Editor’s Note: Anna finished this post (and a few more) before she went on maternity leave. She gave birth to a healthy girl, Audrey, on December 13.
One year ago, just before Christmas, it snowed in Seattle. Not our usual short-lived dusting, but a real dump that lasted a few solid days and, because we’re not prepared for such events, veritably shut down the city (at least for cars).
For Seattle, it was real snow. Some say it was enough snow to shift the outcome of the mayoral race in 2009. And as former Sightliner Elisa Murray noted, it was enough snow to blanket the city in good-heartedness, in a renewed sense of community and sharing. In short, the snow boosted Seattle’s social capital: people were out and about in their neighborhoods, talking to one another and not isolated in their cars; holiday shoppers frequented local retailers rather than anonymous malls; neighbors gave neighbors a helping hand; folks helped each other get to work; great conversations with strangers were struck up as never before. In short, people slowed down, rediscovered their legs and their neighborhoods, and focused on the ultra-local.
I bring this up not only because snow season is upon us once again, but also because another event in my life has practically bowled me over with social capital—the strength of ties to friends, family, and community. Being pregnant and having babies, it turns out, brings out a spirit of community that rivals, or even surpasses, the snow-day phenomenon.
It occurs to me (and I’m not just speaking from a misty-eyed, pregnancy-induced, idealized day dream magnified by the holiday spirit), that this is the kind of social capital that we could learn from even when no one around is pregnant and the streets are bare. It’s the kind of sharing, swapping, and community exchange that’s sustainable, cost-saving — and fulfilling to boot.
I’ve never been showered with so much useful, practical hand-me-down stuff. I’ve never before been offered home cooked meals during a busy or trying time. I’ve never been asked by so many what help or assistance I need, from doing my laundry to cleaning my house to baby-sitting to dog-sitting, to rides around town. I’ve been offered all kinds of quality cast-off stuff from the obvious (baby strollers) to the less obvious (a microwave oven). That’s the big stuff. There’s little stuff from strangers that’s just as touching: the genuine conversations at the bus stop about parenting and the joys of raising children; the way people offer up their seat or go out of their way to hold open doors or reach for the high shelf at the grocery store; neighbors I never talked to before checking in on us. Even just smiles and knowing looks as I walk down the street.
I won’t miss being pregnant, but I will miss this often unspoken sense of community and fellowship that comes with an absurdly inflated belly.
Suddenly, we find ourselves in a new world of sharing and networking. We’re now eligible for previously unknown mechanisms for redistribution of used consumer goods and shared services. There are neighborhood parenting groups for us to join, listserves for sharing information about events, items for sale, free stuff, community politics, nanny share opportunities, neighborhood co-op day cares, private high-chair and stroller swaps… Who knew?
It all makes me wonder why we don’t share things—clothes, food, errands, household items, ideas, advice, and our time—with our friends and neighbors more often, or even to a fraction of the degree that people are sharing those things with me and my husband now that we’re expecting.
Maybe I just wasn’t trying hard enough to seek out this kind of community and now it’s easier to find.
There are people out there doing this stuff who aren’t connected just because they’re parents. Three cheers to the clothing swap party hosts and to anybody who mows their elderly neighbor’s lawn (my husband Gus) or organizes carpools. Even garage sales and Craig’s list trading are ways to recycle stuff back into the community instead of tossing it away, but there’s not always a strong personal connection that goes with these activities.
What will get us out of our houses, out of our cars, and into each other’s lives in the way that snow days and babies seem to magically do?
This post originally appeared at Sightline’s Daily Score blog.
Get Grist in your inbox