It takes a village, patience, and a fridge full of snacks

One of the biggest advantages of working for a school district is the fact that I get my summers off to spend time with my own children. The three month vacation is our family’s respite from the fast-paced school year routine. I purposely try to keep our summer schedule wide open, with an occasional long-distance  road trip and a few  local day trips interspersed throughout to keep things interesting. Other than that, we pretty much do a whole lot of nothing. It’s fabulous. Mornings are reserved for lounging in P.J’s, pancake breakfasts, and watching through our bay window as the neighborhood come to life. I love every second of these lazy moments…and would like to say that the remainder of the day’s routine is just as leisurely, but those with small children understand that you can only lounge so long before the kiddos go stir crazy and start doing irrational things such as filling the bathtub with flour and  modifying the bookshelf into a make-shift rock climbing wall.
And so it is that after breakfast, we usually head outdoors for an outing of one kind or another—be it library story time, the playground, or a trip to the river to dig for worms and other such treasures. Generally, we’ll stay out of the house long enough for the toddler to tire herself out. We’ve gotten good at getting home just in time to avoid one of her signature melt-downs. After tossing the toddler into bed for a nap, I’d like to report that the older children settle into some quiet activity while I sit on the porch with a cold one and a novel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite go down like that. Typically, I emerge from the bedroom just in time to find the children tearing apart the cupboards in search of a suitable lunch…and that is when the doorbell starts ringing. By the way, someone please remind me to dismantle that cursed doorbell, as the sound of its cheery chime almost always wakes the toddler out of a dead sleep and straight into screeching zombie mode. Don’t suggest putting a sign over it. Apparently people don’t heed handmade signs, because I cannot tell you how many times I’ve posted a polite “Shhhh, Baby Sleeping” post-it over the little button, only to have a well-meaning visitor ring away, multiple times–as if “Shhhh!” is synonymous for “Press here, over & over again until grimacing homeowner flings door open and charges at you.” Makes me long for the days of doorbell ditching. At least those pesky pranksters had the courtesy to ring once, then run.
Anyhow, 9 times out of 10, the person behind the doorbell ringing offense is one of the neighborhood children, many of whom are home by themselves during the day, as their parents are working. They are looking for a place to hang-out, perhaps a snack, and some good old-fashioned company. And who can blame them? There are only so many channels you can flip through and video games you can play before you began to long for human interaction. So I let them in. For those of you who are new to my story, I have 4 children of my own. Four loud, active, mischievous children who keep me on my toes from sun-up till sun-down. Adding more children into the mix is often enough to throw my controlled chaos of a household into an all out  mad house. And I’ve finally made peace with that.
During the first few weeks of summer, I was a little annoyed by my sudden evolution from classroom teacher of 24, to neighborhood pied piper. I love children. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy their optimism, their energy & imagination, their ability to drop a grudge and keep a promise. They truly are amazing. I also like peace & quiet. And the two don’t always compliment each other. Having extra kids in the household is nothing new. My children always have friends, cousins, or other relatives along and I enjoy being able to accommodate them into our lives on a regular basis. But by regular, I mean every other weekend or so. This summer, it seems the theme is “Stay Long & Go Hard.” Meaning, there are a few little munchkins in the ‘hood  that I’m sure would move in with us, if we were to extend the offer. They beg to accompany us on mundane errands to the post office & grocery store, and plead for permission to stay and play, long after the summer sky has darkened.
At first, I was quick to pass judgment on the parents of these little ones (why didn’t they ever call them home for dinner? aren’t they concerned about their well-being enough to at least contact me and see how they’re doing?), that is, until I began to gather bits of pieces of their life stories and family backgrounds. Families come in all shapes and sizes, we know this..but families also come with all types of dysfunction. I’m honest enough to admit that mine does too, and if you are to take a good look at your own family upbringing, I’m sure you would uncover a few skeletons there as well. That’s life. Imperfection is what makes us human, and I believe, more resilient.
I began to think back on the time I spent with other families while I was growing up. Both my parents were working full-time, so my sisters and I spent quite a bit of time with day-care providers, and with friends and other relatives. It was during this time that I learned some important lessons about family dynamics and relationships. There were qualities that I envied about the other families I spent time with…and there were glimpses of things that made me glad to go back into my relatively peaceful, unconditionally loving home. Constant exposure to other families is an integral part of growing up. Its where we learn that our own home-with all its struggles and strengths-has a unique culture of its own, but at the same time is most likely  dealing with  some of the same challenges that the family next door is coping with. It’s what makes us feel somewhat normal. It’s what helps us realize that families are not as neatly packaged as they are on prime time sitcoms…And that’s where community comes in. We fill in where the other cannot, support when the others are weak. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful aspects of humanity.
So, as much as I was (occasionally) irked by the constant ringing of the doorbell, the raids on our food supply, the footprints across the clean floors, and the flies that snuck in every time the front door swung open..I also began to feel at peace with the fact that our home is a gathering spot for my children and their peers. Of course, we are all familiar with the classic African proverb, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.” It has been repeated so many times, its profound meaning seems to be lost in the cliché. But anyone who has ever tried to raise a child without the solid support of family, friends, and a strong community can appreciate just how important it is to have a circle of hands ready to lend a help when the burdens of parenting began to weigh you down. At this very moment, my oldest son is out swimming at the neighbor’s house, and my middle son’s belly is full of a hearty lunch served to him by our friends down the block. I benefit from the village that exists on my block, and so I feel the responsibility to pay it forward when another child shows up in my home, hungry for a snack and in need of a band-aid.
I’m happy to report that I’m now more accepting of the extra company that stampedes through my home on any given day..even if it means a little extra clean-up, and an extra trip to the grocery store for snack restocking every now and then. The trade off is that my family and I are doing our part in fostering a supportive community for the youth that are growing up around us. And if it means I occasionally lose my sanity in the chaos of the day, so be it. A simple, “Thanks for letting me stay a bit longer, we had the most fun ever!” is enough to help me gather my senses and remember that peace & quiet are over-rated. These little ones will only roam this neighborhood for so long. And when (if) they return to our street years from now, I want them to look back on it with fond memories of house that always had its door open to them, and welcome mat ready…