Belonging in Rural Communities

 

This is a copy and paste post from Christine over at Motherhood, Life, Change and Other Thoughts, enjoy:

Lately I have been becoming more and more convinced about the importance of having a sense of belonging in one’s life. As a parent, I think that one of the greatest things I can do for my kids is to try to help them feel like they are a part of something, or perhaps a part of a lot of things, and that they really have a place in the world….

Last weekend my husband and I took the kids to go stay at my great aunt’s house. On my mother’s side I have three living great aunts, all sisters of my late maternal grandmother, aged 85, 88 and 90. It was the latter great aunt’s birthday that was the reason for the visit, although that is the aunt I know the least well of the three. The highlight of the weekend was going to my great aunt Ditty’s house and spending time with her, my great aunt Betty, and some of my mother’s cousins. Aunt Ditty’s house looks exactly as it did when I was growing up. As I walked in to each room I was flooded with memories of being a kid and eating pancakes, watching a fire in the fireplace, playing in my cousin’s room or marveling as the murphy bed folded up into the wall. I watched my sons marvel at the same sight of that murphy bed, and I saw how delighted they were to enter a home with a waiting basket of toys for them to play with, photos of them on the piano along with photos of their many distant cousins, and a freshly-baked pie. Mostly, I felt so happy to feel so welcome in my aunt’s home.

My immediate family is small. Other than my parents and brother I have one aunt (that is not a great aunt) and two first cousins. Growing up we saw grandparents and other extended family only occasionally as we didn’t live very near them. I was always aware that the extended family on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family were close to each other, but not to us. My parents had moved around a bit, and since I can remember my parents both worked at jobs in New York City while we lived in towns within commuting distance. They made friends in each community, but they didn’t necessarily have kids my age, and I didn’t always get to know them well. I always made my own friends and felt very loved within my family, but I never experienced feeling part of something larger, whether it was a family, circle of friends or community. I always felt like any tie I made would be temporary, and I always felt anonymous.

I think that I, somewhat subconsciously, have spent much of my adult life trying to feel like part of a greater community. I lived in a group house in college and really wanted to form a close-knit group of friends then. I moved to California and lived with lots of roommates and lived in a co-op house briefly. I loved the feeling of lots of people just walking into the common room and flopping on the couch and how casual and cozy this type of arrangement can be (and messy, but that’s another topic). Slowly, over time, I made very good friends and met their friends and their friends met my friends and a bigger group formed. I loved it when that was happening, and enjoyed seeing these people over the years until many of them had become old friends. For the first time, I felt that I was part of a real community.

When we had to leave California I was heart broken. I loved the place, but mostly, I loved my friends and still love them. Who could have known though that I would be lucky enough to find a wonderful community of friends in our new home, a relatively small town in Maryland? And I do mean “community” of friends, they all live within a mile of me. I run in to people I know everywhere: at the pool, the library, the gym, the grocery store, the bagel shop and on the street. This place just isn’t so big, so wherever I go, I see someone, if not many people, I know. I don’t just run in to friends. I see the woman that cuts my hair and my children’s pediatrician and the woman from the frame shop. My older son goes to preschool with the pediatrician’s son and with the kids of the man who own the cafe where I go see live music sometimes.

When we first moved here and I realized how small this town is I struggled. For the first time in my life, I was not anonymous. People recognized me everywhere, and, something I was not used to after living in big cities, people remembered me after they met me once. They would say hello and ask me how I am. Now, after living here for three years I can say I like it, in fact, I love it. I feel that I am a part of the town. I care about the town and the people in it. I feel like I have a voice in what happens in our town, and I even know some of the politicians. I write to county commisioners and the mayor, sign petititions and donate money to local campaigns. I know shopkeepers and school teachers and volunteer my time when I can.

The best part of this sense of community for me, is raising my children in it. They have my husband and me. They have grandma and grandpa that they get to see at least once per week and whom they adore. We have family friends that have young children who are my kids’ friends, whom we see almost every day. During the week we have play dates, or we’ll see friends at the park or at the gym. On weekends, we will socialize with these same families. Our kids know eachother and they know all the parents and feel comfortable in all the homes. We have extended family up and down the east coast, and we make an effort to see them several times per year. We have an extended network of friends throughout the country that we also try to see as much as possible. I think my children must feel that they are positively wrapped up in a cocoon of loving arms, and they must feel that they truly belong somewhere.

Now that I have learned to create a sense of belonging in my life, I find myself wishing I could bring all the parts together. I have a friend from high school who is toying with the idea of moving here and I want her to come. I wish all my friends from California would suddenly find a compelling reason to move to Maryland. I wish my friend in New Hampshire would suddenly decide she needs to move south. Although those desires are not realistic I feel that I have finally achieved what I was searching for. I feel that I am a part of many intersecting circles and that I have a place on each one. It feels like a steady foundation, a foundation on which anything is possible. We live in a day and age of isolating influences: a TV in every bedroom; a fear of strangers; life in suburban developments with no center; frequent moves for jobs and video games to name a few. I hope that I never lose sight of how important it is to be part of a real community, to have friends and family and actually see them, and I hope I never lose the marvelous feeling of how wonderful it is to belong.

 

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