Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Community

This post is inspired by Melanie's lament at lacking a common culture at the parish level, but it is not really about living liturgically in community. This is about the basic expectations of community.

When I was pregnant with Grace, we didn't go to church. Dave was the assistant band director at a high school and we both spent a lot of time at the band room with both students and parents. I expected that as the wife of one of the band directors and being relatively young, my pregnancy would be met with excitement and the mostly older parents would watch out for us. I was completely mistaken. I expected the band boosters might throw us a baby shower. They did not. I expected some of the parents might bring us a meal. They did not. Grace was born right at the beginning of marching season which basically meant Dave was working 12 hour days, six days a week for the first two months of her life. I was left alone with a newborn without a clue as to what to expect or what I was doing, totally sleep deprived, and I was devastated. I thought I was a valued member of a community and found out the hard way at the most vulnerable time in my life that I was not. The only acknowledgement from anyone in the band program was an extremely generous gift from a *former* band parent of some infant portrait sessions. I was so grateful for them, but I did not receive this gift until Grace was over six weeks old so I spent the hardest weeks of my life feeling like I had been utterly forgotten instead of mostly forgotten.

When I was pregnant with Olivia, we still didn't go to church. I had only been been working at my job for around a year when I delivered her. We had only lived in our house for a handful of months. We had met the neighbors, both of whom were pregnant. We were all in this boat together and yet separate. We didn't really know each other yet. At work, they threw me a baby shower after I had inexplicably lost all my newborn clothes in the move, later found under Christmas ornaments. This party still stands as the only baby shower I have ever had that I didn't give to myself. After Olivia was born, I didn't expect anyone to bring us meals and they didn't except my parents for the first couple of days. After having my expectations so completely crushed the first time around, I had none the second time. The baby shower at work was so appreciated, moreso because I never expected it. The newborn period was much easier this time around since Dave was home and it didn't all fall to me.

When I was pregnant with Sam, we were regular church-goers. I had joined the ladies group at church which mostly consisted of empty-nesters and retirees, but that was what was available in my schedule. We had made friends with a family from church who had five kids. FIVE KIDS?! The very notion of it impressed me and blew my mind. We knew all of our neighbors. Our kids played together. The people at work bought me lunch one day in honor of the new baby. After he was born, it was wonderful. Our neighbors brought us meals. People from church brought us meals. The ladies group sent a gift card to help buy necessities. I truly felt loved, included, and cared for. At long last I had found a community. Part of what made it so wonderful was that it was completely unexpected. My expectations had been set by previous experience which had taught me not to expect much.

When I was pregnant with Marian, our situation had not changed much from when Sam was born. Our friends with five kids had sadly moved home to New Orleans, but we were still at the same church, we had the same neighbors, I was at the same job and a member of the same ladies group. At work the pregnancy was met with thinly veiled hostility, but I didn't care and wasn't surprised when the entire pregnancy passed without anyone at work doing anything special to acknowledge it. When Marian was born, once again nobody brought any meals. We received no food from the neighbors or anyone at church. Having babies was pretty old hat by now so we didn't need the help, but it was so odd that no one offered it.

At church the week before she was born, the communications person with the ladies group sent out an email saying that she was going out of town for a month, but that I was due at any moment and she encouraged the women to bring us food. Nobody did. The only response to the email was a phone call two days before birth from the oldest member of the group--she is well into her 80s--apologizing that she would not be able to bring us anything since she was also leaving town. Several months later she made up for her inability to help us at the birth by buying us a huge box of diapers. I don't really understand why nobody else responded. I wasn't mad about it because a) we truly didn't need the help and b) my expectation level had been utterly obliterated by my experiences after Grace. But it was so, so odd. Why would a group of women think a postpartum mother didn't need a meal or two. It kind of hurt my feelings, but I wasn't angry for myself. Really. Mostly I was confused and a little outraged about what they didn't know. It is true that I didn't need the help, but they didn't know that. What if I did? Why did no one except an 80-something year old woman feel any responsibility towards me? I might have been desperate for a meal and some help for all they knew, but they all carried on with their lives as if nothing happened. It is hard to talk about this without sounding like I am whining about being overlooked. I'm not. I'll whine about the band parents not the ladies group. My concern mostly revolves around the fact that that kind of thing doesn't happen in a real community, but, apparently, the women at church are just as myopic as the band parents were years ago. I didn't expect that.

So what does this have to do with parish life? I don't really know except to say that our culture fails at community in so many different places--at work, in the neighborhood, in small clubby groups--that it isn't really surprising that parish life fails in the same way. Except sometimes the stars align and it all comes together and you feel like you belong.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

My guess would be that whether you get meals or not is a crap shoot unless someone is organized enough to set up a schedule for bringing meals. It's not that the women don't care it's that they're all busy and assume everyone else is going to pick up the slack.

Jenny said...

And to contradict myself that I was completely unbothered that the ladies group did nothing after Marian was born except as an abstract injustice for someone who might have needed help, there was a woman who was pregnant earlier this year who was not a member of the ladies group. Some members of the group conducted a multi-meeting drive to put together a basket of gifts and gift cards and organize meals. Over the course of these meetings, they mentioned how they had done something similar the previous year when the church secretary had her baby. And I couldn't help listen to this and think "Hmph."