This morning, a friend sent me a quote tweet about parenting.
“The majority of our mental load and emotional labor as modern-day mothers comes from constantly and creatively trying to piece together some semblance of a village, stepping into roles meant to be filled by other village members, and unconsciously grieving this soul-crushing loss (which is hidden in plain sight). We hugely underestimate the weight of villagelessness on mothers.”
It’s credited to someone named Beth Barry, who is apparently known on Instagram as @revolutionfromhome.
A quick scroll through her Insta lets me know that I need her in my life, and I’m going to be spending money on digital content today, in a way that’s not budgeted for.
But seriously, thank you Gina, for sending me this little image, which sparked a soapbox moment, for which probably 13 people in Warren County, Pa., are thanking you right now.
I’ve always had a really ambivalent relationship with this particular turn of phrase. “It takes a village to raise a child.” On the one hand, it’s atrocious, isn’t it? It implies that everyone around us has some entitlement to shaping the adults our children become by way of meaningful interactions but, if you’ve walked down a Walmart clearance aisle at 11 p.m. at any point in the past year you know as well as I do that this is absolutely not the case.
On the other hand, though, I kind of love everything about it. I can feel my neurons slip into a warm dopamine bath with serotonin bubbles when I say it and when I hear it because I know, somehow, on some visceral level that it is true. It feels natural and right to me when I imagine small tribes of people living together in independent communities scattered about some geographic location anywhere on Earth. Small groups of people, related and unrelated…a breeding population, if you’re currently incubating chickens and reading a lot of peer-reviewed poultry husbandry literature, by chance – creating bonds and relationships that mature and interweave over the course of generations. Elders telling stories, making sense of things. Gathering small cohorts of the overall group next to campfires, and cookfires, explaining why it rains and how you are related to the village crazy lady, sadly, no matter what you do. It will never leave your record, and is your sorry cross to bear.
People given a role, a niche of their own, within the colony based on their strengths, passions, abilities, and characters. No one wakes up and goes to work in the morning. They just wake up and are. Whatever they were born to be. I know, the determinism is strong with this one, and hypothetical situations like this can devolve into “Animal Farm” lickety-split, but let’s just let ourselves rest here, in the fantasy that some human beings are capable of being benevolent neighbors and not narcissistic vampires. It’s nice here. It’s breezy, and warm.
And kids don’t wake up to catch a bus to school. They wake up and live alongside the adults in their lives, all of whom enjoy the same basic respect and dignity.
I know there’s only like three or four of these kinds of living situations in the world, all undiscovered in only the most impenetrable and unmolested notches left, and that they will unhinge their collective jaws and shoot you to death with poison arrows before you even reach the blessed sands of shore from the dingy of your colonial exploring vessel to tell them the good news about Jesus and stuff.
I feel like there are a lot more strong arguments to be made for that position on their part than against it.
Because it does, in fact, take a village to raise a child.
For a lot of single working moms today, the village consists of two to four grandmothers and maybe an aunt or uncle occasionally. A smattering of schoolmates, perhaps, in The Beforetimes. But for the most part our individual villages exist, as we do our most profound development into the people we spend our lives becoming, within the boundaries of our own homes. Or yurts. Or houseboats. Or ranches. Or patinaed prairie farmhouses.
And the exchanges and interactions tend to be perfunctory in a lot of cases. Because they have to be. No grandma can make cutout cookies and be sweeter than honey for several hours at a stretch three to five whole days a week.
But villages, the kinds of villages it takes to raise children, aren’t broken up into individual households. It’s a life of total social immersion, where your heroic deeds and bad choices matter as much to the shaman as they do to the yurt builders.
Not here. This is America, homegirl, and I can’t just walk my eight-year-old up to any old yurt builder and say “take her for a few hours so I don’t have an aneurysm and die,” and return a few hours later to discover that my child now has a working basic knowledge of structural engineering and what have you.
American yurt builders are kind of jerks.
Yurt builders, for our purposes, are moms by the way.
I don’t have time to develop this metaphor anymore, and I’m too lazy to come up with a simpler one, so I’m just gonna lay my cards on the table and walk away now.
Anyhow, some moms here in the U.S. are kind of jerks.
I said it like that.
I’m not looking at anyone in particular. I tend to avoid other moms when at all possible until I can gauge their position on the Spectrum of Jerkitude (patent pending), and then respond to play date requests accordingly.
My life is very much a village with a population of three and a small menagerie of useful pets. I keep all my crazy right out front, so you can get a good whiff before you even decide if you wanna knock on that door. I respond to threats against my children and my peace with equal prejudice. If my kid wants to play with your kid at my house, and you’re going to be involved enough to want to see my house first, you better get right before you pull up with scrub pants as pajamas, worn sunup to sundown with unjustified confidence unless I’m forced to leave the compound, a glass of wine with lunch if the mood strikes, and hearing the words “I said go outside and play,” come out of my mouth repeatedly between the months of March and November. I kid you not, if my kids harp on me about anything aside from profuse bleeding or loss of consciousness, they will be met with an almighty resistance. We play in dirt, we catch chickens with our bare hands, we fall in ponds, we hatch poultry in our bedrooms, and we brood them in our garage.
We even soak them in warm Epsom salt baths, when their hocks or scales are swollen or sore. And yes, we bleach the tub afterward but we’re not in a rush, because we rinse the filth off ourselves once a day.
After we’ve spent the majority of our waking moments finding ways to entertain ourselves.
I’m a hands-off mom, and I’ve sent more than one frail contestant away weeping when I didn’t spring from my couch cushion to prevent my child from bumping her knees on the floor, or coddle her for three hours afterward.
I don’t neglect my children, but I don’t entertain them either.
When I invite their friends over it’s often because their friends’ moms are my friends and it’s not so much a playdate for them as it is a cackle cackle session for the hens.
Which is why it’s so important to have worthy and capable village members.
My very best friend lives three hours away, which sucks, because my twins and her son were born within two months of each other and they are a formidable defense against the constant threat of my chickens not being used to human handling. I like it when I can send a city kid out to catch birds with the girls. Keeps the birds willing to let me steal eggs out from under them.
The power is intoxicating.
But I’m not driving to Ithaca every weekend to hang out with my bestie, and she’s not driving here either, because we love each other but we are adult women with whole lives and we have resigned ourselves to the fact that we must relish our three-to-four visits a year for the precious times they are. The Kmart picture days of our generation.
Day-to-day, my village of tangible humans from which to borrow children, or to whom I may loan mine for a day, is small and consists of only one non-grandma.
My friend Amy.
My friend Amy is my friend Amy because her daughter Daisy is friends with my daughters Harper and Juniper.
At Amy’s house, they are known as The Triplets, a moniker bestowed upon them by Daisy’s older brother, who “will not even deal with the triplets when they’re like this.”
At my house, they are known as “GIIIIIIIIIRLS” hollered from the laundry room window or back deck when I need them to come up from the pond or the wigwam to consume something, lest their blood sugar drop so low that they require intravenous glucose and I am asked to explain things.
Corralling three wild girl children and forcing food into their bodies is a big job when they’re basically boys.
I know that I can make it through a several-day stretch of continuous child rearing by calling Amy and asking for relief.
“Either I will come get yours or you can take mine,” to paraphrase the text initiation. And she knows she can place the same call and receive the same response – a genuine and grateful yes – without a thought. If I am home, Daisy is welcome here. Because something magic happens when you’re going solo against bored twins and you invite a third party into the fray. It’s completely counterintuitive, I know, but increasing the load breaks the pressure on the system and everything starts running smoothly again. Or at least more smoothly than before.
And I like Daisy. She’s a cool kid. Low maintenance. Able to withstand hours of my daughters bickering like David and Alexis Rose.
I never had a sibling, so I have no basis for comparison, but I’m pretty sure my daughters are comic book level nemeses.
I love Daisy days, because I can basically just emerge from whatever task I have cooking a few times, as the sun crosses the yard, with an organized plan for ending household hunger and then retreat, again, for multiple hours of time to myself without anyone actually feeling neglected. They’re all good kids. I can trust them to go for a walk and not break into anyone’s camp along the way, or catch a few salamanders and release them back to the wild without altering the evolutionary path of the entire commonwealth’s amphibian population. I no longer get to claim that my house is a mess because my kids keep me too busy to clean it, not because I spent six hours watching a limited series on Bob Lazar, but I can just revise the defense to cite the addition of the third child and slide my use of Netflix as a avoidance technique right back into the shadowy realm of my preconscious awareness at best, where it belongs.
And, on the days I drop my kids off to play mountain child games with the goats and the hogs on their other homestead-away-from-home, I feel nothing but the pregnant potential of the next several hours. I may do nothing at all but paint my nails and deep-condition my hair, or finish a page in my BuJo lunar life planner, but I will do it with neither guilt nor qualm, because I can trust Amy to throw snacks at my kids when they snarl loud enough, tell them sternly about themselves if they need it, and otherwise scoot them directly out of her hair if they tire of the 200-plus acres surrounding her compound and wander unwarily into it.
I was watching “Sister Wives” the other day. I have this truly depraved obsession with watching other people’s lives unfold on reality television that’s not teetering precariously on an axis of curating a marriage between what boils down to abject strangers.
I can proudly state that I’ve never seen an episode of “The Bachelor” in my haggard, wasted life. But I love being vicariously immersed into a lifestyle that is completely alien to me, and “Sister Wives” is mesmerizing on that account. If I’m honest, I want 90 percent of what those women have. I want the cul-de-sac where every house on either side of me is an Amy. I want my kids to be able to live at three different physical addresses, switching back and forth at will. I want multiple other adult women around me who feel about and think of and relate to the role of mother the same ways that I do.
I want my family to have its own zip code.
I know that at a certain point you’re just creating your own echo chamber, but wouldn’t it be kind of wonderful? To just tell your mouthy thirteen-year-old to go spend some time at Mommy Amy’s for a while?
Knowing that she will be as loved and cared for there as she is in your house, but with the luxury of space and time to think about how she wants to approach you the next time she sees you.
With that ultimate, ultimate luxury for yourself, to do the same.
I don’t need the religion or the man. I just need my like-minded biddies huddled together with me, at some off-the-grid utopia deep in the forest, able to come and go within the world on our own terms, and maintain the impossible paradox of peace and community by collecting ourselves comfortably and voluntarily into our own little tribe.
I want a Moms and Kids Commune, you guys.
I wanna start a Mommune.
I could not have gotten through the past year and counting without Amy.
And my kids could not have gotten through it without Daisy.
And why on Earth have humans shot themselves in the foot so badly that the concept and benefits – to us and to our children – of communal parenting are so terribly foreign to us?
Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.