I am compulsively independent.
Think toddler demanding to do everything “all by myself” even when that thing requires at least two adults and a power tool.
There are a million ways that motherhood has challenged me, but perhaps most challenging of all, has been the struggle to reconcile that compulsive independence with the very real, innate, anthropological need for community. How ironic, to finally recognize these needs when my own community has felt so physically far, and even more so in the past year, socially distant.
It has had me thinking a lot about community, about the village we always hear about needing. We hear about it taking a village to do this job right but often don’t recognize the one in our own lives. I have spent a large portion of my motherhood feeling village-less.
There was a move that took me far from family and friends in the days leading up to the birth of my first child, then another move within the year. It has been easy to allow myself to feel like I simply have no village, like that concept simply does not apply here, and thanks to that independence, that it isn’t needed here either.
But as the world has universally spiraled into a more global level of isolation, as our routines and connections and supports have shifted in unanticipated ways, I have realized that I am not without a village, I am simply thriving in a modern one.
Prior to the birth of our second child, both of our mothers offered (pleaded?) to prepare meals for our freezer, for the inevitably busy and tiring early months of a toddler, a newborn, and a professionally busy spouse. I reluctantly accepted, perhaps too tired to argue against it. I told myself the frozen food could provide a nice back up of emergency nourishment that we likely wouldn’t need. Thinking to myself how embarrassing it would be to admit to anyone that I had needed to serve them in the first two months of our newly grown family.
In the weeks since, as I have grudgingly removed the meals from the freezer, I have realized, as the guilt thaws away, what they are actually providing for me.
It isn’t a break from preparing food myself; I am an efficient and joyful cook. Time in the kitchen is a form of self-care for me at times. On busier days, I can without stress or worry have a full meal on the table in less than 20 minutes. Often, thawing, heating, and serving a frozen meal is no less time or effort, in fact it might be more.
But what those meals have given, I am learning, is a momentary reprieve from loneliness, in the oven at 350 for 45 minutes, at the end of another long and repetitive day. It is my mother in my kitchen with the smells and sounds of my own childhood. It is my husband’s mother with her joyful voice and overpoweringly generous heart. It is women that know what it is to feel simultaneously completely fulfilled and cripplingly lonely at home with small children sharing the burden and the joy in those vulnerable minutes of waiting for a partner to return home at the end of their own busy day.
My modern village is small acts that allow me to sense the people I love in my home, even when they are miles away.
Then, a few weeks ago, when my husband returned to work, a friend offered, yet again, to provide something for our family, to help lighten the load. I had been so hesitant, so unwilling to accept help. Again the pride, the independence, the refusal to acknowledge a need, let alone a desire for community.
I am a helper, not the helped.
I am a provider, not the supported.
I am the strength, not the needful weakness.
But finally, in a moment of frailty or clarity, accepted her offer.
I sat; phone in hand after accepting through text, with the feelings of guilt and inadequacy shivering their way slowly up my spine, where they met a vibration in my hand, and this message on my phone:
“Thank you for accepting this help.”
And in that moment, I realized that the village is so much more than support because you are too weak to do it on your own.
My modern village is being strong enough to provide help to those around me, and even stronger, to slip into the role of accepting that help from others when I am the one who needs it.
My Instagram feed is filled with gorgeous pictures of my friends and their children. There are big adventures, quiet moments at home, structured activities, milestones, and sweet moments. My own shared images are much the same.
But my phone is filled with check-ins, hard days, difficult moments. Questions, oh the questions: sometimes casual, often desperate. The “have a great week” Monday texts, the “today was a doozy over here” admissions.
My modern village is women understanding that sometimes we need to share the highlights. And often in the same day we need support, reassurance, validation, and most of all solidarity.
I have a friend that, bless her soul, is often on the receiving end of my most emotional explosions. Frustrations over a hard day, panic over a failed interaction with a toddler, irritation over an unchangeable reality. Her reply, regardless of her own struggles or difficulties, is always one of support or validation. I am never criticized, minimized, or dismissed. Her memory of my failings or frustrations is that of a goldfish. Her support for the job I am doing is tangible across the hundreds of miles between us.
My modern village is women understanding that sometimes we need somewhere to unload the big feelings we are ashamed of so we can lighten the load and get back to being our best.
My modern village is nothing like the history books.
But it isn’t abandoned. It isn’t vacant or covered in soot. I’m not doing it alone despite the days or weeks where my pessimism allows it to feel that way.
My modern village is donuts on my door step, a Costco run dropped into my garage, a constant stream of virtual check ins, a vast and broad group of women learning to balance vulnerability with proficiency, allowing for both to be welcome in our community.
And my village is a freezer full of a (grand) mother’s love, ready to be warmed when I need it most.