Chelsea Boes: It takes a village to raise a child

by 24USATVMarch 30, 2024, 6 p.m. 21
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“I keep hearing it takes a village to raise a child. Do they just show up? Or is there like, a number to call?”

I first spotted this truthy remark as a meme on Facebook months ago. Now you can buy it branded on tea towels, mugs, and pencil cases on Etsy — or, for just $12.99, engraved on a cutting board. On Etsy it comes in other iterations, including “It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a distillery to homeschool one.”

There are reasons. As a transplant to Asheville and a mother of young children who see their grandparents mostly on screens, I deeply envy people who seem to have this thing popularly called a village. Here I am, nine and 12 hours away from my only relatives, culturally different from so many people around me, forming my kids in uncertain fits and starts: trying to make them feel understood, befriended, enjoyed. Trying to get them to school with their hair brushed, read the Bible with them, get all my work done, and even from time to time go on a date with their father. All the while, I’m thinking about the things I am not good at as a parent. Discipline. Instilling respect. Keeping them busy. Sending them outside to play. Do you know who is good at those things? My parents. Inevitably after a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s my kids seem like they grew a foot and also got a little braver.

So I called the number the tea towels allude to.

I’m kidding. Of course there is no number. What I actually did was pray. Every morning I looked out my bedroom window and prayed over my next-door neighbor’s metal roof. “Dear God. Make that roof my mom’s.”

We all know that finding housing in and around Asheville is bananas right now. So rather than take the traditional route, last September my mother sent a letter to every house on our street:

My husband and I are looking to settle in Old Fort. Our children live in your neighborhood. We’re nearing retirement and we’d love to move closer to enjoy these gorgeous mountains and help care for our growing grandkids.”

Nothing came of this appeal to the void until a day much later in the fall. I was sitting at my writing desk when the phone rang. “You’ll never believe who called me,” my mother said from my childhood home in New York.

Like with most real estate transactions, there were fits and starts. I kept praying over the roof next door. I prayed while leaves fell, while frost numbed grass blades, and finally as I planted spring peas in my garden.

Then suddenly, the praying was over. I sat with my mom at Worley & Peltz as she signed the closing paperwork. Afterward, we wandered through Trader Joe’s, shell-shocked and hungry.

This kind of gift you can only realize slowly. A cashier asked as we departed, “What are you doing today?”

“Well,” I said, “She bought a house this morning. Everything after that is a little anticlimactic.”

Yet it was not anticlimactic, because the guy gave us a free bouquet of sunflowers to congratulate us for the house.

I was still in disbelief by the time those flowers shriveled on my table, and also when my husband took a shovel and started digging an earthen staircase leading down to the “new” house. (“It’s about the nicest thing a son-in-law could do,” my mother said.)

Throughout this process, I was also busy reviewing two books for work: "The Anxious Generation" by Jonathan Haidt and "Bad Therapy" by Abigail Shrier. Both talked about the kind of parenting my parents seem to embody instinctively but I for some reason have to learn. My parents know how to do something old that I do not always know how to do, which is expect a lot of my kids.

Also, I often compare my parents to hurricanes for their forcible and untiring generosity. They’re really more like the reverse of hurricanes. They hit your house, wash your dishes, fix your sink, put your kids to bed, paint the walls, wash and dry your laundry. They’ve done this on every visit of my married life. They always go home afterward and I fall into a grateful but exhausted heap, wondering how we came to be the objects of this furious love or how we could ever repay it.

This week, the Nintendo Switch sits alone in its charger while my children follow Grandma down the stairs to pick daffodils in the yard. They go down just to take Grandpa by the hand and lead him to the swing set and ask him to push. My parents haven’t even moved in all the way yet, but Grandpa already taught my oldest to patch holes in walls and ride her bike.

I said the praying ended, but of course one prayer is left: Thank you. More thank yous than I can say.

More:Chelsea Boes: Cupid, ashes and the beginning of Lent

More:Chelsea Boes: Marriage advice on rocks in a jar evokes memories, sparks new ideas

Chelsea Boes lives in Old Fort and works as editor of WORLDkids Magazine in Biltmore Village.

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