And we must protect it
I live on the third floor of a building with old, young, and the in-between gathered up to call this place our home. A neighbor of mine, who lives on the first floor, has three children — all under the age of five. She has been blessed with two handsome little boys and a precocious little girl with big, bright gray-green eyes. I know all of them. I’ve watched the boys grow over the last two years and while the oldest has calmed down, the middle son is still hyperactive, escapes his mother’s grip, and makes the area in front and behind our building his hiding places.
I have seen her chase after him with the youngest bouncing gingerly on her hip and the oldest advancing toward her van, attempting to open it as if he has no patience for his younger brother’s shenanigans. I have watched her load them all into the vehicle on her own, with a lovely smile plastered across her face as I yell out, “Hey there! Y’all good?”
She always responds with, “Morning. Yes, ma’am. Have a great day.” She doesn’t ask for help, doesn’t look for it, but I am a part of this village, so I help when I see the seams tearing. She has my attention.
On a cold winter’s day, with snow falling down in thick, beautiful flakes, I was coming up the stairs leading to the front of our building to gain access to the street. My morning and afternoon walk with my dog is when I see her most. She had the youngest on her hip, had already strapped the oldest in his car seat, and was calling out to the middle son to direct his little body to where she and his siblings had been.
Undeterred and happy to dance around in the snow, running from one end of the length of our building to the other, I called to him — he ran to me. With Jernee scooped up and carefully placed in my left arm, I guided him toward his mom. He is not vocal — not by much. He utters a few words here and there but is still developing his voice in this world. His energy, though, is undeniably sound. My mother would venture to call him mischievous — not bad, but curious and willing to test the waters.
Their lives are orchestrated by her.
I used to say to myself when I saw her, “She has her hands full.” But I realized after more time looking out for all four of them when they’re outside and I am approaching — she will direct the oldest to get the youngest while she chases after the middle son, and does it all in stride.
This is a never-ending job, one she has perfected. You may read this and wonder, “Where is the father?” When they first moved in, it was her, the two boys, and her boyfriend (their father). This is a quiet space and his presence was certainly heard. Whatever their reasons, they split up, but he comes to get his children or she takes them to him like clockwork every other week.
They’re making it work.
At first, when the young man left, I noticed how hard it was for her. With only the boys to look after, she would have them up, fed, dressed, and ready to venture out for their day. As her belly began to mound, chasing after the two of them was not a task, I could tell, she wanted to endure.
As the eldest of seven, with five brothers and a younger sister, I know the exhaustion of running behind and attempting to catch toddlers. It’s not something I wanted to do much of when I was younger and I was just their sister. I cannot imagine attempting to gather the energy while with-child to corral two quick little ones to do what you need them to do.
She did it, though — day after day.
As time passed, I noticed a pattern — a design, or rather a life-plan for her as she raises her children. The oldest is now four and runs to me to say a quick “Hello” or to dote on my dog, Jernee. He is better at helping with the younger ones and has his “listening ears” on most days now. The middle son still carries on without a care in this world, but I can tell he is protective of his younger sister, who is walking now and getting into everything. She has a fear of dogs, so she waves shyly in my direction if Jernee is in tow. However, when I am alone, she races toward me to hug me at my knees.
She is instilling in her children proper manners, love, empathy, protection of one another, and endurance. This has all been orchestrated by her, and it is working. The beauty of watching its progress is not beyond me — I get to witness it daily upon my interactions with them.
This is my village, and I will protect it.
Being the unit that we are here in this building and in much of my neighborhood, we look out for each other. My neighbor, upon unloading the kids and groceries from the van one night, dropped her debit card and receipt onto the pavement leading up to our building. I spotted it that night while walking Jernee. I rapped at her door. The young man (the children’s father) answered as he was caring for them while she was away. I let him know where I found it and he gave it to her when she returned later that night.
Recently, she thought she’d dropped her keys on the ground after getting them all settled inside one night before a heavy snowfall. The next morning, with the iced-over inches of snow covering our breezeways and every inch of grass in front of our building, she stated to me, “I think I dropped my keys out here. This is going to be a mess to get through.”
Envisioning her out there trying to dig through the hardened snow with her gloves, overcoat, and body triple-layered in warm clothing, I said to her, “If you can’t find them, let me know.” I was racing to get back upstairs to start my workday, but all I could think about was her finding those keys.
That evening after work, I saw her coming toward the building and asked after the keys to which she responded, “Oh my goodness! They were in my purse the whole time!”
We laughed and I said to her, “Thank goodness, because I was going to come back down here with the shovel and we were just going to dig for them.” I have no doubt, if she could, she’d do the same for me.
The village is supposed to rise up and make sure everyone has what they need. It is supposed to provide care, comfort, love, and discipline (whenever necessary) to ensure each of us can endure. It is not within me to stand idly by when my neighbors need help — never has been. I hope to get to see two more years of these little ones growing up before I leave this apartment complex. And until then, this is my village — I must protect it.
Shouldn’t we all do the same?
Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium.