On our wedding day, we gave each of our guests a magnet saying ‘community’. As well as prettifying fridges, it was a reminder of what we hoped would be a foundational value for our marriage. We’ve since learned some of the challenges of living out that not-so-simple little word.
Five years later, we’re on a crash course about a building block of community – family. Learning to care for Our Wee Man in an unseasonably hot South African summer. Cold showers, homemade ice lollies and camping by the fan have been our survival strategy. Our windows and our front door are open, inviting the air to breathe into our little house.
The open door also invites stares from our small neighbours, who love to stand at the gate and just watch what happens in the white people’s house. It can feel like an invitation to the whole community to witness our muddling apprenticeship into parenthood.
It’s not just the heat that causes me to prickle, but the lack of privacy. When he’s grumpy, and we just want peace to attempt to pacify him, still the door remains open. In 37° heat we can’t opt out of community. ‘Why is he crying?’ or ‘let me take him’ quickly sound like a critique of our care. However, I’m beginning to understand that the offer often stems from a stance of solidarity. When I put aside my pride and independence, I see instead that my friends are not simply seeking to comfort the baby, but the parents too. They remember the endless pacing and soothing and patting and they want to take a shift.
Being exposed and letting people in, to support us and teach us, has not been easy. Although the advice is not always heeded, I’m glad we’re part of this community. We’re not made to journey life alone. As the African proverb says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, even if sometimes I’d rather it didn’t! Our people hundreds of miles away have also played their part, encouraging us that its ok to feel challenged. I’m so grateful that Our Wee Man has this beautiful, complicated and diverse global village to grow amongst. Community is so much deeper, harder and more rewarding than that little magnet let on.