He came out in diapers wearing cowboy boots that went to his hips, donning an over-sized cowboy hat and nothing else. To my surprise Noah waddled over to join our block party after he escaped the watchful eyes of his nanny. Later on, a neighbor brought him to me after he found him in his house watching movies as if he had done that every day. It does indeed take a village to raise children, especially a child with a disability. On this point that Hillary Clinton so famously coined, “It takes a village … ” I do agree, but not with much else she has said. Our children become better people when they are raised in a village of friends and neighbors, folks caring about your child as you do. An extra set of eyes and lessons of wisdom when parents need it most.
There are many stories of Noah, born with a condition called Down syndrome, of how our village helped to watch over him and offer support that we so desperately needed to stay sane and raise a healthy, happy child. At age seven, Noah brought a man out of a crowd to my side and gently placed his hand in mine. Alarmed by the touch, I turned and gazed into the eyes of a total stranger, and he smiled and laughed. The stranger thought Noah was lost because of his inability to talk, but for some reason Noah wanted me to meet him. Noah was not lost, he has a habit of wandering. I was amazed that my seven-year-old boy would do such a thing. Embarrassed by this at first, I realized that someone in my community was watching out for him as well. This was one of many times in the years to come that he would place a stranger’s hand in mine. Noah added some amazing strangers to our village from these awkward encounters.
Sometimes these villagers come to us cloaked in fur. I remember one scary morning when Noah had just learned to walk. We couldn’t find him anywhere in the house or yard and couldn’t imagine where he went. Frantically scouring the neighborhood in the early morning hours, we found him safe and supervised on the back of a giant black dog, having the time of his life. I’ll never forget the look of wonder and joy as he sat upon him, holding onto his thick neck. A wonderful neighbor that we had never met saw our son toddling down the street and sent “Jake,” his dog, to go retrieve him before he reached the busy street. We will never forget the precious four-legged villager we met that day and his wonderful owner, Med Cooke, a man who would enrich my son’s life in the years to come with canoe rides on the lake and in his yard, attending his first awards ceremony and teaching him how to tell time with a fancy watch he gave him.
Another story about our village, Noah was in preschool at the time. The school janitor and Noah became daily partners and friends in cleaning the lunchroom floor. This wonderful man, at the time a stranger to us, spent time with Noah every day helping him to learn what it was to work together and help others as they swept the cafeteria floor. Again, Noah brought another villager to our community.
There was another instance when a grandfather of my daughter’s classmate, we called him Papa, adopted Noah to fill the void he had as his grandchildren lived far away and were unable to visit. Papa took Noah on his first tractor and hayride. He modified a tricycle for him since he couldn’t ride well, taught him how to use it and exposed him to a pet chicken named Sally, all of which changed the course of Noah’s life forever. This gentle, patient man taught him how to hold a whittling knife safely, how to pick up sticks, feed farm animals and ride a tricycle. This member of our village was instrumental in bringing comfort to me as a parent, living in a new state far from my family. Papa even took my mother on her first hayride and entrusted his favorite pet chicken, Sally, to her to hold for the duration. My mother was mortified to be carrying a bird. Papa stoutly corrected her, “Lady, that ain’t no bird, it’s a chicken.” I still laugh in recalling the look on my mother’s face. The kindnesses of this villager will never be forgotten.
It took a village to help my son get through his open heart surgery at six months old. It took a community to clean my house, get my daughter to pre-K and go grocery shopping when I was unable. We are all so blessed for those of us who have a village to access and belong to, the constant give and take of love and support. My village is made up of a community of kind strangers, neighbors and friends. They taught me how to become a better mother, wife and friend.
I challenge you to be open and aware to the village that surrounds every one of us as villages are divinely purposed, as are the villagers which reside within. We have to be the ones to reach out and ask for or offer help, or look a little closer at the next stranger you encounter. They could easily become part of your village. If you don’t belong to a village yet, one will be shown to you one member at a time, just for the asking.
Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict. Betty Schaaf’s email is email@example.com