As someone living without a traditional village (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles), I have spent the last seven years trying to build a non-traditional one (ie: any living, breathing creature that offers friendship and/or childcare) and it occurs to me that I am going about this all wrong.
My first mistake: it's not about my kids. My second mistake: it's not about one village.
For the record, I've never been a conscious community builder. I always fell into my communities accidentally: the dance team, the French club, college, a comedy group, my jobs after college. These were all groups with whom I connected, enjoyed and needed, mainly by virtue of being bored, in need of money, or coerced by the French teacher. Thankfully, stumbling into things forces me to look around, emerge from my interior life and interact with the world. Unlike groundhogs, I'm not meant for underground tunnel systems. They're a great escape route, but once I had kids, I quickly realized that sanity could only be found on the exterior.
With the birth of my first son, I went about trying to build a village like a Neanderthal trying to play Minecraft on a cave wall. I attended a class at the now-defunct Gymboree, blowing bubbles in my 3-month-old's face with a bunch of other haggard parents. I did the perfunctory music class at the community center, where I assailed my baby with awkward infant massage to the tune of a 1970s song where we called out loudly like different kinds of birds. When I had my second son, I continued the onslaught of child classes. I was village-building, dammit (why isn't this Minecraft loading on the cave wall?), but mainly, those first infant-toddler years in a new town were filled with the painful socialization of my kids: don't hit, don't throw sand, gentle touches, slow down, use your words, gentle touches GENTLE TOUCHES!
My village was born when my older son started preschool (Oh my god I downloaded Minecraft! I'm building stuff!). He was making friends, but more importantly, I was making friends. The teachers were left with the painful socialization of all of our children, while we could focus on the fulfilling socialization of ourselves. Moms nights out led to book groups led to weekends away led to a feeling of connectedness that I desperately needed.
Somewhere along the way, however, I started focusing on my writing and became immersed in a different kind of community: the internet. More specifically, an online community of writers. I found a tribe of like-minded women full of encouragement, creativity, and ambition and before I knew it, I had retreated into a different sort of tunnel-system: one in which I felt creatively supported but physically isolated. At the end of the day, an online village can't have a cup of coffee with you or meet you for a playdate.
After several years of using the new Minecraft Invisible Mode where I was only building a village I could see once a year at writing conferences, I made a conscious decision to not put all my social interactions in one village. I needed to reconnect with the here-and-now: the amazing parents and friends who are all around me, who would not say no to a glass of Pinot or a trip to the park -- especially if I promise them a glass of Pinot after the park. I needed to cast the line far and wide and dive into as many villages as I could, even though building things is hard. Building things requires energy and effort. It requires RSVPing "yes" to everything because once I get out of the house, my dead batteries will recharge. It requires coming out of the jungle and actually entering the village, just like Mowgli in The Jungle Book.
And so that's what I do. I enter the preschool and the elementary school and the soccer field and my writing groups and conferences and exercise classes and I build my days and my weeks and my years with communities. In Minecraft Village mode, this is called gathering natural resources in order to survive the monsters found in darker areas.
In fact, just next week I've been invited to a Pretty Party. I have no idea what that means, but I told the hostess I would be there.
Because if there's one thing I don't want to be, it's the village idiot.