Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

"It takes a village to raise a child." So, why do we live like we are all alone?

The meaning of this phrase struck me like a punch on the nose yesterday, when I took my daughter to her regular Saturday morning tennis lesson. I met a "friend" whom I had met playing tennis, and say from time to time when I was doing pick up for a friend at St. Gabriel's School. I asked my friend if he was playing much tennis, and he said no, and that it was just too complicated with the kids, living in St. Philip, and with their mother traveling, there was no where to leave them for a couple of hours. My jaw dropped. This is Barbados. The place is small. People have family within an hour's drive, even if one party lives by Atlantic Shores in the south-east and the other lives up north by St. Lucy. I told him that was crazy. But he insisted that it was not easy. So, as is my wont, I said to him that whenever he wanted to play to give me a bell and drop the kids over by my house. I'm close to the school and have a housekeeper. I even took in vain the good nature of another friend for whom I sometimes do school pick up, or some other kid-sharing deal and said that I'm sure we could work it out to drop the kids by her house. The man's kids are about the same age as ours, between 4 to 8 years old. I saw a relaxed smile start to appear on my soon-to-be tennis partner's face, as we exchanged phone numbers, which we had never needed to do before. Cool.

I retold this little story to the friend whose name I had taken in vain. She laughed and said "Not everyone used to de community livin' t'ing, you know." I really never thought about it. I had figured out, though, that most parents were so busy juggling that they did not realize that other parents were doing the same thing and burning up energy running around with their own kids, and not seeing the opportunities to do things like car-pooling, rotating play dates, etc. Well, over the past year or so since coming to Barbados I have played the community living card, first by accident, then by design. One of my daughter's class mates lives a few doors away, so her mother and I regularly talk about who is doing pick up or drop off or hosting the play date for the two girls. In that parent's case, she also has a two year old, a school-going teenager, another child working, and a new out-of-home job to deal with so can find herself stretched toing and froing just to waste gas moving them and herself around. So, for us, it's no big deal to make or get a phone call to organize the moves of our little ones. The kids learn a lot from having to deal with other adults, and of course from a sense that it's not just parents who can care for them.

Likewise, with my name-taken-in-vain friend. In fact, we three parents have now arranged a good, informal rotation system for various after-school activities. Our children have become great friends during this time, which can cause different problems, but no major issues. My taken-in-vain friend even has this thing going on in a bigger way and at any time could have up to three other children that are not part of the rotation I described running around her house, or in her car. They need feeding? Feed them. They need bathing? Bathe them. They have homework to do? Homework them. But it seems that we are rare as parents go here. Admitted, the parents I am mentioning and I are all foreigners. I see one of the other kids in my neighbourhood at an activity with my child? I call up the parent and ask if they want me to drop the child home. But, it seems that if granny or granpa or a direct family member are not near by, then a lot of local parents are just at a loss.

That really runs against what I thought was typical of life in the Caribbean. "Everyone was family." "Many hands make light work." "Your child is my child, too." These were notions with which I grew up in Jamaica, and their white neighbours as friends to support, or at least to give a watchful eye over, children. I can't believe that it's something that has just died out in Barbados. Is it something Bajans never grew up with? The place is so small that even with its traffic congestion moving around is still a cynch relative to many other places. But, we know that looks are deceiving. I'm going to have to ponder this to see if it's something a little deeper. Is it that being strangers in a strange land we "foreigners" know we need support and seek it out? That would be a strange upside to being an expatriate.

1 comment:

Bajan girl said...

As my kids aren't here full time, it's difficult to comment on the team spirit. However, I am forced to undertake all the pickups and drop offs when they are albeit for the few times when my Dad may pitch in.

Where I am now, there are only 2 houses and we live like family. Nothing goes on that the other neighbour isn't aware of.