The Breakfast Club

It’s not often I drop my kids at school. The thirteen year-old is in charge of his own schedule and the ten year-old, who almost is, cycles in with his father. On the rare occasions I am in the a.m., I usually spot The Breakfast Club.

On any given school day the mothers of the Breakfast Club are there with boxes of cereal and loaves of bread and pots of yogurt and cut up fruit. Someone is inevitably keeping an eye on someone else’s kids, doling out napkins and juice and spoons. The entire thing is messy and full of spilled milk and crumbs and yogurt streaked faces.

Yet, somehow these mothers have managed to grab hold of an often stressful situation (and oh my God, why is eating and getting ready for school so damn stressful anyway??) and make it into something special and communal.

And really, when you think about it, what’s more communal and tribal than literally breaking fast together?

Many of The Breakfast Club members are sharpening their pencils to write new chapters this summer, and this week we did our ritual goodbyes. I listened as they wept at the idea leaving behind this extraordinary community they’ve been a part of. And then one said something which hit me directly in the heart: she mentioned that by watching the women around her she learned how to be a better mother–that among this tribe of expat women, and yes, it is a tribe, she felt uplifted rather than torn down, supported rather than burdened. That no matter how stressed out or angry or irate she was coming into that school building, whenever she left she always felt better. Someone was always there to shoulder a part of her burden, whether it was feeding her kids breakfast or lending a listening ear.

In the expat world, there are a lot of women and children left behind due to logistics. They have spouses who travel extensively, who commute not just an hour on a train but a few hours on a plane to be home on weekends, or every other weekend, or two weeks every two months. I used to call them lifeboat expats, women and children somewhere safe but slightly adrift. But that’s not accurate, because they’re not adrift, they are moored to the larger community.

When you’re in a foreign country alone with your children, finding a village to anchor yourself to isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

You need to have someone who is going to pick up your kids from school if you’re felled with the flu, or someone who you can call in case of emergency. You need sustenance and daily nurturing. You need a tribe. You need a village. You need a community, a group who can shoulder some of the burden of doing it on your own in a place where you likely don’t even speak the language or get confused by the currency.

You need a Breakfast Club.

Expats, especially women, fill these roles, mostly without even thinking about it. We form and reform, knitting and re-knitting groups and clubs and clans and tribes. Looking after one another’s kids, feeding them, comforting them, shepherding them around. Supporting and lifting up. Learning and teaching. Listening, nurturing. You lean on the collective village.

The Breakfast Club is just one example of village magic.

The ones who are leaving are, understandably, sad about losing all of that–the connectivity, the tribe, the village mentality.

To those leaving I have this to say:

You’re forgetting the role you played in shaping that community. Yes, you were welcomed into a village which already existed, but you molded it, changed it, and made it into exactly what you needed. And if you’ve done that once, you can do it again.

When we welcomed you in we taught you the words to the spell, and now that spell? It’s bound up in you. It’s a part of who you are.

The beauty is, the magic is portable. It goes with you, wherever you go. When you leave, wrap it up in bubble wrap and put it with the expensive stuff you don’t trust the shippers to handle, the magic is this too precious for international freight. Then, wherever it is you land in this crazy game of map darts, take it out. Unfold the tissue paper it’s wrapped in, pop the bubble wrap, and plant the magic.

You are the seed. Share that wisdom. Lift up instead of tearing down. Ask and offer help. Support rather than dismantle. Remember, you came in and helped to shape a community. You’ve seen how it works. There is no reason you can’t do it again.

Somewhere out there, there’s a lonely woman spooning yogurt into a pot for her kid’s breakfast. Find her. Join her. And then teach her the spell so that she has it written in her as well.

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A Tribe of Mothers

celtic_knotI’ve been a part of many wholes in my life. Some have been more important than others, yet none of those groups or demographics I’ve been party to or part of have been as defining as the one which embraced me as a mother.

Motherhood is not the sole definition of my life. It is not my sole aspiration, nor my sole reason for being. At the same time, it is a single book end, a beginning, but no end. Once you are a mother, you are always a mother. Whether your children are cooing infants, raging toddlers, or adults with children of their own. Motherhood, once realized, is a constant, a tattoo inked upon your soul.

The collective name for a group of mothers should be tribe. Fierce and protective, tight as any clan, recognizing the bond which holds you together as one.

The tribe of motherhood does not demand a certain type of birth or a certain type of child. Whether you welcomed your child through adoption or fostering, c-section, home water birth or surrogacy. Whether you lost your child in the womb or to disease or accident, whether your child has already left home. The tribe welcomes you. Whether your child is white or black or autistic or gifted, brown-eyed, blue or blind. It doesn’t matter if you child conforms to norms or redefines them. In the tribe, we are one in the same. We are mothers.

The tribe does not care whether you work or spend days making your own play dough, run the PTA or sit out. Whether you shop organic or with food stamps. Whether you home-school or boarding school, believe in God or shun religion entirely. The tribe does not decree whether you wear your baby or swear by your stroller, breast feed or bottle feed, make your own puree or buy it in a jar. You are part of the tribe regardless.

We are mothers.

The tribe will swallow you at times, it will engulf all you thought you had been. But when you come back up for air you will realize you are stronger, can dive longer. Your skin is thicker. The tribe did that.

The tribe will test you, make you doubt yourself, but in the end you will know your heart better. You will learn to trust your own instincts. The tribe will teach you that motherhood is multi-faceted.

The tribe will force you to endure rites of passage, not because it wants to break you, but because it will teach you just how much you can bear. The tribe will teach you the art of bending with the wind rather than breaking under it.

The tribe are the ones who watch over your children while you are not there, whether it is on the playground, in their swimming pools, when you are ill, or just running late. The tribe will comfort a child who is hurt or lost or in need of help, even though that child is not their own. The tribe will cry collective tears over children who are hurt, who are dying, who are in need of the most basic of things: love, family, food, shelter. At those times the tribe’s heart beats as one living mass.

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And though I belong to the larger tribe on the whole, I have formed lasting bonds with the smaller groups within: the neighborhood mothers I grew up with, the mother-figures I met along the way. The mothers I met when as a initiate, the ones who eased the loneliness, the ones to whom I could complain, the ones who were honest about not only the elation, but the struggles too. Some of those mothers helped me thought specific times, some have been there for the duration. My tribe includes my fellow expat mothers, who have been through the unique challenges of raising kids far from the familiar, who understand the bittersweet distance from home and family, who understand how important fluid and strong certain bonds are.

The are all part of my tribe. And I theirs. Together we make up the whole.

A tribe of mothers.

Happy early Mother’s Day to my tribe.