Being a mother has led me to believe that folks of yore really knew what they were doing. They lived in large houses with extended family or clustered their dwellings ‘round the farm. They lived in little villages and cooked in the front yard while their children chased the chickens. They did life together. Granny sat in the corner rocking the baby and shooing toddlers away from the fire while the younger women shared the burden of cooking and cleaning.
My brief years of teaching served as another model of this. My happiest moments as a teacher were those in a classroom with an aide, another adult to share a knowing glance during the moments of classroom chaos or after a particularly hilarious revelation from an eight-year-old. The year I spent in a small school with a schedule that virtually eliminated my contact with other teachers was the one that drained me to the point of no return—I got pregnant and quit. (There, I solved that isolation problem!)
As I observe those around me, it seems like the prime source of community and togetherness remains the family. I am fortunate enough to live near my parents—though my siblings scattered to the corners of the country—and I sincerely believe that I am a better mother because of the time I am able to spend with my mother, sharing life and the joys and trials of little ones with another adult. Life was not meant to be lived in solitude. It seems that as our families disperse across the nation and around the world, we increasingly lose our sense of community as the first and most natural relationships we have grow strained by distance.
When I was young, the neighborhood was another little community. On my cozy block of fourteen modest homes (seven per side), six of them had children. During my formative years, there were eighteen kids wandering the neighborhood, organizing bike parades and neighborhood Olympics, playing baseball at the school diamond, and running from one house to another. All of our moms were at home at least part-time. They had coffee together, left us kids under someone else’s charge while they ran errands, and hollered out the window if they saw someone misbehaving. An additional four homes on our block had grandparent-types in them; we kids mowed their lawns, had snacks in their kitchens, and received their reprimands if they thought we were playing too roughly. Community like that is hard to find in our era of attached garages, privacy fences, and too-many-commitments.
Many people discover a community of faith, forming relationships with fellow parishioners. When I was young, families invited one another over for Sunday dinner after the service and met for church-based Bible studies or kids’ clubs. My husband and I changed churches a while ago. One of many reasons was our lack of connections in our old church; everyone was related to everyone else, so they huddled in family clusters. Our new church, though it has many good qualities, seems to schedule all family events in the evenings—after my little ones are in bed. (Are mine the only kids who are in bed BY seven?)
I want my kids to have more to their lives than their grandparents and a few folks they see on Sundays. I want them to have a community—or several communities. While I haven’t determined how to improve our connections at church, I have made more of an effort, lately, to get to know the neighbors, and I’ve joined a MOMS Club for additional connections. I’ve not been at it long enough to see if it will work for me, though I’m rather pessimistic. (Pessimism probably doesn’t help, but I’ve been a bit of an odd-man-out my whole life, so I’d hate to get my hopes up. Who else gets excited about dictionaries, hasn’t gone to a movie in nearly two years, likes to sew but stinks at baking, and has no money to spend on weekly trips to bounce houses?) I’ll certainly do my part, but if I succeed, it will be a miracle.
How do you “do community”?