I love our summer reunions with my sister, her family, and our parents. These get-togethers have become an almost annual event, and we travel thousands of miles, from two different countries, to converge at my parents’ home in the U. S. We invade my parents’ quiet lives, tucking into sleeping quarters set up in every corner of the house, including the dining room. The four cousins play together like they’ve never been apart, we sisters renew our relationships with each other and with our parents, and brothers-in-law commiserate about marriage to the crazy sisters. Best of all, grandparents, aunts, and uncles build bonds with the children, while all pitching in to look after their needs.
Yesterday morning I made breakfast for my own kids and my nieces, and at dinner my sister made sure they all got vegetables. My brother-in-law handled lunch prep, while my mother set up the wading pool. This afternoon my husband took the kids to the indoor bouncy castle adventure park, braving the crowds who were also looking for something to do on a rainy day. Meanwhile the off-duty adults went for a jog, napped, got some work done, or wrote a blog. Ah, this is the life! Caring for children is so much more efficient this way. And I imagine that this is what family life might be like if we weren’t dispersed far and wide.
When we’re back home, it’s hard not to feel envious of the people we know whose families live close by. Grandparents regularly help out with babysitting and pick children up from school. I know of a number of cases where cousins regularly enroll in activities together so their families can take turns with carpooling. And I know of two sisters who both work part-time and arrange their schedules so that they or their husbands take turns looking after all four children.
Since we live so far from our relatives, we’ve teamed up with friends and neighbors to recreate some of the support we might receive from family. In my neighborhood it seems that the village does indeed help raise its children. My kids go from house to house in the summer or on weekends, eating progressive meals (drinks at one neighbor’s, mac and cheese for lunch at the house next door, and popsicles at our house). There are always canvas shopping bags blocking the door, filled with dolls or Lego creations to be transported for play at the neighbors’ homes. And now I see younger cohorts of neighborhood kids doing the same thing. This past year I watched parents at the school pick up their own kindergartners, plus a few extra, taking turns having the children after school while other parents were at work. It involved some elaborate scheduling and planning, but I was happy seeing these kids build surrogate family connections in their community just as my son and daughter have.
It’s unlikely my sister, my parents, and I will ever live in the same town again. For now we cherish our visits, and I know by the way my children talk about their memories that they love their time here too. Our family connections are strong, and we miss one another very much between visits. However, in their absence, I feel especially grateful to live in a community where we can depend on the people around us. We do indeed have a village of support in raising our children.