We have all heard the saying, “it takes a village” but what exactly counts as a village in this day and age? We certainly no longer live in little hamlets where kids run from one home to the next and everyone looks out for everyone else’s kids. In certain communities today we do not even know our next door neighbors despite the close proximity. But raising a kid is hard work and having a close knit group of people around you is important from the day you return home from the hospital with a crying bundle in your arms. Every mom (and dad!) needs a “village”.
I will be honest, there have been days these last few months where I have been more homesick than ever since my arrival in France. It is a busy time of year at the farm so there are nights where Fañch doesn’t get home until nearly midnight. Those are the moments where I think to myself what I wouldn’t give to be able to call up my sisters and have them come over for dinner and to give me a hand with putting Lewis to bed. On days when Lewis is fussy and maybe throws up a time or two, I am relieved to see Fañch walk through the door and take over in the evening. When that isn’t possible and I am on my own all day the fatigue can be rough.
So can my “village” include those loved ones who are a nine hour flight away? Or are there limits to what support we can receive from afar despite technologies like Skype and FaceTime? I love my family and friends back home and every call, message, email, and letter I receive from them encourages me but there is that physical presence that is still missing. My village no doubt has the virtual hut bustling with loved ones from back home but it still needs a few members that are within driving range.
Building a village from the ground-up has proved to be no easy feat. I remember reading Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman and how she would talk about the difficulties in forming a group of friends as an expat. French people don’t go about making friends the same way as most people do in the U.S. People here have their established friend groups and breaking your way into one is not as easy as it seems. I’m lucky that Fañch has such a close-knit group of friends from school who welcomed me into their group immediately. However, I have been here three years and have yet to truly make a connection and meet friends of my own. To be honest, up until now that hasn’t been much of an issue for me. I am pretty introverted and a Friday night spent reading or going for a walk at the farm or at the beach with Fañch suits me just fine. Though now that Lewis is here and I am learning about this thing called “motherhood” I realize I am missing something in my village.
For the last few weeks I have begun my search to meet other moms who have babies Lewis’ age. Someone who can talk breastfeeding and diaper brands. Someone who knows what it is like to get to the end of the week and realize you only showered once. Someone who can sympathize with that simultaneous desire to always be there for your baby but to also want to work and make progress on your own personal life goals. Someone who understands the struggle to find balance.
A couple weeks ago I attended a “mommy and me” playgroup. It was wonderful. There were play mats and toys and comfy couches. When Lewis got hungry and I started to breastfeed one of the women who was working there came and offered me a glass of water. Being a mom herself and having breastfed, she knew about that immediate thirst that kicks in as soon as your baby latches on. One of the other moms, whose son is a couple years older than Lewis, smiled encouragingly as I asked her an endless stream of questions. So far so good.
The other day I also responded to an ad for cloth diapers. When I went to go pick them up I found out the woman selling them has a son just three months older than Lewis. We got to talking and found out we are both expats, me form the U.S. and her from Hungary. She hesitantly asked if I have had much success making friends since my arrival in France and upon my saying that no, I haven’t, she breathed a sigh of relief and admitted that she hasn’t either. So we exchanged numbers and hope to hang out soon!
Another thing that helps is that in Fañch’s friend group there are five of us this year that will have had a baby. When we all get together it is reassuring to not be the only one breastfeeding at the dinner table or worrying about whether or not baby will fall asleep despite all the noise. The only problem is that we all live rather scattered about the region and it is difficult to just pop in and see each other or to share a cup of tea.
It is an ongoing process but I am confident my village will soon include a tight-knit group of both physically present and emotionally present people. I will always rely heavily on the love and advice from those of you back home, even if I can’t swing by to see you on a moment’s notice. And little by little I will succeed in opening up to people here more and forming the village that is so vital in raising a child.
Here are a few pictures of Lewis to finish up!