Sunday, March 23, 2008

It DOES Takes A Village...

I don't know how we came to the conclusion in this country, that women are supposed to live in their own little family bubbles. It seems to me that the overall idea is that every family is it's own little nucleus, going through the trials and tribulations of daily family life, keeping all their little secrets to themselves.

But even though that seems to be the expectation, most women I know have some kind of community... some form of back up. It's more like every little family is a cell, but cells need to be joined together in order to survive, to grow.

For me suddenly thrown into motherhood, my "community" was an online mothering group. I had my sister, and my mom (who was indispensable in those early days of being a mostly-single working mom) of course, and ShoeFly was here and my BouncyFriend (I had another name for her, I think, but I don't write about her much cuz she's moved away and so I've forgotten what it was), and Beautiful Hair, but I didn't really realize the importance of having "my girls" until I found myself relying on my moms list.

I found my moms list because I was determined to breastfeed the Sun for a year, and when I got back to work, in order to make that happen I had to pump milk. I knew nothing about pumping milk, and since nobody I knew in real life did either, I was forced to find information online. Somehow I found the PumpingMoms list, and I joined. Back then, the list was pretty small, maybe 150-200 ladies tops (last I heard it was over 700 members), and most of our babies were all the same age... under a year.

In the meantime, there was all this other stuff going on in my life... my commute, dealing with TF, sleepless nights, stress... a dwindling milk supply. The ladies on my list were supportive, empathetic, knowledgeable, and most importantly... always there. 24 hours a day. There was always someone online so if I was scared or tired or depressed or worried about my "Moopie" (as I called him back then) I would shoot out a post, and somebody would answer me within a few hours--tops. Usually within an hour. And I found myself relying on this group of ladies more than I ever thought possible.

They gave me ideas to help boost my milk supply. They answered questions on fevers or illness or weight gain. They gave me encouragement when I thought I wasn't pumping enough. And when they realized I was using a manual Isis to pump, one of them arranged for and rented a hospital grade electric pump and had it sent to my door. I cried that day. It was a kindness I have never forgotten. And this small kindness gave me the strength to ask for the use of an empty office so that I could sit in peace and pump, rather than in the bathroom stall I'd been using. I would never have achieved my goal of nursing for a year if it weren't for those ladies, and I found myself airing all my hopes and dreams and fears to them. And when the Sun turned a year and I quit pumping (although we continued to nurse until he was two and a half) I was loathe to "resign" from the group because I knew I would miss them terribly.

One of them took the plunge and set up a sort of "graduate" list, and I was one of the first to join. And I'm still on that list... 8 years later. Many of us from that first year are still on the list with me. In 8 years since, I've met several of these ladies in real life, and there are still many that I'd love to meet.

But a funny thing happened: I got closer to ShoeFly and the Professor and other moms that came into my circle in real life. I came to really understand the power of women, and a woman's circle. I began to see that no family is an island unto itself, and that it does, truly, "take a village" to raise a child. Women need each other. You're NOT supposed to do it all alone. In truth... it's impossible.

Through the years, I've come to rely on ShoeFly (largely because she's physically closest to me--but I also happen to love her like family)... she has become my sister in motherhood, even though she sometimes annoys the crap out of me, the same way I'm sure I annoy her. The way I annoy my sister or she annoys me... or my mom, or Beautiful Hair... but I know that if was in a jam any one or several of those women would be there to help me out, the same way I would for them. And through the years, as I accepted my need for and love for these women, it allowed me to open up and "add" other women in a continuously-growing circle... my Upstairs Neighbor, the Fat Lady, and LilacBlue and OneHalf and most recently WhiteHorse. The end result is that in real life, my child is "covered" from inside my home, to his commute into the city, to his school life, to his violin lessons... in short, in almost every aspect of his life there is a woman who I can ask to check on him, or retrieve him from somewhere, or feed him. And I in turn can be called upon by any of these women to do the same for their child.

And this is the way it should be.

So Saturday night, ShoeFly's sister-in-law (for now I'll call her GentleOne), who's separated from ShoeFly's brother, wanted to celebrate her 49th birthday. Last week, she'd been over with her friend and neighbor "Pip" (cuz man, she's the type of chick a girl can get in some serious trouble with... hard drinkin' flirty type) and we all know that GentleOne is still very much in love with her husband and she's not really happy about the separation, so we talked about going out. To help cheer her up.

On Saturday we weren't really sure going out was going to happen, but it came together at the last minute, and then I wasn't sure I was actually going to go since the Sun was a little feverish... but I decided to go out cuz A.) I knew my slightly feverish child was going to be just fine with the Moon and WhiteClogs, B.) it's not often I get to "hang out" with ShoeFly's BigSister (and I have adopted her as a big sister cuz she's cool like that), C.) I like GentleOne a lot and wanted to help cheer her but ashamedly and mostly D.) I needed a drink. Or two.

So BigSister picked us up (ShoeFly's minivan is brakeless) and just as we were about to pull up in front of GentleOnes apartment building, GentleOne called. I heard BigSister get "tight" and when she hung up, all she said was that GentleOne had had a fight---no, a fight--with her 17 year old daughter, and was pretty shook up.

It seems that on the Monday previous, GentleOne's younger daughter Littlegirl violated her school night curfew of 12A, and rolled in at 3:30A. With a 'tude. GentleOne grounded her, but last night the kid decided her mother was soft enough to be rolled over, and got her self ready to go out. When GentleOne tried to stop her, she pushed past her. And then from what I heard she punched her, knocked her over and actually kicked her.

I write about it because it's disturbing as hell. We're talking about a private-school kid, pretty spoiled materially, well-loved, catered to/overindulged, and even though her parents are separated, both parents are actively involved in her life. And she's got aunts and cousins and people around her who care, and to the best of any one's knowledge she's not on drugs and doesn't seem to drink... at least not visibly.

As BigSister asked "has she lost her fucking mind?????" and my question was "is she drunk?"

Pip, who lives literally across the hall (and a very narrow hallway it is) from GentleOne and is closest on her own circle of women, heard all the commotion and came running over to break it up. And BigSister, who was FURIOUS was thanking God she was actually running a little late, because if we'd all arrived 5 minutes earlier, there might have been a very different outcome. As in, Littlegirl's ass would have been kicked by her aunt. As it was, by the time we got upstairs, Littlegirl had locked herself in her room where she stayed all night, mainly cuz she heard her Titi walking around... and Titi BigSister is not someone to be trifled with. She shares "man-arms" and bench-pressing talents with the Professor, which is one reason I love her so much. She reminds me of the Professor.

GentleOne, though physically OK, was hurt. And shocked and bewildered and in no mood to go out, so we sat around Pip's kitchen table, nibbling on left-overs, drinking wine/vodka/Kahlua and whooping it up. I told GentleOne in no way should she blame herself... no matter what goes on a child should NEVER raise its hand to its mother, but that she's not alone in the "crazy teenage girl" category. I told her how the Diva gave the Professor HELL and we fully expect MoodMagicBarbie to give it her best shot in another few years... and Shoefly told her how her stepdaughter (WhiteClog's daughter from a previous marriage) gave them hell and heart palpitations. And we shared stories of the hell we raised in our own youth, though we agreed that "back in our day" it was NOT OK to disrespect your mother.

I thought to myself how glad I was that we were all there for GentleOne, this night. That it was good for her daughters to see that their mother had backup, that what happened wasn't approved of and wouldn't be tolerated. GentleOne's "other side" is that she can be a little histrionic, and a little picky about neatness, and she's wrapped a little tight and generally has been a pushover for her girls. But she's got a great heart, and is well loved by her sisters-in-law... so much so that they told their brother that no matter whether he divorced her or not, GentleOne would always be their sister, and would always be invited to family functions.

So today, Easter Sunday, BigSister cooked dinner ("What are you doing on Sunday?" she asked me. "Coming to your house to eat!" I answered her. BigSister can throw down on some Spanish food.) and everyone was there... Brother, and GentleOne, Biggirl and Littlegirl (who was fairly low-key and stayed out of Titi BigSister's way), and ShoeFly and even WhiteClogs. And all the other sisters and kids and partners, and Edith, ShoeFly's mom.

Apparently Brother talked to his daughter and set her straight, and GentleOne took her cellphone but I think the most important thing was for that girl to see that her mother wasn't alone. That she wasn't going to be able to roll over her mother, without having to answer to the rest of her family. To other women.

So barring any unforseen "curveballs" like drug addiction or alcholism, I think Littlegirl will be alright, and I think she's counting her lucky stars Titi didn't come upstairs any earlier than she did.... I still wonder though, what the hell got into her.

But when my Sun hits his crazy age and gives me hell, I hope that any or some or all of those women will give me back up, too... He does know, already, that those women are part of his "family" and that he will have to answer to them, as well as me, if he does anything stupid...

5 comments:

Fat Lady said...

What a wonderful story. I mean - not the part about GentleOne being physically attacked by her kid - but the rest of it - everyone coming together for her.

You KNOW how much I believe in having a community of people when it comes to raising a family. I think it's essential and it's all to often lacking these days.

I also still belong the the mom's list that I joined when Sugar was a baby. And am still good friends with the first person I ever met online - on a BabyCenter birth month message board. I don't think I would have survived those early years of motherhood without that 24 hour support.

You know, this got me thinking about my own childhood and teen years and my mother and I realize that one of the biggest parenting mistakes my mothers made (and there were SO many of them) is that she never created this community of mothers around herself.

All of my mother's friends were single, party girls. There was rarely anyone she could rely on to help her with me. No support system to help get through those parenting rough patches. No one to sit with and share "war" stories with to help her know that my behavior wasn't so bad or that her reactions were normal.

And she talks often of how lonely, disconnected and out of sorts she felt when I was an infant and she felt trapped, alone in the house with me. Of course, in those days, she had access to a huge network of mothers through my father's siblings - and chose not to be a part of that.

I think things would have been so different if she had sought out other mothers to connect with.

I'm happy for all the mothers around me and only wish to have you all even closer, if anything. You know I'd be the happiest person in the world if I had all my people living in one big apartment building together where we could all really be there to give support to each other in all kinds of practical ways everyday.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

Yes well said sister and u areright, it takes a villiage and what u have to be thankful for Hustler - not LOL

The Bear Maiden said...

Fat Lady I think about you and your mom a lot, and your stories of her help more than you know... cuz the Professor and I worry about the Diva from time to time (though I have a lot of confidence in her). But because of your mom, and how your dad and his sisters were able to step in... sometimes Dad is the better parent. And that's OK, too... and hopefully Dad (ahem, Mr. All-mi-t :)) realizes that he needs that community of women, too. That village. It's why I surround the Sun with the Martial Arts men, as well. But the point is.. none of us does it alone. The thing is we have to learn that. We have to learn how to make our own village. And I do wonder sometimes, why some of us can't...

And P.S. today right after I wrote all that, my mom and sis were called upon to go and pick up the Sun early from school, because he was sick. And I had to run down and get the Moon... and I smiled all the way.

Fat Lady said...

Well, not to be discouraging - but it took my mom a long time to get it together - well, and she never completely got it together, I just survived the craziness.

But, from the time I was 2 until I was 5 I barely saw her - was raised by my paternal grandparents, my father and 3 of his sisters. The best thing anyone did for me was take me away from my mother for those early years - 'cause she just couldn't handle it - and she never would have admitted how relieved I think she was to have those years to just go do her. I hate to think of who I would be if I'd been left with her during those difficult toddler/preschool years. The love, nurturing and stability I had during those years sustained me through a whole lot of bullshit in the years to come.

Not that I'm saying you all should take the little man from the Diva. But, it might be what she needs to really finishing growing up so she can take on the responsibility - or at least some reasonable amount of it. 'Cause from the professor's (now deleted) vent, it sounds like she's really floundering.

I love it when the circle of moms moves into action - when one of us is there for each other's kids I can't help but smile - knowing how much harder it could all be. I'm glad the circle was working for you.

I hope the Sun doesn't have that awful sickness that's going around. It still has me down and out - 2 weeks later!!

The Bear Maiden said...

LOL. Yeah, the Professor and I go at it "behind the scenes" sometimes, and that was one of those times. And I told her today... before I saw this, that I'm sorry she took her post down cuz I never feel anyone should have to retract anything. But I will say this... she IS a mother, the Professor is, and mothers do overreact sometimes. ;) That being said... the Diva has her moments but overall I'm pretty confident in her, and what's more I have confidence that the Professor was a good enough mother herself so that the Diva has a good example... And she does have us... we just have to show her how to draw her own circle.