Saturday, October 20, 2007

I need a better village

If it takes a village to raise a child, what do you do when your village is incompetent?

Sam & I have had the opportunity lately to travel to visit our families. I enjoyed giving Mikko into the care of others while I could stay nearby (as his sole food source). I somehow thought, though, that our relatives, several of whom have raised children themselves, would be capable of holding him longer than 10 minutes a spell, which is as long as he was content to sit quietly in their laps.

As soon as he fussed in any way, it was up to me to determine what was wrong: wet diaper (which Sam or I changed, every time), sleepy, wanting to be bounced, wanting a finger to chew, bored, overstimulated, hungry.

Now, for the last item, I wholeheartedly accept responsibility to fulfill the need. But it seems like every other need could be met or at least attempted by other people, even the diagnosing of the need.

I don't even blame our relatives, because they were actually all very sweet, and excited to visit with our baby. And if Mikko did need walking or bouncing, several of them were willing to give our arms and legs a rest and do their duty.

But it brought me face to face with my desires and dreams of village living vs. the reality of modern, independent life.

Village life, as typified in books like The Continuum Concept, is a tribal group where mothers parent in community. There are always other women to hold and even nurse the baby, other kids to play with and take care of your young ones. You are free to pursue your adult tasks and interests and still have your baby lovingly cared for, by you but not only by you -- by everyone around you.

Now, mind you, I don't actually want to live in a tribe. I like my modern, independent life. But I can see the value in not doing this parenting thing alone. It's exhausting, and frequently boring, and sometimes frustrating. It would be great to have a life where being an adult with outside interests and activities and being a mother of a young child did not have to be mutually exclusive. Right now I'm lucky if I manage to get in a shower every few days, to the tune of my baby screaming as he waits for me to get out again and resume my full-time care.

So I relished the idea of being with family if only for a little while (well, actually, that it was for only a little while was essential to my enjoying it). I liked the idea of kicking back, having my hands free, eating dinner while it was still hot, maybe working on some writing even before Mikko had gone down for the night.

But I really only got breathers, small moments of time where I had to remain attentive to Mikko and the person holding him, in case that person needed to be rescued. As it turns out, no one likes to forgo the pleasure of eating hot food, people seem to think changing diapers is a disgusting and difficult task (neither of which is true, in most cases), and people tend to be unnerved and, often, personally offended by a crying baby. There were literally hours in which Sam and Mikko and I together or just Mikko and I alone would be left to ourselves, while the other, infant-free relatives would huddle together, cooking or running errands or watching baseball on TV.

Maybe it's my own fault, for hovering, though I tried for insouciance and usually left the room and joined another group of people to demonstrate my trust in the surrogate's care. Maybe it's the natural consequence of what I consider a good thing, that for the most part people respect my autonomy and let me make my own decisions, including how I care for my son. Taking responsibility for someone else's child, even by changing a diaper uninvited, is considered in this culture to be a form of taking away control from the parent, and I do understand that.

But sometimes I wish I had one of those villages where I could sit with the other women, shoot the breeze, make some sort of village-y stew together, and listen to our babies laughing with the other children.


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