Monday, March 12, 2007

When the Clouds Clear...

I just reread my last post, and what struck me (I had written it when I was feeling particularly down and lost) was the idea that when I accept my community as it is, imperfections and all, it is a pretty great community. In a natural cycle it is I who expands to embrace the community, and contracts when other things are going on in my life. Now I am once again in a period of expansion, reconnecting with members of my community that I had drifted away from, making new friends, and just enjoying the activity. My spring is here again.

When I say community I don't only mean the people who live and work close to me. Yes, there is the postal clerk, the cashier at the health food store, and our favorite librarian. There are also neighbors; the man and his grown son who live across the street, the neighbor on one side with dogs, and the shy neighbor on the other side who was having a conversation with J-Baby the other day.

Oh, these are the people in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood.
These are the people in your neighborhood,
They're the people that you meet when you're walking down the street,
They're the people that you meet each day.

It's great to have neighbors, and people we see each day or week. We walk a lot, and we meet people. We'll take the girl dog out, or we'll walk to the farmer's market or ride our bikes to do errands. Our community, however, is larger than that. We dance in and out of various groups - attachment parenting families, homeschooling families, families from Papa's place of employment. We have our community of extended family living within the wider Southern California area. We are making railroad friends and BMX friends and Market Night friends.

For years I lamented the fact that I didn't have a best female friend. I kept thinking it was something lacking in my life. Popular women's magazines touted the benefits of having a good girlfriend, one you could confide in, one who could listen to the extra 10,000 words you needed to speak each day, which clearly your spouse should be spared from having to listen to. When the Mothering Magazine article, Finding Your Tribe, was published, it created a deep longing in me. I wanted that kind of friendship. Someone to pass the time with, to clean out the fridge, bake, fold laundry with. I made attempts to find my tribe, meeting with a few Mothering moms. Distance was always our enemy; no one lived close enough to get together really often. Babies and toddlers hated driving in traffic.

Some of those moms I am still in contact with, but we never formed a tribe. It was an attempt to force something that had happened naturally for one woman and her friends, an experience she wrote about for Mothering. Perhaps it was an attempt to recreate the environment that mythically existed in the 1960s and 1970s in white, middle class suburbs, when many mothers stayed out of the paid workforce and the streets were teaming with children. I grew up on such a street, with young children in nearly every home and mothers who got together almost daily to drink coffee, gossip, play cards, etc. Perhaps we were trying to emulate immigrants to the USA who lived in extended families and closely bonded ethnic groups (something we had seen on television or read about in books). Whatever it was, we were trying to create something based on ideas and not fact. I suspect that we were not the only ones to fail, although I am sure that some women made it work. Perhaps it might have been different if there had been someone who lived close enough to me and had as much time as I did. Perhaps not.

Over time I came to realize that my best friend, the person I "tribe" with, is my partner. Well, we have always been best friends...that is unchanged. For some reason I had been led to believe that I needed someone else, as well. I have many friends now, more than I have ever had before in my life. They are important to me. Papa, however, is the person with whom I may be completely myself. He is partner, friend, helpmate, lover...he is everything. I worried for awhile that it was a burden for him that I didn't have a really good female friend to vent to, and then I asked myself what I wanted to vent about? Anything negative I have to say about Papa should be said to him (and don't worry, it is). Everything that is wonderful I want to share with him. For 21 years now he has been the person I share ideas with, and my sorrows, and all of the beautiful, sweet things I find. It is genuine.

Coming to realize that I have everything I truly need within my own nuclear family has freed me to enjoy every friendship I have more completely, because I'm not looking for anything. When I meet someone, and she is into AP and natural family living, I can open myself to her without it being a best friend first date. When I hang out at a friend's house I can just enjoy being there with her, doing whatever we do, and I don't have to judge it on whether we shared our deepest secrets or cleaned out the produce bins together. These exchanges no longer have an undercurrent of Is she the one? running through them. We can be ourselves. In not looking, we find far more than we might have before.

I am grateful to that fateful Mothering article for one very important reason. It opened me up and sent me on a search, and in doing so I gained a lot of great skills. I might not have found a best female friend, however I am now friendly with many, many women. I've learned to go someplace new and just say hello to people. I can sit at a park with families I've never met before and have a great time. I'm no longer isolated, and I hope that I am emulating friendship at its best to my boys.

I still hold closely to the idea that my community must be a real one, not an online one. I can enjoy the blogs of others, and read what they have to say and really think (or be amused, or try a new recipe). The kinds of blogs I read are generally written by good writers who have something to say. There's nothing wrong with that, especially when I can share those ideas with a friend who is sitting right across the blanket from me, nursing her child while she drinks her coffee and finds a snack for another child, while I knit and snuggle T-Guy and pass an apple to J-Baby. And at the end of the day I will share those ideas with Papa, and we'll discuss and debate them, and we'll kiss our boys goodnight and snuggle down to sleep, with a slightly neurotic beautiful old dog guarding our tribe.

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