize but have never actually talked to before.
Our babysitter wants to try taking our daughter to the park this week. I’m super curious how that’s going to go, as a whole street of eyes will be watching and wondering what she’s doing with the girl they’ve all taken responsibility for raising.