Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Fun to Stay at the YMCA

I used to watch the show Dharma and Greg regularly, or at least the re-runs. Like Seinfeld and The Ofice, it is another show that I didn't really catch the charms of until well-past the time the originals aired.

This post isn't really about the show, just a particular clip, but a little bit of background is in order so that it makes sense. Dharma and Greg is about a couple (coincidentally named Dharma and Greg) who pass each other on the street one day after both have just fallen out of very serious and deeply unsatisfying relationships. Greg is highly attracted to Dharma (and honestly, Jenna Elfman with the 90's haircut? who can blame the guy) and she senses some kind of cosmic connection-love-at-first-sight with him. He lets her pass by, but she tracks him down at his office. He is completely smitten, takes the rest of the day off and they spend the next 24 hours together, culminating in a wedding. This takes us to halfway through the first episode.

The gimmick in the show is what happens when two people who really don't know each other at all get married. Dharma's parents are hippies--not WERE hippies--are hippies. Greg's parents, on the other hand, are from one of the richest society families in San Fransisco. And while Dharma and Greg are not as extreme as mums and daddies, there is a lot of argument (and eventually give and take) about how things are "supposed" to be done, emphasizing that no marriage is made up of perfect people who have it all figured out.

During the second season Dharma and Greg decide to adopt a baby. Or rather, Dharma spontaneously tells the checkout girl at the market that she can live with them until the baby comes, delivers the baby at their apartment, then agrees to adopt the baby after the single teenage mother has a complete emotional breakdown. Greg is told about each AFTER it happens, and Dharma is a little bit confused about what his beef is.

So that is the background. When the baby moves in, any prior differences pale in comparison to their differences in parenting. Dharma's mother reminds her daughter that Dharma basically grew up in a commune because "it takes a village." When her mother and father show up to help, they bring a whole entourage of people with them--a spiritual advisor/storyteller, a feminist with a cooler full of breastmilk, an African shaman with a drum--you get the drill. The funniest clip in the episode is here, when we meet the village and see the way they take over the lives of this young couple. Ironically enough, though Greg doesn't understand the village concept and its importance to his mother-in-law, he himself had a nanny, a cook, a maid and various tutors. Later there was boarding school and lessons. Not Dharma's village, but a village nevertheless.

In a comment some time back Genjunky said "not that it takes a village . . . " when talking about raising kids. I think she means that we can't abdicate our responsibilities as parents to the community. We can't think that church or school or the government or whatever will parent for us. Yet, I'm not entirely convinced that it doesn't take a village.

Now, I'm not talking about a Dharma-style village here. But to some degree don't we all have stake in one another's welfare? For example, some of my earnest commitment to the young women in our ward right now is the idea that some day my boys will need scoutmasters who take their callings seriously. Yet, every minute I spend with those girls, is time spent away from my own family; which, I must admit is sometimes very frustrating. As a teacher I sometimes found myself spending a lot of extra time and energy on students, just trying to teach them basic skills that, in my mind, should have been taught at home. Also frustrating.

In Mr. Obama's health care speech this week he finished by quoting a letter from the late Senator Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy's letter makes it clear that he believed that making sure all Americans had access to health care was a litmus test of the American character. I think that Kennedy was saying that it takes a village.

I'm not sure. But I do know this: My brother and sister each had new babies in the past month. It is still a while to go before I see them, and I feel sad that I may not get to see them grow up. As my friends get older, we seem to have a much harder time connecting with one another in meaningful ways because we are so busy. I remember my peer groups in Texas and Utah (where we, incidentally, lived at "The Village") who were so close to one another. I had a ready list of women to call if we needed something, anything. I have a couple of friends here like that, but our ward is geographically spread out and there is very little spontaneous hanging out or stopping by. My parents and in-laws are wonderful people whom I wish had more regular interaction with my kids. Plantboy is headed to the temple tonight on his own because it is too hard to find a babysitter for a big chunk of the day so that we can go together. And while our local school is wonderful, there are no children younger than middle school on our entire street.

I don't want somebody else to raise my kids, of course not. But for all that we love about our current location I don't know if there is enough of a support system for us to raise our kids here--particularly though their turbulent teenage years. Maybe it doesn't take a village, but I'm not sure I'm strong enough without one.


FoxyJ said...

I love Dharma and Greg! My parents love the too, and one of the fun things about visiting their house is watching the old reruns they Tivo. Hilarious. I think part of the reason why we like it is that my parents resemble her parents quite a bit. Not quite so hippie-ish, but definitely there. My mom even looks like Dharma's mom.

And I agree with trying to find the right 'village'. We loved living in the northwest and in California, and had some close friends there, but those were student situations and we knew we'd have a hard time finding another similar village. We decided to move back to Utah in order to be closer to our family, since that's where everyone ended up (neither of us grew up here). We're slowly making friends with our neighborhood, and I'm realizing that I like where we're living because we're close enough to family to see them often but still far enough to form our friendships with our neighbors too. Good luck figuring out the right place to be.

chris w said...

I love Dharma and Greg...and I loved her haircut enough to copy it.

I agree about the village of people around you that make doing your job(s) easier. I think one of the reasons our generation struggles is because we have isolated ourselves. We no longer talk over the back fence like the generation before us. Kids don't just run outside to play for
hours at a time like we did. We have to set up playdates and girl's-night-outs just to have some human contact.

The neighborhood we have lived in for the past six years has been such a great experience. We have never EVER felt such a feeling of community and support. We have our petty little differences and hurt feelings, but through those we also learn how to be better. There is an amazing sense of security knowing that if you had any real trouble, you are surrounded by people who would drop what they are doing and come to help. I have seen it happen over and over.

On a personal note...puhLEEEEZ move to my village! It really isn't the Republican Stepfor Wives that you imagine it to be. I even see Obama bumper stickers on a regular basis. ;)

chris w said...

Stepford Wives - sorry.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

That is hilarious Chris. ForecastCallsForRain and I used to joke about our "perfect" neighborhood. I often imagine it: All of the modest and comfortable houses arranged facing outward with all the backyards touching and no fences. There is a play structure area, sandpile, a huge grassy field and a community garden. Maybe a fenced pool. Perfect weather all year long . . .

Hm . . . Stepford Wives indeed. It sounds a bit like the start of a horror movie. Or at least Edward Scissorhands. One person's utopia is another's dystopia I'm sure. Still, I'd love to give it a try. Let me know when there is a job for us, an Oregon housing market change, and a house for sale in your neighborhood with a downstairs master and a laundry room. ;)

chris w said...

How about we meet in the middle. You move to Salt Lake City/Sugarhouse/wherever your utopia would be to avoid any dystopia and we get to see each other regularly.
You let me know about the Oregon housing market and I'll let you know about the rest. :)

Science Teacher Mommy said...

How is that the middle??? The middle would be like Boise. And trust me, ANYwhere in Idaho would surely be a dystopia! :)

No, I didn't meant that your village would be dystopia. I am maybe thinking that the "perfect" location (utopia) is only in my head.

chris w said...

No...definitely not Boise...*shudder*

I did misunderstand you. I meant meet in the middle as in you still move closer to me but don't move anywhere you wouldn't like to live.

I'm sure you'll be led where you're supposed to be and I'll love keeping in touch with you in whichever way we can. :)

Genjunky said...

You got the idea (village) right - we need the support of one another and I have to totally agree with ChrisW - the isolation factor. As a RS Pres I see that as a big issue and I am awaiting the fallout.

I too live in a ward that is scattered geographically - we Nomad & I met in the "village" or Little Salt Lake as it was often called. I think it has become my utopia though when we were there I couldn't wait to leave(why I'm not sure anymore) - consequence: Baltimore. Live and learn. What will the next place be like? We've already decided since we are in the teenage years with one of our boys that we need a different village! Good luck to us.

Jenny said...

You are so insightful and full of good and meaningful thoughts. I know you will make your ideal village where you live, no matter where that is. We live in a remote, geographically challenging area like you describe, and I often had those same thoughts while watching my two oldest grow up in church groups that do not facilitate what you describe as wanting for your own boys. I fought the urge to moan about it, and we stayed. Now my oldest has left the nest, and because of the way he grew up, he is very aware of what an amazing thing it is to be surrounded (or not) by peers who share your moral values. You're the David, your environment is your Goliath (wink).

Believe and you will conquer. Because you care so much about what you can offer your kids, they'll grow up GREAT not because they are surrounded by church groups, (or not) but because they'll understand and appreciate what it is to grow up with convictions, and living in an area where they might be the only ones in their youth groups might be just the right village for them.

Jenny said...

Dharma and Greg was one of our favorite shows~