After my babies were born, casseroles and soups arrived on the doorstep, wrapped in brown paper bags. Well-wishes streamed in by mail, email, and text. Friends and family offered to clean the house or hold the baby while I hopped in the shower. As I stumbled through the early days of parenthood, I found a village walking by my side. It was a great example of families helping families.
Of course, as the boys grew older and were off to preschool, then kindergarten, we became more self-sufficient. I no longer needed someone to watch them on Wednesdays while I worked, and I had perfected the art of balancing a toddler on my hip while I stirred dinner on the stove. We didn’t need casseroles or soups. I took pride in my ability to do it all by myself. It was me who cleaned the messes and held the baby.
What do you do when you find yourself needing help again?
I became so self-sufficient that when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and I found myself locked up in a New England winter with my six- and eight-year-old while my merchant-mariner husband was at sea, I thought we’d be just fine. We live in a society that values independence and hard work, so we put our heads down and forged on. We could do it ourselves. The boys would help with cleaning, and they didn’t need to be held any more.
Soon, though, days were turning into weeks, and weeks were turning into months. The school closures stretched further and further out. Some weeks when the fridge ran low, I stayed up until midnight, night after night, frantically hitting refresh on my phone as I tried to secure a grocery delivery window. I felt like I was barely treading water, like so many other parents felt during this time.
Sometimes we just had sandwiches for dinner. Then sometimes the messes sat for days. And sometimes I crawled into the boys’ beds at night, and we just held each other. I thought we could do it ourselves, but I didn’t realize we didn’t have to.
One day, my six-year-old sat at the kitchen table with my laptop in front of him, silent sobs wracking his body as his tiny shoulders heaved up and down.
“Do I have to?” he sniffed again, his recorded math lesson still streaming in front of him. As I knelt beside him, my phone dinged.
“I’m at the market. Do you need anything?” It was the mom of one of my son’s classmates, who had heard via Zoom that I was alone with the kids. My heart leapt, not just at the offer, but at the human connection, even if only via text. It felt like someone was at the door with a casserole outstretched.
“Yes!” I texted, knowing that our fridge was nearly bare. A few hours later the fresh food was on my doorstep, with a bottle of wine and a note that read, “Hang in there.”
We all became better by working together.
Later that week, when one of my sons confessed to his class via Zoom that he was feeling really sad lately, a classmate sent him a series of videos of herself, telling jokes to cheer him up.
Soon after our own grocery crisis, a neighbor opened a sharing pantry outside her house. When the weather warmed, other neighbors padded out its usual dry goods and pantry supplies with hauls from their vegetable gardens.
And then there were the teachers. Teachers forged ahead, creating a new sense of normalcy from behind a computer screen. They made pretend classroom backdrops to sit in front of during online lessons. Then they waved from car parades and smiled as they conducted a class meeting from their own living room with their own kids wrestling in the background. They even conducted countless wellness checks for kids who’d silently dropped offline. Teachers stepped up and held the babies from afar, theirs and ours.
The world was a mess, but bit by bit we were all picking up the pieces together. Parents gave each other the benefit of the doubt, and we all did our best.
I felt like we’d gone back to the early days of parenthood, when we leaned on others to get us through each day. We were all just waking up, peeking out from our homes, bleary eyed and wondrous at what the world had become. We were all a little scared but all so eager to connect. “Would you like some soup? Could I help you clean that up? Can I hold the baby?”
The kids and I drove around town to drop off extra books and school supplies. The boys decorated our front windows with colorful flowers and hearts to spread joy. We picked up fresh seafood from the commercial pier and distributed it to grateful neighbors. When restrictions eased, we invited other kids to play in our yard while their own parents worked. One warm summer night, we hosted stargazing and watched the comet NEOWISE streak past us. It made us feel so small but so close.
Families helping families is so critical during this time.
We are lucky enough now to live in an area where the virus has mostly been contained, though in recent weeks we are seeing a new uptick, and we do not anticipate that schools will be able to fully open. Normal is still a long ways off, but through this global catastrophe, we’ve seen so much kindness. It may not be the soups and casseroles of yesteryear, but all around us people are giving from what they have. We’ve found our village again.
This fall will be hard. We are likely to see another surge. Kids will not be in school full time, yet many parents need to work. People will get sick. All the questions in my head make my heart heavy each morning. But at least if we must be heartsick, we can be heartsick together.
Parents are forming learning pods to support one another as they navigate uncharted waters. We are sharing grocery trips and delivering dinners or baked goods. We’re mowing each other’s lawns and doing dump runs. We’re sharing online resources and tips for home learning. There are childcare co-ops and walking buses to get to schools if they open. We are all giving what we have to give and grateful to accept what others can provide.
Parents, teachers, librarians, retail workers, doctors and nurses, neighbors—it took a pandemic to bring us together, but here we are. We are a village of families helping families, and this is our chance to show our kids what that means when it matters more than ever. The world may be a mess, and our kids are hurting, but we can all help clean up. We can all hold the babies.
They told me it would take a village, and they were right.
Be the village—my tips on how we can continue the families-helping-families trend:
- Offer to take trash cans to the curb.
- Collect and distribute extra school supplies.
- Buy extra groceries for someone who can’t go to the store.
- Share extra fruits or vegetables before they go bad.
- Call a restaurant that offers prepared meals and ask to donate some to those in need.
- Text someone just to send support.
- Send a letter to someone who might be lonely.
- Create a learning pod.
- Create a childcare co-op.
- Organize a group to walk or bike to school.
- Create a frozen-meal swap.
- Form an exercise club, in person or virtually.
- Create a social media group to share education resources with kids in the same grade or school.
- Surprise someone with baked goods or flowers.
- Send a video to cheer someone up.
- Donate a yoga Zoom session to a local class.
- Advocate for childcare solutions and special ed services, even if your family doesn’t need them.
- Send thank-you notes.
- Help with yard work.
- Decorate your house or driveway to spread joy.
- Take the neighborhood kids for a walk or a bike ride.