(gorgeous print by ben chlapek, available on etsy)
I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about the community that has built up around my family and I over the past few years, especially since Milo has been born. My whole life, I’ve flitted in and out of communities, holding on with an obsessive connection and then losing touch completely. As a child, we were always very ingrained in the church community, especially with our bible study “home group” families. In high school, my community was my theater friends, and various summers left me hanging out with various groups of people I hung out or worked with- we would spend all our time together for a length of a few months to a year, and then stop. Theater and the friends Ben lived with defined my communities in my college years, and after college I spent a lot of time with my “karaoke friends,” making up for lost partying that I never really got into in my later college years.
These experiences were all had major benefits. I have friends who have remained even after the “group” has stopped spending so much time together. I remember lots of fun cast parties, games of Starball, day trips into the city, rehearsals, and nearly forgotten nights of drinking too much in local Chinese restaurants. Throughout these times, I was slowly learning what it meant to be a great friend, and most of the time, I was getting it wrong. I’m guilty of lots of bad-friend moves: not returning calls, falling out of touch with people who were still in my day-to-day life, breaking plans at the last minute, getting too drunk and leaving someone else to take care of me, taking favors without returning them. There are lots of situations that I wish I had handled differently, from middle school to after college. The only up side is that I think these experiences have helped me be a better member of the community I’m a part of today.
These days, the majority of my time is spent with whatever family members I can get my hands on, and the people I work with. Friends from all parts of my life are woven through with exciting visits and lots of technological catching up, but my average week is spent in a 45-minute ratio of my house, and a lot of my visits are to other teachers, usually ones who are hanging out with their kids somewhere. When I needed a babysitter so I could go into work for a few random weekdays, I knew there would be someone to watch Milo. When one of my friends had a family emergency earlier this week, I never even stopped to think for a second. I just packed up Milo and off we went. It’s a different way of relating to people. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a mom now, or if it’s because I’m older. I feel the rhythm of give-and-take within a community even more, and instead of feeling pressure, I feel comforted. It’s strange. And kind of wonderful.
Even beyond my physical presence this summer, I feel the support of a few different communities online. I have a batch of mama-friends that I automatically turn to when I have a question about a product or a routine. These ladies are recent (last 5-7 years) mothers who know what is out there and where to find it. I have never felt more relief than checking in with them when I want to know how to find what’s right for small kiddos. Most of these ladies supported me all through my first pregnancy and help me out to this day. I’m more grateful to them than they know. I also can’t overstate the way I adore technology as a way to bring my family closer. There are a LOT of people who I love very, very much, who also happen to live too far away for frequent in-person visits. To bridge the gap, I post videos to Facebook, pictures to Instagram, write blog posts about milestones and day-to-day, and use FaceTime to hear the voices I love. Text messages and Emojis let me be silly with my sister who is usually available to chat once I’m already wiped for the day. Without these things, I would feel even further removed from a bunch of friends living exciting lives scattered around the country, and a family who I never appreciated this much until they were already far away.
Basically, I have been spending a lot of time feeling really grateful for the people in my town, my school, my phone, my computer, my world. There was a time, not so long ago, when I wanted to be left alone. I needed days to psych myself for hanging out, and I felt sad and lonely, even when I was around a lot of people. I’ve come a long way towards being the social person I used to be; this summer, I keep a bag packed with swimsuits and towels in the car at all times. There are that many people that I want to see at the drop of a hat. I think a lot of this change has come from growing into my own skin, and a lot more of it has come from the support of lots of loving people. If you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you’re one of those people. Thank you.