Community: Its the Gravy
Updated: Feb 2
Under Your Oak Tree is suppose to be about community building, so I figured I better get to it. I have spent a lot of time thinking about community and what it means to me. It might be the thing I value most in my life. I see building a community as an essential part of finding your joy, so I like to help others find theirs. I feel like community is the gravy on your Thanksgiving dinner plate: its not the meat and potatoes, but it sure makes them taste better.
My first experience building community came as a child when I lost connection with family due to divorce. I like to joke that we were the "all-American family,” since divorce is far more common in my world than the model married couple with two kids and a dog. My parents separated when I was in 5th grade, which left me and my two brothers with my dad (and step-mother) to navigate the recovery. I knew that I was loved, but my parents were not around much. Though I have lots of aunts and uncles, our extended family scattered during the messy divorce too. This history speaks to the absence of community that led me to look beyond my family structure for support. I was fortunate to have lovely neighbors, teachers, coaches and friends that offered guidance and reinforced positive behavior. I committed to lots of activities outside the home and spent a lot of time with friends. This was my first community model.
In college, it is common for people to have strong community outside their family structure. Most people live in communal housing and build strong relationships with their roommates as they learn to navigate an independent adult life - hello F*R*I*E*N*D*S. I do not think my community in college was unique, though I did find my hubby Randy and made some lifelong friends. Randy also came from a broken home, which was no doubt a big part of our initial bond. We needed more connection than our peers and valued friendships in the same way.
Despite all of this, it wasn't until I became a suburban mom that I really started to identify what is different about the value I place on community. Gold River is a unique area that provides lots of opportunities for repeat connection with people in a similar phase of life.
Despite that, there are still people who struggle to connect. Reading Lost Connections by Johann Hari recently, I realized that my sense of community is rare. Between social media, smartphones and helicopter parenting, it is easy to get totally overwhelmed by this phase of life and accept the limited connections made from the comfort of our couch via smartphones. As a mom, I feel confident in stating that parenthood is exhausting. As a working mom, I will say that it can be down right brutal. We pour so much time and energy into our kids, our marriage and our work. It often feels like there is not enough leftover to then connect with our peers. However, it is the connections to our peers that make us better parents, spouses and professionals. They bring joy to the seemingly mundane and repetitive schedules that define so much of parenthood. No-one wants to spend all weekend running around to kids' sporting events and birthday parties. But when parents can also connect with friends, share a glass of wine (or craft beer from Movement Brewing Co *wink *wink), and decompress from a stressful workweek, these activities become less about what the kids need and more about what the family needs. This is my community. It's not about adding one more thing to your plate, but rather making the scheduled activities more enjoyable for the whole family. It's the friend you get to sit with during soccer practice, the grandparent you chat with at school pick up each day, the teachers that usher your children safely into school each morning while wishing you a good day, and the crappy dinners you have with friends despite your messy house and exhausted kids.
Its the gravy. Pour it on. It makes all the food - even the good stuff - just a little more satisfying.