Long before my friend Sarah actually had children of her own, she explained to me the concept of children being raised by the village, rather than individual nuclear parents. She used to work for WHO so spent a lot of time in villages in Africa, rural Asia, places most of us never set foot in.
It’s a concept that doesn’t necessarily sit so well with many North American parents, the most insular people on the planet. But there are a lot of virtues to the concept. It takes a lot of pressure off the actual birth parents. It exposes children to lots of different viewpoints and ideas, which will come in helpful in life as your tiny North American nuclear family is highly unlikely to provide all the material you are going to need to successfully navigate our increasingly global, pluralistic world.
While there is much that can be said about this concept in theory, this post is an homage to the two people in my life who played a gigantic role in my youth and supplemented the skills of my parents in a way that was so masterful it took me years to fully appreciate it.
They are about a decade older than my parents and Elaine is currently in hospital. I am going to write a personal note to her as well but I decided it would be cooler – and more grandiose – to celebrate our relationship on a public scale via the world wide web. There is no doubt she deserves to be famous – and maybe this can be part of her legacy.
It all began when my mother re-enrolled me in figure skating at age 11. She had decided the teacher wasn’t good enough so it had been a few years and catching up was a bit awkward. But awkward things can be worthwhile 🙂 Elaine had a daughter a year younger and she and my mom struck up a friendship sitting in the ice rink waiting for us.
I am not sure how it all evolved. Her husband, Glen, was a very successful farmer and my dad had just ditched his real career to go farming (one of his dreams) at age 30 and there were lots of people predicting his demise (they obviously didn’t know my dad :)) so Glen was a marvelous mentor.
I didn’t really care about the specifics. I had spent most of my life being a gypsy child (my first six birthdays all happened in different places with different people). Here was a Scottish clan. They had roots and family reunions.
Glen and Elaine had been to university and listened to me in a way I had never experienced before with an adult. And they had so much knowledge to share. And they gave me confidence in my opinions. They were so interested in me!
It took me a couple of decades to really understand and appreciate the tremendous impact they had had on my life. They were so much more than my parents’ best friends in my teens. They were part of my extended family.
Everyone should have an Elaine in their life. She is so gracious and affectionate you almost think she is acting. Who could be that truly wonderful? But it’s just who she is. And she never disappoints you. When you arrive at her house, she will greet you with a hug. She will pull frozen goodies out of her giant freezer and put on the coffee pot. She will ask what you have been up to and really listen and ask questions. If you get lucky, she might even play the piano and sing show tunes. I think about her a lot more than she probably realizes. And the guidance she provided when I was an impressionable teenager has served me well all over the world and definitely contributed to my success and general happiness.
It’s already obvious if you’ve been reading my blog the tremendous affection I have for my proper birth family 🙂 but I have weaseled my way into a few other wonderful families over the years – and it has provided so many amazing memories I can’t imagine not being part of each one. Not too many people split with their husband – and still get his mother’s mind-blowing German Christmas cookies – a dozen different variations all carefully protected in bubble wrap and shipped air mail by my ex – every December. I still love them all – and they know…
And, just in case Glen and Elaine aren’t sure – I have now loved you both for 38 years and counting… thanks for all the incredible memories – and so much more…