There was a tremendous snowstorm the day my parents left southwestern Ontario and arrived at their new home in Ottawa. The ‘new home’ excitement faded as soon as they were inside and found the furnace wasn’t working.
That night our new neighbourhood rallied around us—someone shoveled the driveway and another family welcomed us into their home for the night.
My parents had no relatives in Ottawa so, growing up, our neighbours became our extended family. They mended us when we were hurt, hosted barbecues and bike parades, let us drink from the hose and run wild.
We didn’t know where the adults in our lives worked or what made them laugh, but they were part of our childhood. Those people who we saw every day and scolded us for running through flower beds also came to our weddings. They were a vital part of the village that raised us.
They are my parents’ people.
When I became a mother, I knew that I wanted my husband and I to have a village, just like my parents. We were starting anew in the area and had no family to help us when we were feeling overwhelmed; we had no social support and knew very little about the local community.
We did know that we wanted our little ones to grow up in a place where they know who lives in the houses around them and where those neighbours are their safety net. Happily, we’ve found our village and they’ve become the people that we love and rely on.
They’re our people.
Over here children ride bikes, have sleepovers, make mud kitchens and only come home when the solar lights turn on. Our friends have campfires and parties, we hand down clothes and text each other every day.
Our village has babysat my kids in emergencies, carpooled, and walked them to school every day for years. They have included the kids in events, bought their handmade puppets and taken in my toddler when I was rushed to the hospital. One family encouraged me to give my kids more independence, one family coaxed them to love broccoli and someone even taught my kid to whittle.
I started a parenting group for the neighbourhood to connect new parents, because I wanted to share that community connection I have with others.
Over the past year, my friends and I have stayed connected by texting each other. The kids stay connected in small numbers through distanced outside play, but a relationship that has almost entirely disappeared is that feeling of a village.
COVID-19 has asked us to no longer let my friend’s kids in our homes. We can’t let them use our bathrooms or let our kids plan sleepovers, we no longer have potlucks and it even feels strange to chat with people as they walk by. We have missed our beloved Porch Party, camping trips and many, many birthday parties.
There have been positives in being housebound too. Our incredibly busy lives of sports, music and lessons have come to a full stop. Our neighbours have been helping each other.
As we sit in our lockdown homes, listing off the places we’ll visit and restaurants we’ll frequent, let’s ease at the thought of planning meals and running errands with the people that will be our safety net in years to come.
Laura McBride is a resident of downtown Kitchener, photographer and artist. She is a passionate community builder and one of the creative forces behind the Hohner Ave Porch Party and Central Fairies-Fairy Doors.
Find her @CentralFairies.