Sunday, May 6, 2012

It Takes A Compound of Semi-Detached Townhouses to Raise a Child

I come downstairs after my Saturday morning sleep­-in to see an unfamiliar boy bent over our living room basket of toys, digging for a toy car to play with, Caleb playing with his tiny wooden trains just next to him.  I wave hello and then move to the kitchen to make some coffee.

As I’m stirring pancake batter, I hear Caleb and his new friend have moved outside, kicking a ball, laughing and screaming and chasing each other.


Later that day I find myself serving lunch to Caleb as well as our neighbor’s little girl and her cousin.  They tell me “Ni meshiba” (I’m full), climb off their chairs and then go run off to play.
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Ashley was totally polite about my P,B and J, but not a fan
When it’s time for Caleb’s nap he’s nowhere to be found.  I walk 2 town houses over and find Caleb watching cartoons in our Burudian neighbor’s living room.  The mother and I exchange smiles, and I fight briefly with Caleb to come home for his nap before he finally acquiesces. (All I have to offer is a TV-less house and a nap, so it’s a tough negotiation)


After his nap, Caleb is back outside playing with his buddy Dan, the guard indulgently and good naturedly giving them rides up and down the compound on his motorbike.  I sit with my neighbor, watching the kids play as we nurse our babies together.
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Don't worry grandma, he was only going like 5 mph
And all of this is why I love raising my children in Kenya. I’ve so effortlessly found myself part of an extended family of sorts.


I’m not intimately close with most of my neighbors (though some are becoming close friends), but there’s a sense of shared responsibility when it comes to children.  I know that if Caleb happened to be playing in one of their homes over a mealtime, he would be fed.  There would be no phone calls about it, it would just happen.  I know that my son can wander in and out of my neighbors’ houses without worry that he is somehow disrupting the sanctity of anyone’s privacy, and I’ve come to welcome children to my home with the same openness.  There are never any playdates but there’s a hell of a lot of playing.


Are scenes like this a fading reality in the US? Elsewhere? Do people create communities where this is possible?  Or have we retreated further into our nuclear family cocoons?

26 comments:

  1. REminds me of growing up in the US in the '50s. All we did was walk out of our houses to play each day. I remember many dinner at friend's houses, too.

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    1. That's totally what I was thinking when I wrote this. And I'm guessing there are still pockets like this around. I wonder if it's as much of a fading reality as I assume it is...

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  2. This reminds me of growing up in military base housing - I remember doing the same things - eating lunch at other neighbors' or vice versa, neighbors coming over to help my mom or my mom going to help them, running around until it was time for me to go home (or my mom came to find me to take me home). I did notice that between living on base and in town, military families/neighbors seemed to help take care of each other more. My guess is that this is because every family in that community was in a similar situation - at least one family member was often away for a good amount of time. So people would help each other out - even people you might not have much in common with personally. I definitely noticed that the 'in town' community was not like this when we moved.

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    1. A friend of mine grew up like this and she described much like you do. Almost makes me want to become a military wife. I really think this is the way we are supposed to raise our kids - in a community of support - and I harbor fantasies of joining a commune of sorts for just that reason. Raising kids is more than a 2 person job, and I simply don't know how single parents do it!

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  3. thank you for sharing this sweet description of human kindness and cooperation. xoxo

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  4. We live in a small town and if my child is going to eat -- the other eats too. But we're so comfortable with each other, I don't think to call the parent. Maybe I did early on. Your post was a beautiful description of a day in your world.

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    1. Thank you. I kind of figured this spirit is still alive in some pockets (maybe more than I think) of America. Glad to know it is!

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  5. That sounds just wonderful. I'm sure there can be downsides to this, but I prefer to hear about it in its pure form - idyllic. Thank you!

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    1. Good point - it's not always perfect. Sometimes we kind of assume someone else is watching the kids and it might not be the case (but here there are enough eyes around all the time that we're covered). Also, if you're really strict about your food/parenting choices, this kind of communal child rearing wouldn't work. But I love it!

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  6. So sweet! I feel that this is a dwindling trend in the US, at least where I live. I had a few friends that I could do this with, walk in and out of the houses as we pleased, stay over for dinner, etc. But not necessarily the neighbors, unless the kids were my age as well. I didn't have many kids around me who were the same age and became friends with. I think now, people are a lot more closed off and private, and also fearful for their children (rightfully so) with all the craziness and hazards in the world.

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    1. That's kind of what I was assuming it was like in the US these days. It seems like it just makes it so much harder to raise kids since there's a smaller web of support. But it is a different world these days and it's fair that people don't feel safe letting their small ones run around the neighborhood.

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  7. Wow, that is a very accepting culture. Things sure are different here in the good ol' USA, and not always for the better.

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  8. I was very fortunate raising my children, we live in a small neighborhood (don't speed down these streets buddy or you're going to have about 10 mothers on your butt). One neighbor in particular, her children have been making themselves at home here, and mine there for years.

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    1. Love it! The close community and "eyes on the street" are what keeps it safe for everyone. Thanks for reading!

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  9. Heh, that sounds pretty cool - definitely not how things are done here nowadays. Great pics.

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  10. Some Tweeps (segment of the Yeah Write gang) and I were joking the other night about how it would be so much easier to live in a commune. Sounds like you have what we want. Isolation is not a good or fun thing when it comes to raising kids. Ellen

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  11. That sounds amazing and wonderful on so many levels. (I was part of that discussion about wishing I lived in a commune.) Many years ago when there was multigenerational living arrangements in America there was much more of a "village" feeling. Now with families spread far & wide we are missing that. It's great that you are feeling part of the community and making connections!

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  12. Sounds like a fantastic place to live and such diversity too! I was on twitter discussing communes too :)

    This sounds a lot like my neighborhood was when we first moved here..though lacking in diversity. People have moved, things have changed and I don't have that communal feeling anymore.

    Enjoy it!

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  13. Ladies, I have this conversation with moms in the US all. the. time. I truly believe we were not meant to parent in nuclear families. In a lot of places in the world making a woman do things (housework, parenting etc...) alone would be thought of as a punishment. You have your extended family of sisters, cousins, aunts, and neighbors and, yes, sometimes co-wives to share the burden. I lived with my sister for 3 months when I had my first baby and we both agree it was the single best parenting experience of our lives.

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  14. I loved reading this. There are lots of parallels between our village life in Hong Kong. Our village is on top of a mountain, pretty isolated, and there are no more than 20 houses. Even beyond the language barrier all the kids are mates and run from house to house. I am also having the same experience of not being - or needing to be - intimately close with the other adults. It's a comfortable and happy situation :)

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  15. I think this is extremely rare these days in the US, Kim and Caleb is lucky to have this experience. It seems kids here are not allowed outside and even if they were, they'd rather stay inside with their XBOX or whatever than get out and play.

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  16. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and the glimpse into your part of the world!
    My neighbourhood was among the few that had that sense of community when I was growing up. I wish that I could offer my children the same, but our big city just doesn't offer that same feel. Although we do have many friends and family where our kids are treated just the same as their own, I wish their houses were within walking distance.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  17. Wow Kim it's good to read such story like this. A great relationship between neighbors.

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