Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thoughts on "Community"

The quiet hibernation of winter has definitely given way to the frenetic activity of spring here in our little corner of the world. Physical signs abound, obviously, but it's the inanimate harbingers of spring that have got me thinking about "Community." Capital "c" Community because it's the community that is not visible to the naked eye and that must be developed over months if not years.

In the past week I've become expert at texting and emailing moms from baseball, soccer, and horse riding, organizing carpools. That is, we moms have been frantically trying to figure out how to balance homework, dinner planning, and daily sports practices that take place at the far ends of our community (as in, collection of small towns). This is particularly stressful for moms like myself who have antiquated ideas about cooking from scratch, family dinners, and early bedtimes for growing, exhausted kids. How to fit it all in? And make a lovely chicken curry (tonight's conundrum)?

Carpooling and texting and emailing might not seem like such radical activities (although anything I am able to master in the way of technology is a small victory in itself) except that back in the day when Dave and I were poor graduate students living off our credit cards we used to wax poetic about "Community." That elusive kind of community where you have elderly neighbors, hip young neighbors, kids, colleagues, mail carriers, family doctors, grocery store clerks... People you interact with on a regular basis, have a shared history with, help out in times of need, receive help from, share recipes, take in their mail and water their plants. And you do this over years and years. You watch their kids grow up, you help out when the little old lady needs her driveway shoveled or groceries picked up, you bring food when someone is sick or a baby is born.

At the time that we were building these community-castles-in-the-sky, we were living either in New Haven, Los Angeles, Paris, or Naknek, AK. We had graduate school community or cannery worker community. We didn't have Community--how can you when you're moving from one location to another every year?

Fast forward many years. We've been living in the same town for 13 years now, a record that rivals only that from when we were kids growing up in our respective hometowns. And in 6 years I'll have surpassed that hometown record. We've even lived on the same street, having bought a house a stone's throw from where we rented. When we moved here we didn't know anybody other than Dave's colleagues at the college. I really didn't know anyone. We had major culture shock--we came from Los Angeles to a small southeastern Washington town. We were used to radical, liberal, partying graduate students. We didn't find the same here. In LA we were part of the majority (politically speaking), here we are definitely in the minority. We felt very estranged, stranded, disconnected in our new home.

And then we had kids. Amazing how that can change things (understatement of the year, no?). I learned about play dates at the park, open gym at the local gymnastics club, swim lessons, local nature hikes with other homeschoolers. I learned about being a mom with other new moms, and from some old pros, too, and I learned about the natural rhythms of this place. I watched seasons come and go, over and over again. I raked the same sycamore leaves off my yard every year, at first with a kid in a baby sling, then with a kid jumping in the piles and another one in the sling. I grew into my new life and I made friends and acquaintances along the way.

So now, here I am, in my 13th spring. Yesterday I had to make sure that Dave picked up two other boys and take them along with Sam to baseball practice; I had to drive Grace's classmate home from horse riding. Today another parent will drive the kids, another one will pick them up. It struck me on that drive home from horse riding that we have this huge network now of people that we see all the time, people we see only in baseball season, and people we see somewhere in between. We have the community that we romanticized so long ago. It has its problems, like any community, but it's ours. We are invested in it, in our neighbors (whether we know them or not), in the parks and open spaces and rhythms of life.

Community is a good thing, isn't it?

1 comment:

homehum said...

Community IS a good thing. In our mobile and culturally diverse society community can be very difficult to find, and yet most people long for it. As social creatures, I think we *need* community. I'm glad that you have found it where you live. As you pointed out, it does take time to develop that sense of belonging and investment in people and place. I really enjoyed this post--good thoughts!