At a little past eight on Sunday morning, we walked into the cafe half a block from our house - the only one open in the area. We spied other parents and their early risers and exchanged knowing glances and smiles. You too, huh?
We also bumped into neighbors who live in the same building as us. Their son is a couple of months older than Thumper. In our conversation over coffee, pastries and fidgety kids, I somehow got invited to a morning yoga class with the mom. Yoga? Me time? With a fellow mom? Hell yeah!
On our way back to the house, we bumped into another family from our building and Little Miss asked to join them so she could play with the boys. The mom assured us it was fine, and off my eager three-year-old went with barely a goodbye to us.
Little Miss stayed with them while I was at yoga, where I did my first modified headstand in four years! Her sister napped and her dad continued to recuperate from his ailment (that I so generously shared from a couple of weeks ago). I fetched Little Miss from her impromptu playdate, which involved a romp at the beach and lunch at our neighbor’s house, and soon it was naptime for everyone. Including me.
What a great, serendipitous morning, thanks to generous neighbors.
We’ve been in this building for a year, and after a few potluck brunches and playdates with neighbors, these familiar faces have become a big part of our lives. I’ve lived in this fair city for 12 years now, and it’s the first time that I’ve ever felt like I belonged to a real community.
Before kids, everything was done behind closed doors, and I rarely knew my neighbors. When we spent most of our time in front of one screen or another, it didn’t leave us much face time with the people next door. We exchanged polite greetings and comment about the weather, but that was the extent of our relationship.
It’s different now. The moms in our building have formed a babysitting co-op so we could watch each other’s kid(s) when we need a night out without the kids. Sometimes we supervise a playdate while the other parents tend to their tasks or simply take a break. We borrow plates for parties. Fine, I borrow plates for parties, and we congregate for conversations at the beach or park by our building at any given time.
When we hear familiar voices in the courtyard, we look out our window and wave. Sometimes we even engage in a quick exchange from our windows, like Romeo and Juliet minus the melodramatic romance and awkward death scene. Okay, so it’s nothing like Romeo and Juliet, but you get the picture.
Neighbors being neighborly. Imagine that.
When I decided to make my life here, I also realized that it meant leaving my family behind. With 13 siblings between my mom and dad, I lost count the number of cousins and extended family I have. There were certainly many, but even then, I was used to seeing them often as there were always celebrations and festivities that glued us together.
I was raised by both sets of grandparents who happened to be next-door neighbors - that’s how my parents met. When I was born, my parents left me with my grandparents on weekdays while they worked full time. At my grandparents’, I learned to be fluent in both my mother tongues (Cantonese and Tamil), and I was constantly surrounded by an aunt or uncle and neighborhood kids.
Even though I was an only child, I was never lonely. When I finally lived with my parents, we stayed with an aunt and her daughter who was like an older sister, which means we fought. A lot. I also played with the Chinese kids next door. There were eight of them. All girls. Safe to assume their dreams for a son ended with the eighth girl. Five of them were my playmates, and my days were often interspersed with role play and real-life drama.
My paternal grandmother later moved down the street from us and became a nanny so after school, I would help her with the kids. Not because I had to but because I wanted to. I loved babies! By eight, I was a pro at changing cloth diapers and entertaining wee ones.
Even though I grew up in the capital city (the size of Chicago), it never really felt like a city to me. I was a street rat and roamed about the area with my neighbor friends. We looked for tadpoles in stagnant water during the monsoon season, and I was often in a neighbor’s home, getting back just in time for dinner. I’ve been a city girl all my life but as a kid, it felt like a village.
You know the saying, it takes a village to raise a kid? My parents certainly had that.
When Little Miss was born, we had no village. We reached outside our neighborhood in search of new friendships with likeminded parents. We had established great connections, but with proximity as a barrier, it just wasn’t the same.
But after we moved to our current building and made our place in the neighborhood, I am seeing promising signs of that village life I craved. Familiar faces. Friendship. Trust. Peace of mind. Plates for parties.
When we go out at night, Little Miss gets excited when one of the neighbor moms get to tuck her in instead. I am warmed by that. Goosebumps even, because when they’re here, I never worry when I’m out. I know my girls are in good, loving hands the same way theirs are, in mine.
There really isn’t much more we can ask for, apart from good schools and nutritious meals, to positively influence the development of our kids. We plant roots to help our children grow with the idea that the deeper and stronger the root, the lovelier the flower, the better the fruit.
So here we are. In this little village in the middle of a vast city. The soil is rich. The roots are succulent.
And my girls are blooming, blooming, blooming.
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Do you have a village? What does it look like?
To the people in my village: Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for turning this neighborhood into a community for us. We feel immensely fortunate to be here.