As a young adult I remember feeling like I was part of many different communities. I was exploring who I was. We lived in a neighborhood with many poor but ambitious young musicians on the upper west side of Manhattan. The city was rumbling and rough. I grew up kind of a country bumpkin in a small college town in Southern New Jersey. As we drove through the Lincoln tunnel I imagined living in fear. Instead I absolutely fell in love with the energy and surprises of the city, the people, the neighborhoods and the freedom. Finding my people wasn’t the result of a search. We just found each other. They were the musicians I played with, work friends and the faces of the many characters I knew from my neighborhood. I enjoyed and learned from everyone but the relationships were fluid, washing over me, just glimpses of people who were in turn just enjoying a little glimpse of me without knowing who I was deep inside.
Four years later, then a young mother in South Florida, I needed much more. I had a clear mission in life. I had a baby to raise. I wanted to learn how to be a mother! I yearned for others like me who were reading, questioning and exploring ways to be responsible, caring parents. I needed to have serious relationships with mothers who had already been through the challenges I was facing. I needed to talk about my insecurities and how simultaneously overwhelming and ecstatically wonderful it felt for me to be a new mom. I needed support and friends who understood and shared my experiences more than any other time before or later in my life. I needed friends for me and for my little boy (and later my second son!). To find this level of relationship took some searching, researching, commitment, connecting and listening. I finally found “my people” through a nursing support group.
Long days from early morning until dinnertime were spent outdoors together in parks, at the beach, in forests and nature centers. Sometimes we gathered at my best friend’s house cooking and baking together while the kids climbed trees, built forts and played outside with horses, goats and chickens.
We read voraciously and shared everything. Over the years as we discussed child development and the latest brain research we saw the principles in action each day watching our mixed-age pack of chosen siblings. None of us had family living close. Longing for those family connections we all became aunties and sisters. I have to take a deep breath of gratitude right now thinking about how lucky we were to have each other.
We wrangled with our kids’ challenging behaviors and struggled to develop good communication skills. The more experienced moms looked out for the younger ones. There were glorious baby showers and tears of joy as we welcomed each new shining face. Someone was always going through a rough spot. We could be there for each other with meals, understanding and a safe place to leave children when time alone or as a couple was needed. Having kids made us face all of the good, bad and ugly of our own childhoods. They and we demanded that we work hard to do our best. Together we were able to grow and slowly evolve into the parents we wanted and needed to be for our children.
The love and confidence inspired by my group of women friends was key to my very survival as a single mom and gave me the courage and foundation to become who I am today. Who I needed to be for my children then–and ultimately for all the children and families I would have the privilege of serving for the last 20 years through my work. My nonprofit arts organization took seed and grew out of those relationships. Our endless discussions, original book lists and authors are at the heart of my educational philosophy.
Keeping those early connections with very real mothers, my dear friends, always in mind has driven me to continually strive to create a supportive community for all those searching for their “people,” for true connections for their families and a place to belong, thrive and grow.
© Susan Caruso and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2012