August 24 marked the anniversary of the day we deplaned on the far side of a one-way ticket in our newly adopted homeland. This year on that day, my husband departed on a last-minute (round-trip) flight back to the country of his own naturalized citizenship. Having just returned from a whirlwind week with biggest in our state of origin, it was at once fitting, ironic and, being perfectly honest, chaotic. In an interesting twist, I had added more days to my clinic schedule, in consideration of the time missed for my own travel and to support my transition to a new (to me) office, all in the same time frame. Additionally, while over the previous ten weeks biggest and middlest had been occupied for the majority of their days in the widest variety of children’s camps imaginable, as the days of summer dwindled and with return to school looming on the horizon, availability was significantly limited, not to mention that even as they could be engaged, that still left littlest needing care. While the devil might be in the details and I obviously believe in the power of the written word, as the week unfolded actions spoke louder than words and, what was logistically a nightmare on paper, manifested as a dream come true in community.
I can vividly remember the first birthday celebration of biggest as much for the Rainbow Fish themed cake, filled with more toothpicks than frosting, as the overwhelming feeling of gratitude – for survival. Having graduated from medical school two days prior to his arrival, every milestone at home was partnered with one in the hospital. First steps happened on the same day as my first intubation, well child exams in the clinic reflected the state of health of my own. With my husband maintaining full time employment as well, we simply could not have come through the year without the tremendous network of family and friends that stood behind, beside and beneath us – a safety net at the ready, catching the overflow from the wake of schedules colliding, ready to help by offering time, love, laughter and food. As we gave gifts and words of appreciation to that most special circle, the importance of the village, as oft quoted in child-rearing, was clearly illuminated, sparking a desire for community for which we would continue to search.
Over the years, our home continued as the gathering space for many and that original circle expanded with the addition of spouses and children. Love does indeed multiply and time together was full, but geography, schedules and careers created degrees of separation. My husband and I would often ponder the formation of a communal living environment to bring our growing family together with others, sharing responsibility and supporting one another, addressing the greatest hindrance to our ideal socialization setting of proximity. It would take eight years of contemplation and a journey of 3000 miles to bring us closer to realization of that dream.
Night one of husband’s departure was previously slated as a date night to see the Gipsy Kings. My first thought was to give the tickets away, but given the venue was outdoors and their songs are a fixture in the soundtrack of our home, I embraced the opportunity and took my terrific trio along with the our nanny, who has been instrumental throughout the year and would prove invaluable during this seven day stretch. Much to my delight, biggest, middlest and littlest embraced the beautiful night, lovely music and familiar faces in the crowd, getting popcorn from a old friend and dancing with new ones as the sun set and glow sticks illuminated.
Inspired by the success of the evening and encouraged by the recommendation of a patient, we ventured out, this time just the four of us, to a local winery for more live music under the stars with a picnic dinner and scenic backdrop. Rising to the occasion, biggest and middlest were true helpers – carrying chairs and advocating for littlest while savoring the music, often stopping mid-bite to dance when a favorite song was played. The owners and patrons alike were kind and welcoming, thanking me for bringing them out and complimenting the organization and behavior of my crew. Knowing that the tapestry of our lives is often filled with arguing, wrestling, frustration and stubbornness, in that moment gratitude once again reigned supreme for the successful endeavor, which was a direct reflection of the positive reception from the community.
We enjoyed the rest of the weekend including time in the community pool and salsa dancing at yet another winery (no imbibing necessary as the combination of music, dresses and fancy footwork were plenty intoxicating) with three days remaining in our solo-parenting week. For Sunday night dinner, a dear family welcomed us into their home, embracing the chaos of my three against the calm of the older trio of their own. With supreme relaxation I had not anticipated, I sat and chatted, enjoyed delicious food while biggest, middlest and littlest played happily with their beloved friends. In the comfort of this home, where they had been received en masse on multiple previous occasions, they feel safe and free, engaged and entertained; I began to catch a glimpse of the community we had long imagined.
Covering extended hours at work, sports practices and parent meetings, this family incorporated my own for many evening hours in the days that followed with ease and joy. The week was not perfect – there were work charts left undone, toys strewn about and a phone sacrificed in a moment of frustration mere moments before departing for the airport – but, once again supported in a circle of friends, we emerged from the experience together, whole, loved and happy.
As I drove to retrieve my husband late that night, one year and one week after our initial arrival, I reflected on the 53 weeks gone by. Having refocused our priorities more evenly between career and family, in a community that inherently embraced a more relaxed work schedule and is geographically inclined to walkability, familiarity and cooperation among families, the move was much more than a departure from winter and even greater than the school experience that has repeatedly exceeded our highest expectations. Proximity was no longer a hindrance and, in the rich soil of community, we blossomed from surviving to thriving. After years of wondering, turns out we needed a bit of wandering and sometimes you have to leave home to find it.
May we be willing to journey in mind, body and spirit, strengthened by and carrying with us the love of all our own circles.