As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.
Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…
Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast. Email me for more info: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
This lovely piece makes me want to grab every one of my mothers and fathers through the ages and say: Thank you, Sonia Krivacic for this gem. yrs. Laura
First day of High School, by Sonia Krivacic
An act of great humility is entrusting your child to another. Today, as I drive my daughter to High School for her first day I am filled with so many emotions, I reminisce about the first day I lay eyes on my beautiful daughter, I think of her birth-mother who entrusted me, with such humility, with this beautiful, intelligent, sensitive being. I wished she could see her daughter today dressed up in her High School uniform, all fussed upon by me (do those earrings comply with school code?), looking like the young lady she has become. And I thank her birth-mother again for giving me the gift of experiencing a child growing each day, for the gift of loving this precious child until my heart may burst. I thank, too, our community for having the structures in place to provide for its children.
I cast my mind back to my first day of High School and think of how different it was. In those days we seemed so much older and more self-sufficient. I made my own way to school (after packing my own cut lunch) with the only friend that came from my primary school, Petra. This lovely friend of mine, whom I spent many happy days with playing at school, sitting next to in class and sharing stories of what we would do in High School. My school was nothing like the Catholic girls school I’ve just entrusted my daughter to for the next six years. But I think community and society was different then too. We are so involved. We are ‘new millennium mothers’, wanting our stamp on the world… often living vicariously through our children.
In the 70’s our families were bigger, our houses smaller, the need was greater and the ‘real’ time available was much less. Now, we busy ourselves with activities revolving around our children: soccer, netball, physical culture, piano, folk dancing and the list goes on! Also, we are women of the post-feminist era so having a perceived ‘identity’ outside of the home is also considered a gift by those who went before us. We are educated and far better off. So we are busy, working, raising busy children and running a busy household.
What is the antidote to this? Have we gone too far? Is too much of our ‘identity’ contained in busy-ness for busy-ness sakes? My recent trip to Europe and Africa showed me a different story, one closer to that of our own community of the 60’s and 70’s, and strangely something moved within me.
In Europe, we stayed with family in Croatia, a young nation still finding its feet. After years of war and horror in the 90’s this beautiful country was finally on steadier ground. Like so many countries of its generation faced with demise of the USSR and communism, it had a great battle ahead. Not just for freedom and independence, this was just the beginning. But the necessity to establish a political system, a government, income for the nation, industry for the people, maintain some form of social security and importantly, international respect. Over a decade later, they are hit with the realities of the free market system: interest rate increases burdening families, the Eurozone crisis and their own internal political corruption. In many ways, this part of the world is entering its own ‘High School’ years.
How has the local community faced these challenges in this part of Eastern Europe? The consistent traits I saw were resilience and still some hope. No one had ‘everything’ they needed (perceived or otherwise) and yet they all managed. Each of the extended family members (aunts, uncles, cousins and so on) had something to offer the other. From vegetables or fruit from the farm, to loaning some small amount of money, to an offer of time so mothers could stay back at work and earn a little more to help pay some of the unforeseen debts. The country, a little like teenage children, seeing the realities of debt for the first time, the understanding of international economics and how these forces affect their everyday lives. Studies have shown that this model of community, where people still need each other, but do not lack basic necessities, function the best.
When I look back to my High School days, I realize my mother needed me to be resilient, for there were seven of us in our family home. My mother returned to work, not because she was fulfilling her life’s ambitions, but because our financial circumstances meant we needed the money. My mother would work all day in the home, and then leave me with the evening shift whilst she, my sister and brother-in-law cleaned the local school. Clearly this was not a decision of choice for my family. As a thirteen year old, I thought little of washing the evening dishes, settling my dad with his beer on the couch to rest after work, putting my three-year old brother to bed, bathing and feeding my beautiful five-week old niece and then some time in the late evening retreating to my room to do my homework.
It’s only when I look back now do I realize how different community and family life is. I look at my daughter and wonder how she would have coped with these circumstances. I then go deeper and look at the beautiful children I met in Africa. The gut-wrenching thousands of children I saw wandering the streets who may never have the chance of their first day of High School. I thought of the lucky ones I met who, through the support of so many good people, would be given the opportunity to graduate High School.
I recall with fondness a student named Goodwin I met at the orphanage I visited in Zambia. This young man, who had the great opportunity of studying business whom I connected with right away. We started up a conversation and it took me back to my days as an undergraduate business studies student at University. He was 17 or 18 years old and one of 11 children living with his brothers, sisters and cousins cared for by his generous aunt. Sadly, Goodwin had lost both of his parents. Although he was officially an orphan, he was fortunate to have his aunt to care for him, another act of great humility by both his mother and her already burdened sister. This amazing young man still made time once each week to come and help out at the orphanage in the special needs room where I was enjoying the company of the beautiful and inspiring children. The children smiling and laughing at me were cared for with such love, mainly by community volunteers. Many of whom doubled up on jobs like the tailor who was also the physiotherapist!
I watched as Goodwin played so naturally with the children like Edward who had cerebral palsy and Vanessa who could not walk. I said to Goodwin that it must have been difficult to find quiet space to study in a household of 13! He just smiled and said the evenings were difficult, using only candle-light to read. I immediately thought back to how blessed I felt to have both my parents alive and have my own space in our family home to study. How would I have coped in the cramped two room hut Goodwin shared with the 13 members of his extended family – with no electricity, running water or sanitation. Again, I thought of how resilient we can be as young people.
I think of Goodwin often and wonder how does his community think to the future when putting a meal on the plate is the focus on the day… where starvation is still common-place? I saw the strength of community everywhere: people volunteering time, offering bags of corn-meal, physical labour to build a school, a pig pen, a water pump. And how can I possibly reconcile this with my experience today – my daughter’s beautiful school dress, school community, morning tea lovingly prepared by the P&F, smiling parents (some misty eyes too) and the knowledge that my daughter had the opportunities for success and reaching her greatest potential in life?
It seems that exposing our children to circumstances where resilience plays a role is the key to building strong communities from one generation to the next. I’m glad to have been able to share morning tea with the other mums this morning; glad I had the opportunity to see my daughter as she walked away with her friends to start a new chapter in her life (blowing me a kiss goodbye); so overwhelmingly blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a mother by her other mother, whom I treasure in my heart every day. I’m also glad to have exposed my daughter to the beauty of sharing as a community in Croatia and especially glad to have met Goodwin and so many amazing people like him. I know the depth of my experiences will shape my family as I share my life stories with my daughter and grand-children.
I’ve realized that each generation has the opportunity for community of a unique kind. Each generation in each country will speak of its time ‘back when’. Sharing stories from one generation to the next are stories of the heart passed on as ‘books in breath’. I have realized just how difficult this is for us in our reality, as extended families are spread out across the country and the world. Unlike in Eastern Europe and Africa where families are close by and even living in the same house as a necessity to simply survive. In so many indigenous cultures throughout history, story telling by elders was such an important role of community life. So many riches can be found there.
So, whilst we look at ourselves and think what a blessed life we lead now, looking back I think of the gifts I was given. I was blessed with the gifts of a close family, a resilient spirit, faith and maturity through responsibility. I hope that one day, Goodwin too will be able to look back and tell his grand-children inspirational stories of his life. I hope he will be able to share with them on their first day of High School, about being one of 13 in a two room house, of studying for his business degree by candle-light. I imagine how these young adults may roll their eyes when hearing of his struggles, as we once did when our parents shared with us their childhood stories!
I know too that my daughter’s children and grandchildren will have different lives again. But my life’s experience has me believing generations passed and those to follow all hope for the same things: a loving family, opportunity for education, peace, resilience, understanding and a strong sense of community.