|In third grade, B and her classmates created quotes for memorizing. This is B's.|
I'm like the John Mellencamp song. I was born in a small town. At my high school reunion a few weeks ago, J got to see the small town effect up close and personal. He's a city boy through and through, so he doesn't have a friend he spent grades 4 through 12 making memories and mischief alongside. Even two decades after high school, there was a familiarity as we sat at that table and talked. J liked what he saw. He wants that for our girls. He wants friends who've known them their whole lives. He wants deep and lasting community for them. That's harder to come by in a city the size of Nashville. (Which is one reason my husband would be happy to move to a suburb, where this type of community is easier to find.)
My take is a little bit different. I enjoyed my high school reunion far more than I could have anticipated, but it reminded me of some of the things I don't miss about small town life. I don't miss the gossip and feeling like people are in my business. I never liked feeling like people knew everything about me and were talking about all of it - the good, the bad and especially the ugly. It's easier for me to jump in and out of the flow of community in my neighborhood here. Sometimes I'm able to ride the current along anonymously. Other times I'm willing to know and be known. It's up to me.
Last week several milestones were reached in our family (including our first daughter to get her ears pierced!). These milestones were largely A's, and B was feeling sad, frustrated and decidedly left out as the middle child. She knew rationally the reasons that A was being celebrated, but that did little to mitigate her feelings. At one point, B was crying and I was thinking about how hard it must be to be the second born, especially the second born girl. I'm two years older than my only brother, so I don't know exactly how B was feeling. But I can tell you that I'm sure it would have made me as angry, sad and confused as it made her. I tried to talk to B about it, to validate her feelings a bit. Yet there was only so much I could say. I haven't actually walked where she's walking right now.
So I contacted a friend to ask if she'd take B out for ice cream and commiserate. I first got to know this friend years ago when she babysat for us. She would later tell me that the first night of babysitting didn't go so well. B crossed a line and Miss M (as my children call her) put her in time out. B's response? Something along the lines of, "You're the worst babysitter ever! I'm going to tell my mom never to call you again!" It would be years before I heard this story because the next morning all I heard from my girls was, "When can she come again?" In addition to being an awesome sitter and a dear friend, Miss M is a middle child - the middle of three girls, no less.
Sunday evening she arrived to take B out for some middle child time together. I'm not sure what they talked about. I just know they enjoyed being together and I felt a little lighter for having found someone to share the burden of walking B through this time in her life. B might have been completely over what she was feeling by Sunday evening, but I wanted her to know that she's being heard. I wanted her to know there are other adults who've watched their sisters do everything first - and are now amazing people, just as B is sure to be.
I can't parent my children alone - whether I live in a small town, an urban neighborhood or a suburb. I need community. I need someone - many someones - to help carry the burden of parenting. This burden of knowing that my children have needs I cannot meet on my own. That is, in fact, probably the hardest part of community for me - it shows me all that I cannot do on my own. It shows me how much there is to be learned from others, how much I have to give to others. It shows me that life is lived better together.
I have no plans to move back to a small town anytime soon. I love our city - and all it has to offer our family. I love getting to choose whether and how I will engage with community. It's been a blessing to be able to choose community instead of having it foisted upon me. But I hope I'll grow more and more willing to stake my claim in the lives of others. A stake that will require me to give, to receive and to take their eldest daughters out for ice cream when they need it.