I grew up on a farm in Northern Illinois. We weren't farmers, but rented an old farm house about a mile from my grandparents and great-grandparents who lived across the street from one another. I've heard so many people complain about their parents or in-laws living too close and invading their space. It seems to be a fairly common sentiment that kids want to get away from their parents. For me, this couldn't be further from the truth. Even when I was younger people would joking ask how I would like to live across the street from my parents when I grew up, assuming I would not like it. But I would insist that it would be fine.
As a child I was able to ride my bike to my grandparents' house by myself, down seldom traveled gravel roads. I could frequently visit both my grandparents and great-grandparents. This was great! However, as I got older, I craved more connection with other kids. Our closest neighbors were a quarter mile away, and they were older folks. Not understanding the concept of personal property, I thought our drive way was a small road, and wouldn't it be fabulous if someone with kids built a house on the other side so I could play with them?!
As I grew older still and was able to drive where ever I wanted, I appreciated the privacy that the country life offered. You could set off fireworks without upsetting anybody. On a bad day you could go outside and scream at the top of your lungs to get it all out. Being very comfortable in my own skin, I decided I wanted to live somewhere that I could walk around naked without any one seeing me. And I didn't want neighbors to tell me what time I needed to settle down and be quiet. Of course, that's not a dream that's easy to achieve. Land is expensive. For a year I lived in a small apartment in the top of an old funeral home, where the police frequently visited my downstairs neighbors. After dating my husband for awhile, I moved to his home in a small town, surrounded by neighbors. As we had kids, we grew frustrated with the rowdier neighbors driving up and down the sidewalk on their dirt bikes and setting off fireworks in the middle of the night. Didn't they know babies were trying to sleep?! My husband also grew up on a farm and we could not wait to get a farm of our own.
Recently part of our wish came true. My in-laws purchased a beautiful farm, but had no intentions of moving. My husband farms with his father and we have been wanting to move to the country, so now we had the opportunity. I was very hesitant at first and almost ready to dig my heels in. The problem was, it was farther away from my parents. Rather than walking across the street to their house, I would have to drive an hour (with two small children) to see them. And there were neighbors. Weren't we trying to get away from neighbors? But I could see how much it meant to my husband, so I relented. "Wither thou goest, I will go."
And I love it here. I can grow my own vegetables and dry my clothes outside. We recently moved our horses here and got a flock of chickens. There's plenty of room to stretch your legs and explore. I even took the initiative to introduce our family to the neighbors. And ya know what? I'm feeling isolated.
After a year my four-year-old still tells me he wants to move back. At our new home we can't walk to the park or library or train tracks. And it's not likely that my kids will have neighbors their age. I feel so lucky to be living this life, but I totally feel for my kids.
And I've finally realized, I need a village too. I need to be able to walk to "Grandma's" house just to have lunch with her and not be alone with my kids. I need neighbors that will keep an eye out for us when they see or hear something strange, and will come help me pry my kid out of the tree when his leg gets wedged between two branches.
So I'm working hard on building a village, even if it is a little more spread out.
Last year we delivered May baskets to everyone on our road from our house to the corner. We included a little card with our names, our dogs names and a little bit about ourselves. I met a few neighbors, but not many. This year I'm hoping to host a neighborhood party after planting is over, and hopefully we'll draw a few more out of the woodwork.
I recently started a twice weekly play group at the farm. A lot of moms that come have thanked me for starting it. In part, I did do it for other moms. When I became a new mom I was seeking out guidance for preparing an environment for my child that was tailored to their needs, rather than making them adapt to an adult environment. In the Montessori style, I wanted to help them help themselves. When this resource was hard to find, I decided it was one I needed to provide for other families in our area. I took Montessori infant-toddler training courses and planned to start a parent-child class. So with this group, I just dipping my toe in the water and figuring out the logistics of hosting families in our home. But to be honest, this is also kind of a selfish endeavor. I'm so thankful to the families willing to bring their kids out so we can build a community, supporting each other as parents while our children have regular opportunities to explore and play together. And I feel like I can be a better mom when I'm not alone with my kids. They are generally less demanding of me when they have other kids to play with. I put on my best mom hat when others are around. Hopefully we can all get a chance to breathe and get some personal space while our kids interact with other kids and other kids' parents. Plus, it gives me the motivation to pick up the house a little bit more twice a week.
I'm also very appreciative of my on-line villages. The give me suggestions when I'm struggling and encouragement to be the best mom that I can. But they are tricky too, because I don't want to be glued to technology all the time. I avoid screen-time for my kids and I want to be actively engaged with them, not distracted by another parenting article with a catchy title. So I'm hoping that some of those local villagers that I've met on-line can become closer friends in real life, but it's not easy making friends when you're not forced to sit in the same room with them everyday. There are conflicting nap schedules, runny noses, and rusty social skills to juggle. But I'm working on it. Because I can't do this alone.