We have a saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Whether the phrase evolved from an African proverb or Native American lore, it speaks to our natural instinct to raise our children in places we know, where we feel safe, and where we have existing support. Well, what if you don’t have that village? Or what if you have to leave it and move far away? Blogs and Instagram make valiant attempts to assume the role of that proverbial village. Technology saturates us with social media platforms dedicated to parenting advice, baby gear and “mommy blogs” – all with the intent on guiding us through the tangled jungle of child rearing. But it’s not the same. Blogs won’t watch your kids for an afternoon so that you can finish a grant proposal without interruption. They won’t get together with you for a drink and an evening of venting. They won’t make you feel less alone.
This idea of communal support and nesting can be found all over the natural world. Aquatic animals, such as sea Turtles and the Pacific Salmon instinctually follow a homing process by which the adults return to their birthplace to reproduce because of safety and suitability. Elephants raise their young in “All Mother” herds where they take turns watching over each other’s babies to help allow the actual mother time to rejuvenate and produce enough milk. Again and again the themes of “home” and “community” come up. They are natural instincts derived from a primal sense of self-preservation. At our core, humans share this instinct as well. So despite appearances, it would appear we not unlike our salmon friends.
I was raised in Berkeley and Oakland, CA. Since I left in 2002, I have lived and worked in 5 different states and 4 different countries. When I became pregnant with my first child while living in upstate New York, however, I had an overwhelming instinct to get back to Berkeley. I had family and friends there. I knew the schools. I knew my way around town. It was HOME. Every fiber of my hormone raging body told me to get back there. Instead, due to various professional and financial forces, at five and a half months pregnant my husband and I packed up a POD, threw our dog Zeke into our rusted out Subaru Outback and drove 2000 miles to Salt Lake City, Utah. We arrived with no place to live, no health insurance, no friends, and no job for me. It was terrifying and overwhelming.
Needless to say, the shelter thing was figured out, health insurance kicked in, work eventually presented itself and baby Rose came along. Her brother Henry followed in spectacularly quick fashion. However, as many new mothers know, a baby’s world during its first years of life can be a very small one. Your radius for public outings is limited to who, what, and where you know. This is especially true if you are living in a strange new city. To make matters more difficult, if you are a true introvert like me, you struggle with outreach gestures and small talk (though you secretly crave both). You go to the park and watch other moms gather in groups while you sit silently next to your 7-month old playing in the sand feeling isolated and more than a bit awkward – two sentiments that pretty much capture new motherhood.
Despite the challenges, the natural instinct to create a community never disappeared. As my confidence as a mother grew, I began to build bridges from my tiny island of new motherhood. I was able to make a couple friends and even managed to push aside my nerves and ask for some phone numbers to set up playdates. When it became time to enroll Rose into preschool, I not only saw an opportunity for my daughter to learn and socialize, but for myself as well.
My research quickly uncovered that many preschools in the city boasted unique offerings that would apparently have an impact on my 2-year-old’s college admissions prospects. However, only a co-op like CCNS offered an environment where I could meet and interact with other parents on a more genuine level and avoid the limited and artificial parking lot conversations inherent to other schools. Thrown together in the fog of sand, glitter and finger paint, we would get to know each other’s kids and one and other in an intimate way that naturally forms stronger bonds. For a transplant family, a co-op provided the opportunity to plant a seed that could eventually grow the strong roots of community, friendship, and possibly a sense of home.
Being a transplant family is hard. The process of creating a herd is difficult and ripe for embarrassing interactions. However, our natural instinct to create a community that will support and protect us while we raise our kids is deeply ingrained in our DNA. It will ultimately push us past the fear of rejection and make even awkward introverts like myself open up and eventually ask for a phone number.