Nothing will seat a person in their community like having a child. I've come to this realization gradually, and reluctantly.
My husband and I moved to our current location almost 4 years ago. While we appreciated that it would be an adjustment, not having nearly as easy an access to the segments of appealing culture that exist elsewhere in SD County, we were certain that we could adapt, inspired by the dream of upgrading from condo to actual house.
I think my version of adapting included not really putting down roots. I loved, and love, our home. I loved, and love, aspects of our community... the ethnic/racial/cultural diversity... the proximity to the coast (2 miles away)... the... um... hmmmmm.
All the other stuff I chose not to see.... the economic blight ...the conservative military presence ...the utter lack of sophisticated adult entertainment (the movies, chain restaurants, and crude bars are about the only choices) ...the lack of any real city center or heart ...and mostly the sense that everyone here tries to be an island. In short, there is virtually no community in my community.
This shouldn't really come as a shock to me. I grew up in an even less advantaged neighborhood in Long Beach, CA. It was a suburb but no less a concrete jungle than LA proper. The only sense of community came from the fact that I lived in a large apartment complex that did feel a bit like a walled off civilization. We lived there for 22 years (from the time I was 3 years old), and therefore saw many people come and go. Our community was always in flux, as I suppose all of them are. But, there was more a sense of being thrown together and making the best of the situation between neighbors, than in choosing the place. It was a second degree community, a leery subconscious community, a sense of community that was a side effect of our circumstances.
Given all that, I was sure I could adapt to not really living where I live. I thought I could think of my house as an island of belonging, a home adrift in the flotsam around it. I did too. I succeeded, until my son was old enough to want more than being at home with mom all day. When O started becoming aware of the larger world and I realized I needed to follow his lead, like a divining rod seeking out a balanced childhood, I began to look for connections with the world around us. I looked for a way to be connected to place and people that would provide him the familiarity he needed to bravely venture beyond what was already known to him. Inadvertently, I began to look for the community I'd dismissed as unneeded.
I haven't found it. There is still not much community in my community. There are pockets. There are places where we can go to play, to be outside, to be greeted by people who recognise our faces as familiar. But, these places I can count on one hand. I'm saddened by that. It pulls at indignation in me. No man is an island. We humans are social creatures and having a sense of community, or tribe, or family, or belonging is inherently critical to our fulfillment. It is not fair that not everyone has access to this (of course it's also not fair that people die of starvation, war, or diseases for which I have access to a cure ). For me and my family, there is a solution on the horizon - relocation to a place that fills our needs more fully and exactingly. It will take time, but I'm not worried about it.
What I am preoccupied with at the moment is this unpredicted way in which my child has changed, not only my life, but me. Like a needle and thread he has sewn me back into the fabric of the human condition, part of which is the need to belong to others. He has taught me that a need can be ignored but does not vanish. He has reminded me that the moment and the place matter. He has taught me that I can convince myself to adapt to my surroundings but that when I hold my ear to the ground and carve down to what is basic and dear to human thriving, I cannot allow myself to succumb to fear. I must listen to where my heart wants to go - in this case, literally, to another place.
Children are the wisest and bravest creatures I know. I've heard that before, but I'm only now beginning to understand, in my bones, what it means.
Tremendous lessons learned.