Be the village

Several weeks ago, I was doing daycare drop-off and saw a young girl getting out of her dad’s car. It was 7:22 am and she was eating two corndogs. I immediately thought, “Good for you, dude. Mornings are hard.” I also thought, “If that’s allowed in parenting, maybe I’m doing okay.”

I became foster parent to a 6-year-old about three months ago. It’s been a roller coaster experience, and I’ve hesitated to type this post because the subject of parenting is such well-trodden ground. Advice and opinions on the topic are everywhere – whether we want it or not – and no one needs my exhausted voice added into the mix. 

But the one thing I don’t see discussed very often is the way people rally together. If I’m comparing this experience to a roller coaster, then it’s as if the carnie (are we allowed to say “carnie” anymore?) who checked my harness also slipped me a secret pass to a place where people help each other out far more frequently than what I’d previously experienced in adulthood. 

Maybe it’s because I so obviously need more support these days. 

I think about how every time I saw “my” child running through the snow, I felt overcome with gratitude for the friends who brought hand-me-down clothes – including winter coat and boots – mere minutes before a child arrived on my doorstep. 

I’ve laughed with colleagues who nod knowingly when I share that one friend brought supplies I didn’t even know were necessary, like pastel-coloured silicone straws. I’ve experienced my entire mood change when other coworkers heard about my new situation and offered their teenagers as babysitters. I still get goosebumps when I think about the colleague who helped me crack the daycare waitlist for before-and-after-school care.

I’m in awe of the school principal who welcomed a new student to Grade One and arrived at work early on a Monday so he could help her choose the most appropriate spot in her new classroom and answer my many questions about how elementary school works. (It’s been a while.)

I spent most of one weekend weeping every time I talked, because I simply couldn’t think straight after weeks of waking multiple times each night by a child screaming as she fought off nightmares. That was also the weekend where one friend’s husband showed me an app to help keep my sidewalk shoveled and then cut waffles for a little girl he’d just met, while I cried in the kitchen. Another friend witnessed all that and arrived at my door later with freshly made lasagnas for the freezer. 

There are many people in my life who have made crafts and played ridiculous games in service of keeping a little person occupied, and a bigger one employed. There are medical professionals and receptionists who didn’t have to take on a new patient, but did it anyway. There are so many generous gift givers in my life that I now regularly give a speech to a child about not meeting a new person and demanding a present. 

I’m so grateful to all the parents who have quietly confirmed I’m not alone in sometimes wondering what the hell I’ve done to my life. I’m similarly touched by the non-parents who quietly check on me and think to ask if I’m okay without the rituals (baby showers and the like) that usher other new parents into this life. 

I’ve always been a huge fan of my mom and stepmom, and now I want to etch their names into eternity as two of the most amazing humans ever. I keep losing track of the mental list that contains all the things they’ve done for me that I took for granted. 

In other words: Wow. Can you imagine how much different a place the world would be if we regularly treated each other the way people have treated me these last few months? 

I also wonder whether my role as a foster parent would be necessary if we lived in that world. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the biological mom of the little one sleeping in the next room – how is mom doing, where is she, what would help, at what earlier points might there have been a moment(s) to prevent this situation?

I’ll probably never know the answers to those questions, but we can try to imagine the rest. We can try to be the kinds of friends, family members and strangers that help each other out…the kind of people who make a village to raise a child, and raise each other up in the process. 

At a minimum, we can skip the judgment and applaud the morning corndogs. 

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3 thoughts on “Be the village

  1. Cathy Brothers (Capacity Canada)

    Thank you for your heartfelt post this morning, Kelli. I am so touched by the generous way you share very personal experiences. Your ability to capture so many experiences and feelings in superb writing is phenomenal.

    I am now in love with your little girl, the school principal, the straw gifter and the corn dog guy. Your big heart brings out goodness in so many others.

    The story of your gratitude in the midst of tumultuous change in your life is exactly what I needed today. Over the past few weeks my husband has gone through some catastrophic medical crises. He’s going in right direction now but our needs abruptly forced me to get off my high horse. I am so thankful to all the good people who have supported us and quietly picked up the slack when the load was heavy.

    A good friend once told me that being a single parent is like painting a wall with one hand tied behind your back. You can do it, but it’s tough. My sister told me that single parenting is far less complex than co-parenting. So, there you have it.

    Kelli, your abundance of empathy will continue to enrich your new parenting role. In the midst of the exhaustion it brings, I hope you have much enjoyment.

    Wishing you all the best and sending hugs to your little family,

    Cathy Brothers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Cathy, thank you so much for these beautiful words and taking the time to share…even as you go through your own overwhelming experiences. I really hope your husband is okay and that you’re both feeling surrounded by the love I know is in your village too.


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