Finding your Tribe

Does anyone other than me remember this article from Mothering Magazine? I can’t find when it was originally published, but I think it was in the mid 90’s, because I remember “finding my tribe” in Seattle in the summer of 1999 at an attachment parenting playgroup. We used to get together on a monthly basis and sometimes in-between for playdates and berry picking and gardening and cloth diapering talk. We’d help each other navigate this strange new world of nonviolent communication and marvel at the insanity of people who were formula-feeding, returning to work when their babies were new and help each other adjust our slings.  It was called a playgroup, as if our toddlers really cared who they were playing with. The meetings were clearly for us and I had never felt as “at home” with a group of moms since I was a baby, probably.  They were my tribe and because of them, I fantasized about moving back to Seattle ever since we left in September of 2000.

Basically, your tribe is where you feel comfortable and relaxed. In your tribe, there is a common language and common values, common experiences and maybe even strange customs and traditions that outsiders might not understand.  Some things go without saying and some can only be said within the confines of those who “get it.”

Reading the signs at Village Home

Reading the signs at Village Home

Well, I recently stumbled upon a strange group of families in Oregon that might be members of my long-lost tribe. What started as research into the democratic (free school) Village School in Portland turned into an obsession with the Village Home program, in Beaverton and Portland.

The thing that makes this program unique is that the courses are offered once a week and participating families are free to choose as many or as little as they want.  Some families choose to do the majority of their homeschooling independently, using the Village Home as a resource for science labs and advanced mathematics; courses a lot of parents don’t feel comfortable teaching alone.

During their cumulative lives, my kids have experienced the best and worst of homeschooling, as well as the most soul-crushing private school experience and the most boring and impersonal of public school experiences. Now that my divorce is final and we’re free to be our best selves, my youngest 4 have decided to return to a life where the world is their classroom. Finally, I get to be the mom I’ve dreamed of.

This year, I decided to choose three days a week that I could commit to commuting into the Portland area and I let the girls choose whatever classes they wanted within those days.  We drove down with 4 girls taking 27 classes and by the end of the week, they had all added classes to their roster and now we’re at a total of 36 classes. Some were dropped, some were added and we now have some Yoga, some Tae Kwon Do, Acting, Math, Art, Game Programming, Latin, Science, Android-App-making, more Art, Photography, Dinosaurs, more Art, fermented foods, snack-making, fiber arts, gardening, more science, tinkering, drama, global art, philosophy, ethics, speech and more science.  They chose these.

Gabriella is enjoying taking photos since she started her Photography Class this week.

Gabriella is enjoying taking photos since she started her Photography Class this week.

We’re making an adventure of the commute, too. We have some audio books and mentally stimulating podcasts ready to play.  We’ve mapped out interesting sights and attractions along the way so our drive won’t feel like a grueling commute but more of a mini road trip.

Usually, when I’m visiting with groups of mothers, I’m annoyed.  The assumption that kids are a drag and that parenting is a thankless chore really makes me sick.  I absolutely love being my kids’ mom, in fact it is and has always been my favorite thing about being alive.

At Village Home, I got to spend time around mothers and children who were genuinely happy to be together and it was never the slightest bit annoying.

Well… there was that one kid who chewed with his mouth open in the lounge for 20 minutes.  And the man who insisted on making one phone call after another in an otherwise quiet room.  But I imagine that those annoyances are actually my problem, and that I’ll probably be equally oblivious to someone else’s annoyance with me one day.  I can only hope they respond as graciously as I did, which consists of thinking “shut up” really loudly.

Either way, I’m so glad we found this place. I’m so glad to be surrounded by an official network of intelligent parents who discuss literature and current events, knitting patterns and emerging technology, relationships and nutrition, world travel and local politics, sustainable agriculture and live music.  I’m so very glad to not be surrounded by families who discuss ways to punish their kids, complaints about their kids’ schools, wonder and amazement at the most developmentally appropriate behaviors, the awards their kid got at school, fights to get their kids on the school bus, disgust at the school lunches and 8:00 bedtimes.

Reading the interpretive sign at Mitchell Point in the Columbia Gorge

Reading the interpretive sign at Mitchell Point in the Columbia Gorge

In my tribe, we don’t waste our time being control freaks with our kids because we trust that childhood is a great time to be a kid.

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