Monday, September 21, 2015

The Network - Social Parenting

When we moved to Maui, one of the most difficult challenges was connecting to the local parent community.

In California, we grew up as parents with other parents: skiing through one crisis or joy after another, commiserating when needed.  In Maui, we did not have those roots, so simple questions about this friend or another friend were unanswered once again. We didn't the have the comfort of knowing "whose house" was having the stay over party, nor the confidence that our children were being picked up by the right people from school. Previously, we had a network. A parent network.

Often a parent network consists of friends and family, but sometimes, it also includes "trusted adults". Our parent partners on the ride of life, if you will. You might not go to Starbucks with them on a Saturday, but you might need their help with a ride after school - and they feel the same way about you. We're just trying to make it through the week, babe, so that's how it is. 

We can sigh deeply over punch (or something stronger) about our fears and problems. We share insights and secrets. Then we say goodbye... only to chat or wave at the next carpool drop off.

It's not superficial although it might seem like it. There is only so much time in the week, and being sincerely nice when I can when I see certain people is my best gift to them. I offer condolences, prayers or well-wishes in those few seconds of intimacy and we are then both off, racing after our calendars. Life isn't always about deep, abiding relationships. Sometimes it's those individuals who touch our lives, share the soft word, offer that helping hand that fulfill a beautiful role in a our shared humanity, particularly in that tumultuous world of being a parent.

Moving to Maui and seeing that my children, my family needed to feel connected, I dug deep down and brought out some energy to "aggressively meet people". It felt a little weird - like I was some type of desperate hooker - but I knew that in order for my family to feel settled, we had to get to know people. The Network.

To make things more difficult, my daughter refused the (wonderful) option of Maui's MECO bus system. It was new system to her and she didn't know anyone or just simply chose this particular stance to make me go crazy and beg her for her forgiveness.  I am not sure still.

Bravely, I offered her the option to walk home or bike home. My husband wasn't as concerned as I was. I thought this was particularly daring on our part because in Simi Valley, knowing many people, living there for many years, her taking the public bus and/or walking home was no big deal. I had some misgivings about it, but I thought I would dare her to swallow her own pill.

Tough girl. She became a wanton gypsy. She canvassed some new friends at school to seek out a ride. It worked for a time.

But it was inconsistent so I didn't feel comfortable.

With some arguments over nothing with my daughter who simply didn't see WHY I had to talk to her friends or their parents, I finally squeezed out of her some phone numbers of these generous persons and introduced myself. I wanted to feel safe and I wanted to make those important parent connections. I made sure to always offer my help with rides or place to stay as often as I could. That's part of the Deal.

In the Network I believe it's just as important to give, maybe twice as often, as you receive. You don't want to be THAT parent.

You have to build your Network, too. You have to reach out and be there and hold your sign, "I need help. I can help you, too." etc. You can have multiple Networks, overlapping each other, school parents vs. sports parents vs. club parents, etc. But first and foremost, you have to build upon those relationships by offering just as much as  you need.

Once, I emailed persistently this lone request from our daughter's middle school about organizing carpools to the school and back. I sold out my husband as the partner in picking up children. This is how we met a lovely mom of two, Bridget, who turned out to be super charming and very affable.

I - partly to cheer up my lonesome daughter - dredged up the courage to have a birthday dinner with her at my brother's house (where we were temporarily staying, and it's just a little pushy, I think, to have a party at the place where the owner is already being generous by allowing you to stay), and asked her to invite friends from her school. Only one could make it, but that's how we met Gina and her lovely daughter, Madi, who grew to be close friend over the next few months.

I called up random persons - who I had not yet met in person - to come over for a visit. I created a "new tradition" of a friends and family Christmas party and "marketed" through my children to invite their friends AND family. I bugged them often about it. We ended having about ten parents, all moms, and although we did not make direct friendships out of that event, it made faces more familiar to us.

I encouraged my son to join clubs (he didn't) and to go to school dances. Once, I heard him complain that all the friends he was making in school lived in Kula or upcountry. I leaped into action.

I gave him a speech about how easy it is to drive to the upcountry area, twenty minutes away. Wouldn't I do that in California? Didn't I regularly drive him to his friends' houses, which were sometimes as far as thirty minutes away? Didn't I - with no complaint - drive him and his friends to a beach which was 90 minutes away, several times each summer?  ... Eventually, he started telling his friends in Kula or Pukalani that he could visit and I drove him there and back again many times.

To be frank, I'd normally complain a little bit about all the driving I was doing. But it's not normal right now, being in a state where he knows no one. So I put on a smiley face as we parents do, when we know that we have to go through something and not let our children see the cracks in our masks.

It took some blood, sweat and tears but we were finally making headway.

Our church, St. Theresa's, had a welcome dinner for new patrons, and we gladly accepted, and dragged our daughter with us to the affair. Our son (yay!) was staying with a friend, so he wasn't available.

From there, we met more people who lived locally, or like us, moved to Maui recently, and were just trying to make connections. Now and then, I still see, and say "Hi!" to those that I met there.

I used my phone quite aggressively recently. I took pictures of moms with their daughters for my contact list - as I gathered their phone numbers. I openly apologized and leaned on the explanation that we were new to the area and I had a terrible memory for names and faces. Much of that is true. But it also made for a conversation starter and we all laughed as some of them made silly faces.

Now, here it is, about eleven months after the move.
We just finished Rebecca's thirteenth birthday party yesterday and she had about a dozen friends show up with her at the beach.  I had spent some time chatting with a few moms, and I actually already knew two of them. The new ones were quickly added into my phone.
Tapping into the local parent community is so important, for safety, social gatherings, and just gaining a circle of people upon whom you can potentially call upon for advice or emergencies. It's not only practical but I think it's essential for a happy family - especially a family going through a big life change, like moving to a new state.

"It takes a village to raise a child" has never been more true.
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