It Takes a Village

My 30th class reunion is this weekend so I’m in a reflective mood. When I think about my post high school life, I think mostly of the past 20 years. The first 10 years were spent trying to be the cool kid I was not in high school.
I first heard the expression “It takes a village” a few dozen years ago when I was single and working as a social worker. The image of a community coming together to look out for the wellbeing of its children and others appealed to me much more than another phrase that became familiar to me about that same time; “soccer mom.”
Soccer mom conjured up images of a woman with perfectly manicured nails, clutching the steering wheel of a minivan and planning the next social gathering of some civic organization. She felt harried, but, why? She didn’t have to work outside the home. Seemingly to me, all she had to do is get dinner on the table and transport kids to various enriching activities like soccer. But I really didn’t know what was enriching about soccer.
Fast forward 20 years and for me, those two phrases have come together. Whether I am a soccer mom, or a dance mom, or a baseball mom, or a band mom, I have come to realize I cannot do it without my village. And I did not find my village on my own.
I am often told by other parents I am lucky. My husband and I grew up in Champaign County and we have grandparents nearby willing to help out. But there are times when a person needs help immediately, or doesn’t want to ask a grandparent to drive to Peoria for a weekend long tournament. At this point you turn to your village.
A key member of my village moved away last Thanksgiving. I miss her dearly. Our sons were best friends in Kindergarten. She is the one who helped me realize this concept of a village one Thursday morning in October when I received a phone call from the school. My daughter had fallen and needed medical attention. My youngest was in afternoon Kindergarten, so I called up this other mom. I explained my daughter needed to go to the emergency room but my son needed to go to school, and I was stuck. Immediately, without hesitation, she said ‘bring him over. We’ll have mac and cheese for lunch. Don’t worry about anything. He can stay as long as he needs to.”
At that moment, I didn’t feel so alone. I was still scared. People were mentioning head injuries and seizures and lots of medical procedures that only happened to other families, not mine. But I knew one piece of my family was taken care of, so I could focus on another piece. I began to realize the importance of having a village.
A few years later, this same daughter now 8 and without long term ramifications after her fall, decided to enter the world of club soccer. For the next few years, I learned what the U in U9 means. I learned about “playing up.” And I can even tell if a player is offsides. This is handy, because that son who was so well taken care of on that horrible day in October, followed in big sister’s footsteps, and he is a club soccer player too.
You’ll remember the cynical single me from a few decades ago. That individual would have said she will NEVER over schedule her children. Academics come first. Practice two nights a week, plus games on the weekend are not good for a child. They need to be a kid. But what happens when your child’s passion is soccer? Or competitive cheer? Or football? Or music? Their friends play and perform and prepare together. And they want to be a part of that. You spend time at tournaments, games or competitions with other families who are in the same boat and make idle chit chat. And inevitably, one child has practice in Mahomet while the other has a game in St. Joe, and you have to get both of them there by 5:30 when your partner doesn’t come home from work until six.
And you realize you need a village.
It takes a village doesn’t just apply to communities in Africa, or impoverished areas of the inner city, or small towns where moms look out their window and will text another mom in a heartbeat if she sees a kid doing wrong. It is alive and well and right here in Mahomet.
Each village has a different identifying sign. Mine is the two soccer balls with names and uniform numbers on the back of my station wagon (I refused a minivan). There is the T from Twist and Shout. The DD from Diamond Dogs. And a few folks with multiple window stickers. Our children have all led us to find our village within our town. Some people we rely on are not those we would have expected to befriend when we were in high school. But mostly, all a person has to say is “the tournament schedule came out,” and members of the village respond with “what can we do to help you?”
I am not favoring one activity over another. What I am praising is the fact that we live in a town where we help each other out. Even if a child isn’t in after school activities, someone still is willing to take your child on an early out day when you can’t get off work. And that is a blessing.
In the 20 years since my single self made all those judgements, I’ve discovered many things. I knew a lot more about parenting before I had children. I’ve discovered stay-at-home moms do a lot more than cook dinner and haul kids around. But mostly, I’ve discovered people who are not the same age as I am, who didn’t grown up where I did, and who probably don’t share the same political or religious ideology that I do are all willing to help me out should I ever need it. Because we share a common goal. And that goal is our children’s happiness. My kids are happy, and I’ve made good friends along the way.
Thirty years ago, I didn’t give much thought to parenting and the need for a village. Times were different. The only moms of my friends who worked were my teachers. Boys played organized football starting freshman year in high school. Soccer wasn’t talked about, unless it was in the context of other countries.
Don’t get me wrong. The village was in place. I’m sure on more than one occasion the corded wall phone rang with news of something I had done or said outside of my parent’s ear shot that wasn’t appropriate. Families looked out for each other. We offered neighbors rides to Scouting trips and Bible School.
But a lot has changed since 1985. It’s not right or wrong. It’s just different. So as I cheer on the Bunnies this weekend, and people I haven’t seen in a longtime ask me what I do, I can tell them. I worked as a social worker. Now I’m an occasional writer, and I am lucky enough to be able to stay at home for my family. I can proudly say I am a soccer mom, complete with a station wagon, and my children have helped me discover a village to back me when I need it.

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