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Why We All Need A Village: Part 1

Dreams are...interesting. I normally don't remember them because my sleep has been so fractured with frequent wakings ever since I was pregnant, through Z's infancy, and now toddlerhood. Parenthood's a trip. :)

When I woke up around 4 a.m. this morning hearing Z stir, I snuggled and kissed her head hoping she would drift back to sleep in my arms. While I held her, the dream I'd been having was still vivid in my mind. (Peep newborn/toddler Z below).

I was wandering around by myself at a store that reminded me somewhat of The Century House with its midcentury modern furniture and Scandinavian trinkets. I was browsing without being too tempted because the items were simply out of my price range -- it was just fun to mindlessly explore. In one of the rooms there was a platter of complimentary food for people to enjoy while they shopped. I hesitated picking up a plate knowing that I wouldn't be buying anything, but then I thought...why not. So I treated myself to a handful of pistachios and dipped them in ricotta (I've never tried this in real life but it sounds good, right?).

Then, a woman approached me and said she wished she could try the food but had no appetite for those items right now because she was pregnant. She was at the store picking out a rocking chair for the nursery. I thought about telling her to not worry about having the most stylish or expensive piece; save some money and just find something comfortable. Because when you're holding your babe alone in the middle of the night in a quiet room, it's nice to feel held, too. But, just then her two friends came over and gushed over the chair she was eyeing, and I kept my mouth shut.

"Do you have kids?" her friends asked me, and I noticed that they, too, were expecting given their full bellies and sparkly eyes. "Yes, one," I said. "She's 2." After a pause, I realized they needed an explanation as to why she wasn't with me. "She's at daycare right now."I felt the judgment of going shopping while I paid someone to watch my kid, so I filled the silence with, "Sometimes you need a moment alone to just ... be."

Without wanting to attract it, I now had the attention of the first woman, too. They clearly wanted me to say more. I held my tongue about the chair, but I couldn't about this. So I didn't sugar coat it. "Being a mom is the best job in the world. It's also the hardest." One of the friends chimed in. "We're all due around the same time ... and really not looking forward to going through labor," she said. I replied, "I wasn't either, but at some point you just surrender. For me it all happened so fast that it was an out-of-body experience. You're stronger than you think you are."

That's all of the dream that I remembered, but there's more I could say to those women. Here are some things that come to mind; maybe you can relate, too, or have your own version to share: "Childbirth is really intense, and holding and hearing your baby for the first time is the most incredible thing. But no one really prepares you for the wave of emotions that follow. You can have your highest high and lowest low all in one day. You can be rocking your kid over-the-moon in love with this tiny being that you created while simultaneously missing the life you once had that wasn't full of diaper changes and spit-up plus interrupted meals, alone time, and sleep. And what I wish someone would have said to earlier and that I want to tell you is that it's OK. You're not a bad parent for feeling that way. And it's also OK to ask for help. Early and often. Find a postpartum therapist and doula before you need it. Ask for someone to start a meal train for you so you aren't responsible for shopping and cooking in the early weeks. If your career was really important to you before you gave birth and your feelings or capacity changed after baby arrived, that's OK. Your job title doesn't define you. And whether you work inside the home, outside the home, from home or at an office, receive a paycheck or not, or any combination, every parent is a working parent. And everyone deserves rest and breaks from caring for their kids without feeling guilty. You can't pour from an empty cup. So go for a walk to get fresh air and exercise. Drink enough water. Call a friend. Schedule that therapy or massage appointment. Order that meal you've been craving. If shopping is your thing, that's cool, too. There's no such thing as a perfect parent. Just keep trying to do your best. And sometimes your best may be putting on the TV all day because one or both of you are sick. And that's OK. You are going to be OK even on the days when you don't think you'll make it through. I'm finding it to be true when friends with older kids tell me that it doesn't necessarily get easier or harder as they get older, it just changes. Either that or when we make it through tough times, our minds protect us by forgetting just how hard these moments are. So we continue to do this parenting thing. Day in and day out. Because we love our kids. And, it isn't a job you can quit when you're burned out. It helps that you all have each other close by and that you'll be experiencing a lot of the same things at the same time. Because parenthood can be really lonely and isolating. A lot of people don't have that kind of support in place before they have a baby. That's why surrounding yourself with friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers, health care workers/healers, and more is so important. Everyone needs a village."

The words I was speaking to these women in my mind come from a place of yearning for a more supportive postpartum experience for myself. And it wasn't because I lacked the resources. My village was amazing in so many ways ... answering late-night texts and video calls, dropping off meals, visiting through the window, and sending encouraging messages. My village was simply fractured by time, distance, and a global pandemic that had us keep all but one person (my mom) outside of our home for the first four months of Z's life. I shut down all of the in-person offers for help because I was so terrified of my newborn getting sick. Which ended up happening later on (as it always does) despite our best efforts anyway. Yes, that impacted our family's physical health for sure. But that isolation had an even bigger impact on my mental health that I'm still sorting through.

I can't change what it was like for me as a first-time mother, and I can't directly change that experience for others, but I can share my story and maybe it helps someone in some way. Playful Acorns emerged from a challenging time in my life with the intent of helping other caregivers feel less alone and more supported in their journey. To encourage connection with each other, nature, and the community. To foster learning through the power of play and spending time outside. And to hopefully normalize the range of postpartum experiences and share resources to help you in each season of life. So when people characterize Playful Acorns as a play group for young kids, that's true. But it's so much more than that. It's a place for you, too. We are so thankful and appreciative all of the collaborative partners who have welcomed us to hold pop-up events over the last six months. And when we eventually put down roots in a more permanent location, we hope to further function as an extension of that village we all deserve. We're not meant to do this alone.

Over the last few years, the Universe has put some pretty incredible people in my path at just the right time, including fellow mamas Julia, Beth and Sophia. So if you're looking around and you're not finding your village yet, trust that it's out there. Maybe it's at your neighborhood park, like it was for me. Maybe it will be at one of our play groups or classes. Sometimes you just have to make the first move to create it (if you build it, they will come, right?).

This is what our first Earth Mama gathering at Winterfell Acres is all about. We hope you join us on April 26th (Arbor Day) for a morning of nourishing nature connection (and yummy food) with moms and their kids! In the future we hope to create an offering that is inclusive of all caregivers. For now, we're starting with who we know best: those who identify as moms. If cost is prohibitive, please know that we have a sliding scale and scholarships are available. Please reach out to me to learn more before our registration deadline on Monday, April 22 (Earth Day). Come as you are. Come with an open mind. You belong.

Thank you all for being part of this growing village. Stay tuned for more exciting news!

(P.S. Just as I was posting this, I saw a doe run through our backyard! Amazing!)

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