It Takes a Village….

As a parent raising my own biological son and participating in the raising of my two step-children, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my own childhood….the good, the bad and the really ugly….since I became a mom.

I’ve dissected, reassembled and dissected again the many parts of my early life….desperate to carve out the good pieces and discard the rest….to break certain familial cycles….to be some version of the perfect mom….or at the very least, to just avoid mucking it all up entirely.

Personally, I’ve never considered myself a product of two people.  I like to believe I was raised by an extended network of people who each brought something important to my life.

Because my own family tended to run the gamut from sometime blissful domesticity to bat shit crazy….and was always subject to switch gears and change shapes at any time….I learned to seek out my mentors from any and every available source and to choose them well.

Step-parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, old family friends, fleeting family friends, neighbors, the parents of my classmates, teachers, therapists, co-workers, bosses and even the occasional random stranger, have and continue to serve as navigators for me….offering me ideas through example and casually guiding me toward becoming both the person I want to be and the person I don’t want to be.

Though I probably would have been happier with a little less dysfunction and a little more stability growing up, I’ve come to appreciate how my varied life experiences and the cast of characters who played a part, forced me into early independence.  I quickly learned how self-sufficient and resilient I could be and I came to eventually understand that everyone, no matter how pretty and perfect the packaging, is battling something.  We all have weaknesses to match our strengths and it’s not about who we are expected or doomed to become, but who we choose to become that matters.

I don’t doubt those very same lessons could have been learned a bit more….uh, gently….rather than beaten in….literally….but whatever, it’s a part of my life’s story.  It can’t be rewritten and so I have chosen to view it as an opportunity instead of a crutch….an opportunity to be better than I knew….to grasp onto the really good parts….to hold them tight and pass them on.

As I relish in the privilege of helping to raise my awesome step-children and a truly incredible little person of my own, what I love the most is that their stories show no trace of the cycles of abuse and dysfunction I knew growing up.  They are incredibly innocent and blissfully naive in a way I never was.

They are kind and smart, sweet, funny, engaging and silly without fear of retribution or ridicule.  They are free thinkers and we encourage them to ask questions, test the waters and form their own opinions….even if those opinions don’t mirror our own….and especially when they don’t.

However, I also know that much of what they think and believe is shaped by the people we are and the experiences and outside influences we expose them to as we gradually ease them into the realities of the world we live in outside of our protective family bubble.  And, once released, it’s that foundation we’ll rely on to guide them.

As I’ve watched my step-children transition from very young children to a tween and a teen, it’s been interesting and gratifying to see how our collective influences and differing styles, values and philosophies are being adapted as the kids gain more and more independence and begin to figure out their own way.

This year, our little boy started pre-school and it feels like the start of his release into the world.  I’m excited, but also a little nervous for what’s to come.   Up until now, he’s been able to be at home as I’ve managed to juggle both a full-time job outside the home with the responsibilities of being as close to a full time stay-at-home mom as I could manage.  The juggling act required the help of a nanny who cared for our son for a few hours each week, but she was, of course, someone we carefully chose and could direct in his overall care.

Now that he’s a pre-schooler in a class of 20 three and four-year-old children we are having to relinquish a bit of that control as our son acclimates to his new routine, schedule, the pre-school curriculum and his classmates and teachers.

We are fortunate to live in a community with a lot of first world problems….like how to design the school pick-up and drop-off lanes at the new middle school and how to manage the general traffic concerns on Main street due to the draw of the school’s brand new start of the art athletic facilities.

Our community invests heavily and with minimal protest into our public school programs and the results are an excellent school system with an engaged community of parents, teachers and students which my husband and I both recognize as a privilege not to be taken for granted.

While our town is not likely to be considered among the most diverse in the nation, we aren’t insular either and our son will have the opportunity to interact with classmates, teachers and classroom guests from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds and I’m excited for all he’ll learn.

I’m looking forward to the conversations we’ll begin and carry-on as he grows and matures.  I imagine we’ll need to reinforce values from time to time, but I hope we are raising the kind of person who will grow to consider differences in race, religion, politics and social issues as important opportunities that spark curiosity and an eagerness to learn and peaceably engage in this world….and I so hope the world he will come to know will be the kind of place that is peaceable.


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