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When my husband and I moved to Portland, we knew—theoretically—that we were on our own. We were on our own in New York City, too, where we had moved from. But we were childless there. And also, well, we lived in New York City, where being near parents didn’t seem like quite so much of a bonus. (“Yes, Dad, it’s okay to walk home by myself at 9 pm.”)

The true meaning of “it takes a village” hit us after the birth of our first son. We had lived in Portland for just over a year at that point, and had made some friends. Mostly from our parenting group at our hospital, or from my work. (My husband worked from home, so no luck building our social scene there.) But, shockingly, the parents in our parenting group were also dealing with newborns for the first time and didn’t need any added burden from us—though they were invaluable on the commiseration front. And I didn’t feel like my boss was the right person to go to when we needed a break from diapers.


I know we aren’t alone in being family-less here in Portland. I’ve seen other people run up to anyone their child seems to have a rapport with between the ages of, oh, 12 and 40 and ask if they babysit. I’ve heard other people on the phone with their parents, trying to convince them it doesn’t rain that much here. (It’s a bright gray!) I’ve been guilty myself of making sure my kids are on their best behavior when our tween neighbor is around in case, please please please, she wants to babysit someday.

The truth is, parenting is hard. Whether family is around or not. And of course I also know the true meaning of “the grass is always greener.” There are blessings as well as, er, not blessings of having family nearby. But there is comfort in being able to run to your parents’ house for advice. Or to watch that relationship between your children and their grandparents grow in real time rather than over Facetime. Or, heck, to being able to take a weekend away with your partner without having to take out a second mortgage on your house.

In our case, the problem is compounded because there isn’t really one place where everyone lives. My parents are in Tucson (so yeah, that whole rainy Portland thing is a tough one to surmount); my siblings in Boston and San Diego. My husband’s family is more congregated on the east coast, but they, too, are somewhat far flung.

The thing is too—it would be hard to leave Portland. This is our home. When we cross the Fremont Bridge, my kids all shout when they see the red hospital where they were born. We could make the path to various book stores and parks with our eyes closed. We have grown accustomed to fresh local food, lush green trees, and ready access to so many things to do together.

And with time, we have made our own little village. Through playgroups and activities and schools and work, our circles have grown. Sure, this village doesn’t come with the comfort of being with family, but it comes with advice, hugs, frozen casseroles, laughter and the sense that we are in this together. Portland is our village. We are lucky to live here. (And ps, it really doesn’t rain here that much, Dad.)


No matter how big your village, we parents can always use more help. Thanks to WeVillage drop-in daycare for sponsoring this post.

Ali Wilkinson
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