I read a post the other day from a blog called A Diary of a Mom written by a woman named Jess. Jess is the mom of two young girls, one of whom has autism. All her posts are full of eloquence, passion, and great writing but this one on her “village” is my latest favorite. She writes of her night away with friends: “To unabashedly be nothing but who we are – warts and all – in the company of others who are doing the same is something far too rare in this world.”
Jess’s post called to mind some of the villages from my life. There’s the village made up of friends from high school, the ones I stayed in contact with and the ones I’ve rediscovered through the magic of Facebook. Whenever a song from Jackson Browne, Neil Young, or The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band pops up on my iPod, I’m transported back to endless car rides around town, to that crazy Vermont vacation, or the incredible cross-country camping trip. Whenever I choose optimism over skepticism or humor over frustration, it’s because of the 18 year old girl I once was. When I am in the company of these friends, whether it’s virtual or live, I can see the world through that girl’s eyes once again. A recent hiking trip in the rain with a few of these villagers was certainly wet, and my every day eyes might have described it as a bit foolhardy. But in this village, there is no whining or complaining. Since everything in this village is an adventure, a tough hike in the pouring rain becomes just one part of a truly great day.
Then there are my college friends. From this village, I learned about the need to manage the conflict between what I wanted to do and what I had to do. In all honestly, we focused much more on the fun than on our obligations, but lessons about balance began there. This group has grown to include spouses, children, and friends that feel like college classmates. We get together as often as cross country locations and life allow. And yes, we talk about our lives and our obligations and the challenges that face us – crazy work schedules, aging parents, the world our kids navigate today. But mostly… we laugh and we remember the foolish things we used to do and for a while, our plates don’t seem so full. Whenever my 40-something self (yes guys, I know my time to say that grows short but it’s still true today!) says “Enough!” to the endless loop of work, errands and homework patrol, my 20-something self smiles and says “Road trip!” When I give K a free pass on something and she asks me “What have you done with my mom?” I know College Gail is proud.
There are my recent villages. They include the moms I befriended when K was small, the ones who gave me adult companionship during those wonderful but long days of toddlerhood. They include the women I worked with on all those school events – smart, funny, dedicated women who make a difference every day in schools, so unlike the women we see mockingly portrayed on TV. Then there are the work colleagues who helped me transition back into the work force after my time at home. And my local friends who are my safety net, my emergency contacts, there for a favor or a calming chat over coffee.
Last but nowhere near least, where would I be without the village my parents gave to me, my siblings? They are the ones who remember the silver Christmas tree with the color wheel, the tennis matches in the driveway with the chicken wire net, sneaking Mom’s incredible brownies out of the freezer, and watching how high Dad could throw a baseball in the air. They are the only ones who truly know how much I lost now that Mom and Dad are gone. Of course, they are also the ones to remind me how much we still have because we still have each other.
K will not grow up with a village of siblings and there are times that realization fills me with regret and sorrow. Yet, I take comfort from remembering just as our family is not related by blood; villages don’t require blood relations either. They require only a common bond to build and a commitment to maintain. So, I wish for K a good and happy life in villages filled with people who allow her “to unabashedly be nothing but who [she is] – warts and all.” I hope she keeps these villages close to remind her of who she is, who she was, and all that she can be.