It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child.*
In the case of my own son, it takes a playgroup.
I had Jack when I was a career-oriented, control-freaky 40 year old. I knew I was a prime candidate for post-natal depression and knew that I was going to have to look for and take all the support I could get.
So, feeling wobbly and uncertain, I joined a mom-and-baby group at Cape Town’s Parent Centre. Now, dear reader, at the time I was not a joiner of groups. I was not (and still am not) a doer of team sports, and I was certainly not one for tea with the ladies. And yet, there I was with a six-week-old baby in my arms, seeking company and advice and adult companionship.
And I found it. The group varied in size, but a core set of people who had had their babies round about the same time as me turned up week after week.
Like them, I kept going, week after week. I had been retrenched when pregnant, and was freelancing, so I did not face the dreadful back-to-office wrench.
At the end of that year (2002), we were all still going to the meetings, and celebrated with a picnic at Kirstenbosch. Around about that time, the lovely group facilitator left, and another took her place. And some time in the following year, the Parent Centre lost access to the venue we had been in and we shifted to another place.
Not all of these changes worked for all of us, and so that core group quietly decided to move on from the Parent Centre and meet in our own homes, once a week, on Wednesday afternoons: Wednesday Playgroup was born.
Wednesday afternoons changed over time: the games the children played changed, some members left, other joined. But tea and cake were a staple, along with the odd pizza night for the Playgroup Moms.
Such arrangements are not uncommon in the middle classes. What makes our group stand out is the length of time it lasted, I think. We were all still meeting regularly when our children went to high school. But as schedules got more complicated, and extra murals got more demanding, we gradually stopped being able to make those afternoons work.
Eighteen and more years later, that group of moms is still meeting for pizza nights (sadly not as regularly in Covid times). And the various children from that group are still friends, and still see each other, and still ask for news of one or the other.
The moms met just last week, and fell to talking and gossiping as if we had not waited for over a year to see each other.
I think about playgroup often, and miss those afternoons often. I think about all the people who used to be members and who left, and I think about the ones still sharing and caring on our WhatsApp group.
And this is what I feel now: a deep sense of gratitude for everything I learned from that group. And an even deeper sense of gratitude that my quirky singleton boy found a place where he was accepted for what he is, and liked, and loved. And for all those children who knocked him into shape, just as he knocked them into shape.
Because that’s what “it takes a village” means. It means that a child (and its parents) have to learn to be part of humanity by having the rough corners rubbed off. So thank you playgroup: you took care of my rough corners. And you helped make a wonderful human being of my boy Jack.
*If you are the parent of a teenager, do check out the Facebook group The Village.
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Main picture: Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash