‘It takes a village to raise a child’ Traditional African Proverb
Thank goodness there was air conditioning in the house. The humidity outside was unbearable. We sat on the 1970s patterned sofa - my husband Azariah, and I – one late afternoon in August, in his Auntie Bernice’s lounge, attempting to keep cool and talking about the life ahead of us as new parents.
I was six months pregnant with our first child and felt enormous. The house where we were staying was on the beautiful island of Nevis in the Caribbean. We were spending a month there on the island replete with colour after having survived a dark history. It’s where Azariah’s parents were born and raised before they headed for the UK in the 1950’s.
I was so hot my blue dress stuck to my protruding belly. Wiping the sweat from my brow and sipping the ginger drink that our host had made for us, I realised how anxious I was about the responsibility of parenthood. There would be a lot of new skills needed and I felt woefully inadequate.
It didn’t help that I am a classic ‘planner’. I’m a ‘J’ on the Myers Briggs personality test and not a big fan of surprises or wild spontaneity. The thought that we would have to provide for this child’s needs but we had no idea what his or her needs would be, sent me into a mild panic. The fact I’d let Azariah persuade me that we should keep the child’s gender a surprise was driving me mad too. I wanted to know.
It also didn’t help that Azariah was as defunct as I was when it came to practical skills and common sense, not that common, in our case. Practical skills and common sense we anticipated would be necessary for nappy changing, strapping in a car seat, and figuring out one end of a carry sling from the other.
We both had artistic and creative abilities however, Azariah struggled to open the clasps on his tool kit, let alone identify half the contents. As for me, the only ladders which don’t intimidate me are ladders in my tights.
Azariah couldn’t ride a bike and I had a secret fear of tents and blow up beds. Blimey, we could offer music lessons and storytelling but what if our kid ended up wanting to be an Olympic cyclist or an outdoors activity instructor?
‘Why is it that parents feel they always need to provide everything for the child themselves?’ asked Azariah, always the one to think in terms of ‘team’ rather than the do-it-all-yourself approach. ‘Why does it have to be about the nuclear family being the solution for everything?’
I shrugged. I didn’t know. I just knew that ‘family’ was often meant to be the answer to everything, although I knew in practice that for many people this didn’t always seem to work.
Whilst being in Nevis we had noticed the close-knit sense of community. As a small island, it seemed everyone knew everyone, people had time for each other and popped round to catch up on local news and a cuppa. That didn’t happen as readily and naturally back home in Bristol where we were living at the time. Bringing up children often seemed like a form of social isolation. We felt we needed the gift of relational insulation, that which a community could offer.
‘What we need when our mini person is born,’ I announced to Azariah, ‘Is a village. You know, like a big group of people who could act as extended family for our child.’
‘Definitely’, said Azariah. ‘They could each offer a skill or gift to help them grow. Like the proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ ‘
‘Yes. Like we’ve seen here in Nevis. We could invite a group of our friends to be part of it.’ I responded.
‘We could call it the Life Village,’ said Azariah, always the one good with names.
‘The Life Village. I like that.’ I replied. ‘Because it takes a village to raise a child.’
And so that was it. The moment when a little seed of an idea was born. The Life Village came into existence. A community of people, invited by a child’s parents, to be part of the child’s life from birth to adulthood. We would try it with our child. Our child would have a Life Village.
Azariah and I started getting excited about who we would invite and what they might like to bring to the village.
‘Nicki and Rob would be great’ we agreed as we spoke about two friends of ours, ‘They have so many practical skills and we have none!’ We teased each other about our lack of DIY skills and temporarily forgot about the uncomfortable humidity.
We sipped some more lemonade and listened to the crickets in the garden outside. The anxiety of new parenthood was gradually subsiding as we anticipated gathering together a group of our friends to form the very first Life Village community. We didn’t know how it would work exactly but we would no longer be alone as we navigated the tricky terrains of parenthood. And, our yet-to-be born child would have the opportunity to flourish within the context of a real village of diverse and loving people.
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