It Takes a Village to Raise a Child (Or at the Very Least, Transport One)

You all know the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Where is the village?

Every mother, especially in the United States, is faced with major decisions the second her child is born. Many times the choice is between a career or staying home full-time. Then come vaccines, medications, nursing, bottle feeding, sleep training, daycare, preschool, public, private, parenting methods, college savings, you name it. At the end of the day, the responsibility belongs to the parents—the primary caregivers.

Everything seems excessively difficult these days, when it doesn’t need to be. Society’s expectations are beyond anything our parents ever faced. The norms we’ve trusted for decades are now all subject to revision. Up is down, and left is right. What used to be a simple snack to introduce to our babies as finger food for fine motor skills—Cheerios—is now a compromised product to keep out of our pantries. At this point, it feels like the world is trying to make it harder than ever to become a confident mother.

For instance, my nanny has been insisting on preparing every meal for my newborn with meats and produce locally bought and cooked fresh each and every single time he is fed.  One day I asked her to prep enough to last the following day, and she was offended that I would request such a thing. She couldn’t understand how I would give him food prepared the day before. I decided not to tell her that my first-born was fed store-bought baby food for the first year of his life. While I did research organic options, at the end of the day, the jar of food was bought at a grocery store. As long as she’s willing to do it, I’m willing to go along with it since I don’t exactly have a lot of extra time on my hands.

One time, I caught her singing a song she always sings while changing a diaper. My nanny is  credited for teaching my first-born son to speak Armenian, and my second-born to start talking by his first birthday.

Avo, my first-born, goes to a mankapartez that came highly recommended by a dear friend. His teachers are truly amazing. I couldn’t help but remember the brief two weeks he attended a nursery in Dubai just before we moved. That teacher seemed to pay little attention, mostly because she was overwhelmed with so many students. It was impossible to spend quality time with him. Most of the other employees felt like just that: employees.

The moment I dropped him off at this mankapartez, I knew I had made the right decision. After the initial transition, he became very attached to his teacher. They would send photos once a week, and I noticed him sitting on her lap all the time, content with his new surroundings. He has now fully adjusted, making friends and verbalizing his thought process.

Uniting with family at baggage claim in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Arsineh Valladian)

But I’ll never forget the time I had to fly from Armenia through Paris to Washington, D.C… alone with two kids. Avo was almost three years old; Hagop was six months old.

Everything started off just fine. I taught Avo to hold onto my baby carrier straps hanging off my hip so that he wouldn’t wander off. Hagop was on my chest in the carrier staring at the new sights around him. We managed to pass through security and customs, mostly with courtesy and smiles from everyone around us. The line at customs was long, so an employee immediately pulled me aside and allowed me to cut to the front of the line.

When we finally made it to our terminal, we sat down for apple juice and a quick breakfast. Next thing I knew, our flight was called for initial boarding. Meanwhile, Hagop started getting hungry for some milk. He was drinking formula, so I prepped his bottle and started feeding him. But the line was growing, and I knew I’d have to fight for overhead baggage space. So, I proceed to check-in at the gate; I’m handling our passports and boarding passes, feeding Hagop, dragging the carry-on, and keeping my eyes on Avo, who may or may not throw a tantrum or wander off.

As we are waiting to board the plane, an older woman and her daughter (clearly Armenian) noticed I had my hands full. So they grabbed my bag and Avo and asked me where we would be sitting. Before I knew it, Avo was out of my sight, and so was my bag. And yet… I had no fear. I knew exactly where he was. When I got to our seats, there they were. Avo was a bit confused, but he was happy to see I finally joined him. We settled in, and we were ready to go.

Then, the stewardess approached the gentleman sitting next to me. She offered him a seat elsewhere so that I would have room to manage my two children. He apologized to me for appearing rude, but he took her up on the offer so that I would be more comfortable. I was getting there. The passenger sitting in front of us was an older Armenian from France. She and her friends clearly had a wonderful trip to their homeland and were on their way back to their Diasporan sanctuary. They adored both my children, often mistaking them for girls.

I was doing fine so far. Avo passed out for a couple hours. Hagop was somewhat easy to manage at six months old. Feed, burp, sleep, repeat. But holding a baby for five hours can be tiring. At one point, Avo was greeting everyone on the plane. Then he found a playmate, a six year old who kept giving him candy.

At some point during our flight, the Armenian women from France turned around and said, “Why don’t you give that baby to us. You take a break.” I told them I’m doing ok, no need to exhaust themselves for me. Then they just grabbed him and said, “Listen, we’ve all raised kids. We know what to do. Take your break. You’re going to need it.” And so I did.

At some point during our flight, the Armenian women from France turned around and said, “Why don’t you give that baby to us. You take a break.”

 The plane was literally a village. Everyone rallied around us and ensured our comfort until we landed. The flight from Paris to DC was impressive as well with “odars” offering to help But no matter how genuine that one woman seemed, I just didn’t feel right asking her to hold my baby—not because I didn’t trust her. I just felt guilty placing the responsibility on an odar, because I’ve been conditioned to believe it’s an inconvenience for them, whereas Armenians consider it a cherished responsibility. I guess that’s the difference between the village and the lack thereof.

The most I did was ask a young gentleman behind me to watch Hagop as he slept in the bassinet while I ran to the bathroom. He did, and everything was fine. There’s no question the trip was taxing. Avo was a champion, until he fell asleep at the end and cried his head off when I woke him up to exit the plane and go find his medzmama and medzbaba.

He was hysterically crying from the second we got off the plane until we met with my parents. When people tried to cheer him up, he cried more. I even offered him chocolate. He looked at me as if to say, “Woman, some things even chocolate can’t fix!” But what chocolate can’t fix, clearly the sight of his grandparents can. The moment he saw them, tears turned into smiles. As for me, I was barely standing, clearly exhausted, but incredibly grateful for the generosity of strangers. The village.

Now back in Armenia, I find that every day proves me right. I have a crew of people I trust and pay not just to watch my children or prevent them from suffocating, let’s say; but they actually care enough to teach them different languages, important life skills, and above all, how to be kind. The people in this circle of trust love my children like they are their own, but it’s the village of strangers around us that have proven themselves to be equally helpful. They don’t shy away from playing with my children, and I don’t fear them either. The respect for children in this country sets everything else straight. My children are growing up overwhelmed by such positive vibes that I am so eager to see the amazing men they become just based on the warmth they encounter every step of the way.

Arsineh Valladian

Arsineh Valladian

Arsineh has been living in Armenia on and off since 2001 and has worked on marketing and branding for many clients locally and globally. She currently does all the marketing for Adzoukh restaurant in Yerevan, her husband’s latest venture with his friend and business partner.

1 Comment

  1. Arsineh, I completely agree with you regarding the importance of living in a village environment. In researching my family history, I realized that in finding blood relatives, even those who were not relatives, they were still related by the village they all lived in before immigrating to America.In America almost everyone from that village settled in a specific area of Los Angeles. After three generations the “village” has spread out in various areas and only a few remain as descendants of Karakala.

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