There’s a little park around the corner from my house. A little creek runs through it and there are lots of ducks milling about. I used to take the kids I babysat there, mostly for the swings. But right around the time I moved to this neighborhood — when I was about six months pregnant — they took the swings down. I was surprisingly disappointed. This spring, when Coraline was finally old enough for the swings, I began walking to the playground across town, where — wouldn’t you know it — I discovered that Coraline loves swings. I really wanted there to be swings down the street! Then today, on a whim, me and Coraline strolled to the park where we found a beautiful new swing set. We both got audibly excited.
As I pushed Coraline — first in the blue swing, then the yellow (she felt inclined to try them both) — my mind sort of mulled through this excitement, which was, I’ll admit, surprising and a little embarrassing. Whoa, I thought, you know you’re a mom when… But that was exactly it: My excitement was a natural extension of the very strong sense of community and home that’s been building since Coraline’s birth, since I became a mom. It wasn’t just the swings (which are really nice), but the fact that they’re right down the street from our home, in our community.
I grew up in Tivoli, which was very different back in the day (my day, the ’80s) than it is now — think more families, less students. There were a lot of kids on my street, and we had free run of the place, which never felt small. Of course times were different then — simpler, maybe — but I remember how safe it always felt, largely because of the community, which even in my immaturity I could sense and appreciate. It was pretty idyllic, at least from my point of view (though I know my own mom would say the same).
Still, I never intended to move back to the Hudson Valley after college. But after a broken wrist at the 11th hour dashed my plans to spend three months climbing in Thailand, back in the Hudson Valley I was, though I swore not for long. “My place” was still out there, I thought. Things to do, people to meet. I’ll admit it: I didn’t think this town was big enough for me. But that has all changed since I had a baby. The familiarity is like a down comforter on a cool night, a necessary extravagance. I experience this place completely differently, because different things matter. I get excited about the farmer’s market and Starr Library and the town pool. I love that Waddle ‘n’ Swaddle just opened on Market Street and that the lady at the grocery store always remembers Coraline’s name.
The way we experience community and home as children is very different than when we are adults (and even different still as parents). In between our own youth and our kids’ is a sort of neverland. Like Zach Braff’s character points out in Garden State, we spend a lot of time homesick for a place that doesn’t exist, a childhood home that ceased to exist the moment you grew up and left. And that same sense of home eludes you until you have kids of your own. And maybe some swings down the street.
I really want to hear from you, readers. What makes home “home?” What do you love about raising kids in your town? What kid-friendly things are going on in your neck of the Valley?