A Modern Day Barn-raising

At the end of July, my partner gave birth. Three weeks prior, we’d closed on a house and moved all of our stuff to the new place. Moving is hard enough as it is, but moving in Washington, DC in the summer (which is the only time we ever seem to move…) is a special kind of awful. Though this has been a ridiculously mild summer by DC standards, the week we moved temperatures were in the high 90s and the humidity was out of control. The day we moved had to have been one of the hottest days of the year – the heat index easily topped 100 degrees. We had movers, so I can’t complain much about the actual moving of most of our stuff, but my wife was nearly 9 months pregnant at the time and the task of packing and unpacking a house seemed impossibly overwhelming.

We needed help and without fail, help came out of the woodwork. My partner’s parents arrived a few weeks before our move to help us pack – a godsend. One friend came to our house the night before the move and helped me take apart our bed and the crib we had already put together before we’d realized we’d be moving. Two other friends came to our old place and helped me move out old furniture we weren’t keeping, and then they hauled it all away to the thrift store for us. And the weekend after we moved in, six friends descended upon our new house and unpacked boxes, cleaned, set up our kitchen, put together furniture and generally provided much-needed support, and relief from the immense stress we were feeling. As our house bustled with people on a mission and a steady stream of food and drink, it occurred to me that what we were doing was not unlike a barn-raising might have been some many years ago. Friends and neighbors gathered together to help a small family quickly accomplish a task that would be unmanageable – maybe impossible – alone. A modern day barn-raising, I thought to myself. Given our Midwestern roots and my love of vegetable growing, it seemed fitting.

A few weeks later, our baby arrived and as my partner slowly recovered from the rather difficult birth, help continued to arrive. One of the friends who had helped us unpack texted us one evening that she wanted to bring us some food her sister-in-law had made us. People are so nice, we said. We were touched. It takes a village, our friend texted back. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. It always takes a whole community to raise a child – children need exposure to many different kinds of people, experiences, and ideas. But it literally takes a village those first few weeks – recovering from delivery, adjusting to sporadic sleep (or no sleep, which was basically my partner’s experience for the first week), trying to keep a household running, cats fed, and a new baby alive and thriving. Like most new parents, we would have been lost without the people who helped us those days. Now that we’re a month in, rounding the corner on (a little less) sleep deprivation and (a little more) energy, it’s a good feeling to look back and know we made it through in large part due to the loving support of our community. It’s also a good feeling to look forward and know our kid will grow up in that community – a lot of good, solid folks who know a thing or two about building barns. So to speak.

Family to the Rescue!

The day after New Year’s, our house came down with sickness. If you name the symptom, we had it. Someone was coughing, someone was barfing, someone could not stop singing Kidz Bop. Ok, that last one may not be related to sickness, but it’s definitely a symptom of some kind of ailment.

We had just started a stretch of the 5 day parenting schedule. My partner and I played a symptom game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and I lost. (In case you’re wondering, Vomit trumps Cough.) I ended up doing most of the parenting for the next 2 days, balancing a fever and chest congestion. My partner vacillated between the bed and the toilet. It was not good.

By day 3 we were allowing way more screen time than ever, and my partner was able to get back to parenting (even if that meant laying on the couch in a heap while the kid watched her 4th episode of Winx). Some dear friends with kids offered to come by and get the kid for a playdate. They kept her through lunch and dinner, returning her at the relaxing hour of bedtime. Yesterday, another friend with a kid offered to have an extended playdate as well. He took the kid roller skating and out to lunch. At the house, we managed to clean our bodies and weep quietly for the love of our friends.

We don’t often think of friends as family. We’re taught as Americans (and for this house, white Americans), that we are a closed family unit; that problems must be solved by the family. That we can DO IT ALONE, NO THANKS TO ANYONE ELSE. ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE, GRRR. Well after 4 days of the flu, I am happy to report that my family extends beyond the borders of my house. I’ve got kin down the street and across the country.

Thank you to each and every one of you that watched the kid this weekend (and those who offered!) and did so without question, in complete selflessness. Parenting while being sick is so hard, and my partner and I feel so loved and supported by this great extended chosen family!