No photos today, just me waxing rhapsodic about our amazing community of friends.
Just over three years ago, an announcement for a new unschooling group showed up at a local yahoo group for unschoolers statewide. I knew a few other unschooling families and I'd belonged to three other local homeschooling groups -- one of which I'd started with two other homeschooling Moms. I'd thrown together a few play dates, advertising word-of-mouth and two or three people had shown up, but it never really got off the ground. Maybe it just wasn't the fullness of time for it yet.
We spent a couple of weeks talking online, introducing ourselves. Everyone seemed eager to meet in person, but Crystal, who owned the list then (I have since assumed list-ownership, tho really it's just an organizational gig), insisted we all wait for a full-group meeting opportunity. Her vision was for a community of families. I was enchanted at the idea of a real community but hesitant to believe it was really possible, having seen two groups . My homeschooling group experience had been one of headstrong women, with very divergent ideas and methods, and at some point in time things just devolved and fell apart. Sure, lots of opportunities for the kids to play, but real friends for me? Too much to hope for, I thought.
I hadn't had a best friend in more than 15 yrs (other than my amazing husband, of course!). A best girlfriend? I'd recently recognized a desire for friends and had begun increasing my circle of acquaintances, and I had begun a friendship with Jenny, who was on the same yahoo group. I also had recently met Susan (no link, Susan's not online at all) and we were becoming friends. As I met these people online, I realized that I really longed for a whole group of girlfriends. I wanted a family of choice, someone my own family could grow with.
Today marks the 3rd anniversary of that first park day. We met at a local park today, under the beautiful blue sky, watching our now much bigger kids play together, in ever-varied combinations. Five of the Moms at that first gathering were at the park today. Other families have come and gone, and we've all watched each other grow and learn and come to love each other, and each others' children.
About 18 months in, there was a large discussion about what to call ourselves, what kind of community we wanted to be, what each of us envisioned for our identity. There were a few who suggested calling ourselves a tribe carried with it a sense of too much responsibility for each other, to much potential burden. I remember then saying, "that's what I want - I'm willing to put myself out there for these families. I want to be able to pay it forward and contribute to something bigger than myself." I think of us as an intentional community -- no, we don't live on the same street, but we've staked out interdependent places in the universe. We do call ourselves a tribe, and every time I hear Andy say "Mom, send a message to the tribe about...." I smile, and I'm reminded how wonderfully blessed we are.
This past year has been an eye-opening one for us all. Teresa was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer 10 months ago. It was devastating news to us all, but the way we rallied to be there for Teresa and each other was truly a beautiful thing to see. I say each other because sometimes helping Teresa cascaded to helping each other with child care so that we could be available to help. Kids were cared for, meals were made and delivered, rides to chemo were arranged, a kitchen was painted. Last month, Teresa was deemed "no evidence of disease" and we area all so thrilled to see Teresa well again. Another family was caring for an elderly grandmother whose needs required a tremendous commitment from them. Again, offers of help caring for Grandma, time away for their daughter, and moral support of all kinds were given. Last month, Jenny's husband was injured on their farm, and again, the support and help have been just amazing.
Through all these recent seasons, the love and generosity and support has been awe-inspiring. And I've not sensed or heard of even a tiny bit of burden or obligation -- all that's been given has been freely expressed love for each other and our community.
Along the way, there have been the usual and various kids spats (and make-ups), moments when one or another of us was really irked at someone else, when one or more of us was just not in our best moment or mood, misunderstanding and personal crises. Through it all, what I see is people choosing empathy, space, comfort, patience for each other, and for each other's children. I've heard from these friends accounts of moments when they've made that conscious choice to be patient, or quiet, or sympathetic, or whatever the moment required, because we want to be right here with each other. We want to weather those difficult moments and days. We truly are chosen family, ever-expanding and growing; loving and learning side by side. We always have room for more people to come to the circle, for more additions to our mix.
I am so grateful for all this -- that I enjoy a circle of not just one or two dear friends, but many friends, for the wealth of experience, for the support, hug or willing ear when I need something, and for the opportunity to be a blessing to someone else when they have a need. I've gone from daring to wish for a friend or two, to fully expecting I'll see some of friends' kids marry, that I may hold someone else's grandchild, watch her children make their way in the world. I am just awed by the community that has blossomed over these past three years.