I didn't read Hillary's book. I didn't have to. I could've written it except for the notoriety, experts employed, and publicity and popularity that ensued. I said I could have written it, not that it would have been a bestseller if I had.
I jumped on the village bandwagon mere nanoseconds after my ex-husband died leaving my kids without a father. Before that, we bounded and fumbled through co-parenting and awkward family structures, but provided a steady base camp from which our kids flourished. Now I was left to traverse parenting territory on my own. When I wasn't busy with the business of death, I was entrenched in all that is not only harrowing and sad for two preteens, but cumbersome and exhausting for their mother. I knew I could rely on family and friends to pitch in, and they did. I assumed that when someone dies suddenly leaving children behind, people will piece-by-piece pick up the slack. Not that anyone could replace their father in their hearts or minds. And no, we didn't consider leaving our adopted Chicagoland home to be closer to my family, even under these auspicious circumstances. And, while my relatives do more than their share of staying in touch and visiting from 600 miles away, far away family has limitations.
Cue friends and neighbors.
Nobody got the memo.
Initially, like after any tragedy, friends and neighbors flocked. It was when we were the neediest that their help was most tangible. There were countless casseroles, rides, phone calls, distractions, advice, hugs, lunches and hand-delivered coffees, cream only. Almost everyone went above and beyond. Almost everyone was appropriate and kind. It was mind-boggling. The outpouring of affection for my children was unparalleled. An entire community came together to lend me support in caring for them and for making sure I didn't get lost in the shuffle. I was indeed the recipient of much good will, even though I was not the widow. I've taken kindly to saying I'm a widow without the "wid." What's left is simply and precisely what people say when they hear our unusual situation.
But maybe they all should've had a committee meeting and spaced their enthusiasm and energy over a little more time, because the well has done run dry. Quite frankly, perhaps I was naive but I was, and am, disappointed. After almost two years, there is not one of my kids' father's colleagues or friends who exude even a passing interest. Everyone is wrapped up in their own lives and families, and too busy, I guess, to think of including a teenage boy when it's time to watch football, or a preteen girl when it's time for a bike ride.
I wasn't and am not looking for help raising my children. That's no one's job but mine. But some recreational activity with a familiar face other than my own, would do both my kids good. Even better would be hearing funny stories about their dad from his friends and acquaintances. No takers. Having trouble coping with the untimely death of someone you know? Get over it, there are kids here who needed you. Overwhelmed with your work and with your commitment to your own family? That's understandable. But once in a while an extra kid around probably wouldn't interfere. Heck, in my world stepping up to the plate would offer more than a turn at bat, it would be considered a mitzvah.
I've come to terms with the fact that this is not a reflection on my kids, or me, or even a reflection of the level of friendship these people had with my ex-husband. It's all about them. It's a glimpse into the inner workings of our busy society where people really aren't looking out for one another's children at all, where they pretend to live in a village, but really, they exist in a cocoon.
In this day and age, we really should be backpedaling fast to achieve a sense of community that might make everyone feel safe. You needn't experience tragic loss to benefit from the kindness of your neighbor. Consideration for and interest in someone else's children, of looking out for them from the corner of your eye takes little extra time and energy and costs absolutely nothing. The driving force behind the solution is also the problem. Everybody's busy and nobody really cares enough to stop, take a deep breath and open their eyes to see more than what's right in front of them.
Kids' lives are more complicated than ever before. The things they get into when we turn our backs are serious business. Who couldn't benefit from more supervision, adult direction and interaction?
Our nuclear families are certainly the priority, but dedication to one's own doesn't have to be exclusive of caring for others. It doesn't have to diminish our capacity to be interested and involved. I'm not looking for a nosy neighbor, but someone who knows what's going on, who might catch what I miss and who wants to help. Yep, that would be welcomed.
Tragedies are no longer confined to one village, town or high school. Today, things happen under a microscope and have a far-reaching ripple effect, whether it's a Midwestern suburbia, the mountains of Colorado or an Amish grassy knoll. I watched in awe those families in Pennsylvania huddle together hugging children. Do you think they were only hugging their own? I doubt it.
If we all just keep an extra eye out for our neighbor, wouldn't we be just a little closer to actually living as the global village we profess to want and need? In the end we would all know one another better. We'd teach our children, by example, the inherent value of treating another child the way we might like our own child treated, whether we turn our head for a split second – or are gone for a lifetime.
In this season of giving, it might be something worth giving a second thought.
Amy Sue Nathanís debut novel, The Glass Wives, will be published by St. Martinís Press in Spring 2013. In addition to The Imperfect Parent, Amyís stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times online, The Washington Post online, The Huffington Post, Chicago Parent, Grey Sparrow Journal, Rose and Thorn Journal, Scribblers On The Roof, The Verb, Hospital Drive Journal and The Stone Hobo. She is also a freelance fiction editor, a reader for literary agents, and Secretary of the RWA-WF Chapter. In 2011 Amy launched Womenís Fiction Writers, a blog focusing on the authors, business and craft of traditionally published womenís fiction.
Amy lives near Chicago and is the mom of a son in college, a daughter in high school, and two rambunctious rescued dogs. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySueNathan where she tweets about writing, books, parenting, and chocolate.
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