Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It takes a child (or several) to raise a village

To be sure, there is wisdom in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. But last night at Carlisle’s Christmas on the Common, I couldn’t help but think it also takes a child to raise a village.

For the past several years, I’ve been on the serving crew for this annual event, meaning that I arrive early and help arrange cookies on platters and get the hot chocolate urns in place. While the audience is outside singing Christmas carols, admiring the town tree and awaiting Santa, I start pouring hot chocolate into Styrofoam cups to be ready for the crowds as soon as they pour in after Santa’s arrival by firetruck.

I used to feel important in this role. Not only did it involve the aforementioned tasks but also overseeing a small team of grade school aged children who every year asked to “help” at the event. Part of the work of the small crew of adults present was to supervise and oversee these young helpers.

But last night, I noticed something: the helpers I’d been working with for the past few years can pretty much run the show on their own now. They no longer need adult supervision and instruction; in fact, they no longer need adult assistance at all. Middle schoolers now, they know the ropes.

So they do their part by providing labor for the event, and the little kids, the grade schoolers and preschoolers and toddlers, do their part by adding enchantment to the evening. They stare at the tree, sing the carols, and watch with mouths agape as the processional heads up Church Street: first the police cars with blue lights flashing, then the antique fire truck, with Santa waving and his five elves posing. The kids cheer and yell, and then they pour into the church hall for hot chocolate and cookies and photos with Santa.

It’s a quintessential old-fashioned small-town event. Everyone who attends has a wonderful time, and it’s the kind of evening that underscores the ways in which Carlisle can sometimes – though not always – feel like a cozy village. But these events wouldn’t occur without children present, the younger ones and the older ones alike. So in that respect, it takes children to raise a village.

I don’t mean to suggest that communities without children don’t have their own rituals of cheer. Retirement communities, subdivisions restricted to adults, college dorms, even nursing homes and graduated care facilities: they too have their times of merriment. But in a case like this, it’s the children who bring the community together. During my stint serving hot chocolate alongside the middle schoolers who were really doing most of the work, I saw among the revelers three adults who do not have children. In a small way I was surprised they attended, but also not; it was a jolly evening for everyone. But it made me think about how the presence of the children had drawn out even these non-parents to join in the fun.

So it takes a village to raise a child, and it takes children to make a village. Community, in the most meaningful sense, happens best when all ages work together. Last night, that included babies to be admired; little kids thrilled by the holiday mood; older kids happy to help out (and happy to posture for each other as they did so); adults to pull it all together. At times like this, we are a community with the spirit of a small-town village. And sometimes it takes children to make that happen to its best potential.

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