A new kind of village

I’m an extrovert. My cup gets filled by spending time with my people. I need them to laugh with, to cry with, to tell stories with, and mostly, to raise my kids with. I am a village person. My ideal living situation would be to join up with three or four other families whom I love and buy one big house together. 

I have always been this way because this is how I grew up. My parents’ friends became our aunts and uncles, and their children our cousins. We ate big taco dinners together on Sunday nights, played together all weekend long, and relied on each other for everything. If my parents were away, I slept at Aunt Cinda’s house. If I needed to go home sick from school and couldn’t find my mom, I called Aunt Terri. Uncle Jimmy was the only person I let pull my teeth out when they were loose. We were a tribe, a family. 

And it wasn’t until I had my own children that I realized how important this is to me, how necessary to my own survival. With both of my girls, I suffered from postpartum depression. With my second, it was much less intense because the second time I had a tribe. 

I was the first of my girlfriends to have a baby, so with my first daughter, I was alone a lot of the time. Friends who visit, but no one really understood what I was going through, and the loneliness mixed with the depression nearly destroyed me. The second time around, two of my best friends had babies within weeks of my daughter’s birth, and each day we would rotate whose house we would spend time in. Mostly, we sat around feeding babies and crying and laughing and sharing our deepest, darkest feelings. Sometimes, my best friend Amy would force me to leave the house even when my anxiety was at its highest. One day, she called me and said, “Today we are taking the babies to the movies. I don’t care what we are going to see, but we are going. Get dressed.” We ended up seeing the Entourage movie with our two month old babies strapped to our chests. It was just what I needed. 

And this is why the last three weeks have been so challenging for me. Because everything I need in order to nourish my soul right now has been stripped from me. While I need physical connection to heal, the world needs just the opposite. As a good citizen of the world, I will do my part, but it’s killing me. 

And I know that I am lucky. I am in a privileged position: I still have a job and so does my husband. We have internet access to do our work, food security, a house. No one in my home is immunocompromised. We can weather this storm more easily than many other people. But knowing all of that doesn’t stop me from inching closer and closer to the kind of sadness I have experienced many times before. Only this time, my medicine is out of reach. 

There have been some dark and hopeless moments in the past three weeks, but there have been other moments, too. And I am trying desperately to cling to those ones more than the others. 

Like last week, when both of my girls had to celebrate their birthdays in quarantine, but their friends still drove by and beeped and left presents on our doorstep. Like when my daughter had trouble with her math homework, and my colleague Facetimed to help her with it. Like when I took an online yoga class with my favorite teacher whom I haven’t practiced with in months, or when I had a girl’s night on Zoom with some of my very best friends, and we toasted each other and thanked God for the ability to see each other’s faces. Like today, when I will join my school friends for lunch from the safety of our own homes but where we can still laugh at each other’s terrible jokes. 

I am reminded in those moments that I am not alone, that we are not alone, and that in some ways, we are even more connected to each other than ever through this shared experience of fear, and loneliness, and uncertainty. We can find new ways to lean on and connect to each other. The village is still there. Just a little further away, just waiting for you to reach out and say, “I’m here.” 

Published by Jeni Bonaldo

Jeni is a high school English teacher, wife, and mother to two extraordinary and exasperating girls. She is a writer and storyteller in her free time (ha!) and is currently surviving on coffee and deep breaths.

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