A single mom’s reflections on building a support system.
It takes a village to raise a child.
I moved a lot when I was a kid. Parents divorced, different neighborhoods, school changes, clumsy custody agreement, instability. When I was in 7th grade, my mom bought a house on a small one-block street. Tree-lined in that majestic, quiet way that many East Coast streets can be. Blanketed by a green ceiling, spectacular in Fall. It was rarely used unless it was your destination, and in winter, we’d get snowed in. One year, we were socked in for a week. With snow plows overworked across the city, our tiny street was ignored. My mom finally Norma Rae’d a group of parents and kids to shovel us out. I’m sure my sister and I were driving her crazy. Schools had been closed for days. And days. It made the papers.
Kids ranged in age from baby to teen. I had 20 instant friends. Year round we’d find a stoop, chat, skateboard, play hopscotch, and build snowmen until way past dark. Crushes and high school and growing up happened. We graduated to dance parties. Our first party with slow dancing was on Valentine’s Day. Earth, Wind & Fire on the turntable, and we were abuzz with adolescence. It was innocent and wonderful and lasting. These people are my friends still, decades later, on Facebook, over email, if we are in town we visit. We built a community for life. We are friends for life.
In 2011, my kids and then-husband moved from Seattle to Austin. Weather was a reason, but cost of living, better public schools, and a better, safer, quieter neighborhood were also high on the list. The first thing we told our realtor was “No busy streets.”
It took nine months of living in a tiny 1,000 square foot apartment, waiting out a sluggish Seattle real estate market and fighting an exploding Austin housing boom. That first year was one of the hardest on my kids, our marriage, and each other individually. We knew a cross-country move would be a strain, but, knowing it and living it are two different things.
And then, we finally found home. We moved onto a wide, quiet street filled with children and like-minded parents. A single-block destination that isn’t even called a “Street,” it’s a “Hill.” It’s our little slice of small town America. In the city. Deer every morning on the way to school, waving to others as you drive by, but with culture, music festivals, hiking trails, restaurants, clubs, a major university campus and progressive politics.
We have lived here almost three years, and my sons and I stayed for almost six months after my ex moved out. And now, the house is up for sale. But, I know the boys and I won’t lose our community, our village. As a single mom, I am sensitive to living in a place where I am surrounded by support. And over the years of living here, of being open and vulnerable and real with neighbors who became friends, I am not alone. Ever. I can count on my current next door neighbor for anything. Anything. I have never had a person like that in my life. When I was in a pile, an emotional mess over these last months during the separation, she held me, she let me cry, and when I needed a kick in the ass to take a shower, get out of pajamas and socialize, she did that. She has taken in my children so I could travel. She has supported me in more ways than I can say. She will always be in my life, next door or not.
My realtor is also my neighbor, but she was a friend first and always. She and her family live in that house you pop in on, and it’s never a bad time. She has guided me through the stressful process of both finding a new home for me and my boys and getting our current family home ready to sell. This happened fast, and she has been there for me, supporting me 100%. Much of what she’s doing was not on the real estate exam. It falls into the friend category, the “I’ve got your back” place where I am grateful to have a long list of go-to people both in real life and online. She is not just a great friend, she is also a talented realtor. My house will sell quickly with her at the helm. A new family will see it, and fall in love, as I did three years ago.
Meanwhile, my boys and I have found another place to call home in a little rental nearby. When we first viewed the house with our realtor, we realized it was two doors down from my older son’s best friend. And, it has a porch swing. It’s homey and new and a fresh start. And just like that, our village grows. I called my son’s friend’s mom to tell her we were moving in, and she immediately said “What can I do to help? Anything you want. Just tell me.” These are the people I want in my life.
I am blessed with a strong online community as well. Yesterday, a package came from a friend who just had a baby. She now has seven children. She’s a busy person. And yet, she took the time to send me a card, a bracelet, and a few other items including Pop Rocks for my boys. That is friendship. And yet, we have never met in person. We know each other from blogging groups and mutual friends online, most of whom I have also never met, but whom I consider close friends. They are people I turn to when I need an ear. They are people who think about me and send me good thoughts, prayers, peace, and love through their actions and words on the screen. I am not alone even when I am alone, at my computer writing. Someone from a support group or blogging network is a key stroke away. All I have to do is reach out.
And that’s what builds community. Reaching out. Being vulnerable and asking for help. And being there for others, sharing in the responsibilities and joys of life because going it alone is rough. I have gotten texts from friends some afternoons “Help! I’m stuck in traffic, can you get my kids from school?” “Sure. Got it.” And they respond in kind. “I’m sick and can’t drive, can my kids get a ride?” “No problem.” I’m talking about last minute, via text, drop everything and leave five minutes early to help kind of friendship. I am grateful for all of the moms, dads, neighbors, family members, bloggers, editors, and anyone else I forgot to mention for holding me in their hearts, and being there for me, whether I needed a carpool, a hug, or a new home. Even as a single mom, in a relatively new city, I do not feel alone. Even as a writer, a solitary profession, I am connected to friends worldwide who care deeply about my well-being. I am blessed; I have built my community.