With little children I used to wish, fervently, to live in co-housing. The more time around other families, and other people, the better. I practically co-reared with my best friend down the street. When she moved, I mourned, even though it was just to the next town over.
Later, in the days of teenagers, I felt less of a pull towards the communal. Our kids of course had their own cohort, the ballet studio, the soccer team, the friends. I had work.
Now, at 57 and retired, I find myself occasionally useful to mothers of young ones. My young nephew’s nanny was sick recently; I took care of him for the day. Aside from almost forgetting that he needed a second nap, and zooming him bumpily home in a stroller to sleep, it was a good deal all around. I had fun and warmed my old heart, his parents trusted that I would not run off with him or leave him in the bathtub unattended or feed him whiskey before bedtime, he tolerated it all with good humor.
Today I’m visiting a young friend faced with a traveling husband, a toddler, and the tiredness that comes from a heavy but productive work week.
I still haven’t found quite the right volunteer opportunity, but perhaps we could start a retired lady sharing service, like those aqua bikes on the streets of San Francisco? Pick us up in our gardens, set us to toddler-wrangling for half a day, drop us off at the tearoom. Or the bar. We understand why some cultures deem all adult friends of little ones Uncles and Aunties.
I can’t quite say It Takes A Village, because these mothers and their children are doing very well. But I remember in business school, where in fact I learned only 10 things of any particular use, I took a class on Operations Research. Spare Resources are critical to a smooth-running system, you need something in reserve for the days when the setup is over-taxed.
It’s easy to see how Retired Ladies are a good spare resource. We’ve played that role forever, showing up with metaphorical cakes and pies, airing old motherhood instincts. But I think toddlers can be spare resources to the human system, reminding us that people are minor miracles. We talk! We discover the physical properties of objects, and sometimes must cry about them! We miss our mothers. We love spoons.
Spending time with toddlers you almost remember what it was like when you didn’t want to go to bed. But most of all, you’re struck how much like the pulse of a small animal is human trust.
When my family gathered for Father’s Day, and my nephew came into my house happy in my sister-in-law’s arms, he looked up at me for a minute. And then he smiled the smallest smile. Nothing big, no reaching out in joy, “Oh Aunt Lisa! Let me come to you!” Just teeny.
That night he played with my daughters’ old Polly Pockets, which, yes, I keep because I’m a sentimental old fool and because they come in handy for just such an occasion. He reached into the sea of pink plastic, picked out a Polly Pocket school bus, put it to the floor and said, “Vrrooom.” I’m sure I will stow it away at some point, but for now, it sits in the corner of my back hall.
Have a wonderful weekend everyone, graced with Spare Toddlers, if you so desire.