Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It takes a village

It started with some pumpkins. Specifically two ceramic pumpkin statues that were dressed in their finery. He-Beat was immediately drawn and excitedly pointing them out to us. It was then our landlady Martha came out and introduced them to both Beats and mentioned that they were specifically meant as something the Beats could enjoy.And enjoy they did. Greeting them every morning and evening.

It didn't stop there, though.

Following a warm fall day where they wanted to use the street chalk, Martha cleared the driveway, inviting them to draw. We brought her a pie as a thank you and she reciprocated with a thank you note and some cookies from a local bakery. Soon there was a Christmas tree on the front porch, which He-Beat adored, and a Santa Claus to follow. The morning greetings became more routine and with the first snow fall, she happily accepted He-Beat's help with clearing the snow from the driveway.

Every small act of kindness and acceptance Martha has given to the Beats has resulted in them not only trusting her, but including her in their circle of family. And what is most striking to anyone outside of this circle is that such love, warmth and acceptance is coming from a woman who is both single and not parenting.

We've all heard the saying "it takes a village to raise a child." Yet for as long as I can remember, there's been a lot of push-back about this philosophy. From my first interactions with small kids, where we were told to endure misbehaving children unless their actions were immediately life-threatening as the parents were the ones who would handle them to later hearing advice given to new parents about setting clear boundaries about advice and help. Following my time at university, I had friends who were teachers share stories about putting up emotional walls with their students for fear of being accused of overstepping these boundaries by a parent who was threatened by any interactions or being seen as undermining a parent's philosophy of raising their child. The idea of "my child(ren)" was pushed above all else, even when their was evidence this wasn't working out.

Early on following the arrival of the Beats, Grey and I knew we weren't going to survive without help. The toll of sleep deprivation and demands of two infants meant a lot of those philosophies we both learned had to be thrown out the door as we were willingly inviting other parties into our lives on the most intimate of levels. We were lucky to have caregivers and family who were fairly like-minded in their beliefs and goals, but we also learned that there was truly no one correct way to address an issue or situation. That it was okay to have differing opinions and experiences for addressing different problems. And, most importantly, that giving birth automatically didn't make one an authority on a subject or outlook. There was so much to be gleaned from those society continues to deem as uninformed solely because they haven't followed the prescribed equation for a full life.

Finding Martha and her rental has been nothing short of a god-sent. When we relocated to Boston, we lost that circle of support we had built up over two years, literally leaving ourselves naked and alone. We've been lucky to find good caregivers for the Beats, but another reason they are not just surviving but thriving is because of their interactions with our landlady. She's actively been creating an environment for them that is filled with stimulation and warmth.

Granted, there have been some bumps along the way. Setting up a bird feeder took some trial and error because of the accumulation in bird poop. There's been some teaching moments about what not to touch in the garden. And though I know she would love having an opportunity to spend time alone with them, we're not at a point where we're completely comfortable leaving two toddlers solely in her care.

But we're building. We're learning from one another. And the Beats are also learning that love and family come in so many forms. That there's no one right way to live your life in order to have it be full.

And that lesson is an invaluable one.


  1. This is lovely. After all the sketchy weirdo neighbours you've had to deal with, you deserve a bit of luck. Hopefully this winds up being someone who might be able to watch the kiddos and give mom and dad a date night down the road !

  2. Your neighbour is also enjoying the reactions and curiosity she is getting from the children. How boring it would be to decorate your home and have no one appreciate it. Glad you found such a supportive and friendly neighbour.

  3. Sometimes karma is god-sent. You certainly deserve someone like Martha around, after some of the stuff you've endured!

  4. I, of course, love love LOVE this! It really reinforces my point from my recent piece, and I love that you are all getting benefits from this relationship.

  5. Love it! Having awesome neighbors makes all the difference in the world!

  6. Reading about Martha and her interactions with you and the Beats is lovely. Glad that you have such a great neighbor!

    So true about there being no one "absolute" way to address a situation and also this: "that giving birth automatically didn't make one an authority on a subject or outlook". Thank you for putting it so well!

  7. Love this. What a gift you all have in Martha! It's so lovely to have so many people to love and support the Beats.

  8. I love this. It took me a long time to learn the lesson about family (odd, because I was raised by more than one person, some who were chosen for me, and some whom I chose for myself), but perhaps I felt I needed to do it alone? Now you've got me wondering why I was so selfish. :)

  9. So glad to read about your awesome landlady and the sense of community that is happening. It's true that parents are ultimately responsible for setting boundaries, but it's also good to relax a little and let others bring some different perspective yo our children's lives.

  10. So glad you have such a great neighbour & landlady in Martha (especially after some of the other neighbours you've had, as others have noted...!). When my sister & I were toddlers, my dad was transferred to a tiny town in northern Saskatchewan, hundreds of miles away from family & friends. It was there that our family learned the value of good neighbours. One of them was a retired schoolteacher -- single & childless -- who lived down the street, with a charming garden and a tiny house chock full of interesting things she'd made and collected over the years. I still have & use the recipes she gave my mother for waffles, Scottish oatcakes and peanut butter cookies, and a china cup & saucer that she gave me when we moved (she also gave one to my sister). Her sister had been a missionary in New Zealand and she always wanted to go there -- and she finally did, when she was 80 years old! I've always thought that if I had to be a little old lady (childless or not), I wanted to be just like her. :)


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