Sam has been living at The Village since July 2022, with his twin 4-year-old sons Andrew and Arthur. In this interview, recorded in late December 2022, Evy and Sam discuss the experience of being a parent at The Village and raising kids in community.
sam: There are some push factors and pull factors. One push factor is it sucks to be a single parent living by yourself. You go crazy, it’s just you and your kids, you’re not a full human being. When you have the times that you have your kids it’s just you and them, that’s it, that’s the ceiling of your horizon.
evy: Because there’s not enough time to talk to other adults?
sam: Well, once the kids go to bed, it’s just you all by yourself.
evy: And then during the day, it’s you and the kids doing kid things all the time?
sam: Yeah, which is on weekends and not work time. That’s what that is. Your only time to socialize with other adults is work. That’s not good for a person. (both laugh.) That’s bad. So you kind of need community, if you’re a single parent, to not go crazy. And I didn’t have any of that out here, because I moved out here knowing basically nobody, with kids already.
When I moved out here I told my friend living in a community house in SF, “man it would be cool to live in a community, but I can’t do that, I’m a parent!” And then a couple months later she told me about a family-friendly coop that was opening up.
evy: So your friend knew of community homes, and you were like, “that sounds cool but I can’t do that because I have kids”
sam: Yeah, and I’d lived in something similar, like a college version, in college, and loved it. But this is dissimilar in enough ways that -- it’s been a lot different than that semester in college, for some obvious and some not-so-obvious reasons.
evy: Ooo, tell me about that!
sam: Yeah, okay! Well, that time in college was interesting. The food thing is the same, or rather the cooking is the same. The food purchasing is a little different because it’s through dining services, not going out to buy stuff.
evy: Did you cook at the house together?
sam: Yes. You told dining services what you wanted and they got it for you. (pauses.) And it was really cool, it was… how do i say this… it’s like a fraternity without the bad parts.
evy: (laughs) Were you in a fraternity?
sam: I was not in a fraternity. For the first two years of college, I ran cross-country and track at the school I was at, so that kind of meant I was in a fraternity-like organization. I hated them. I quit the team. I liked the sport, but I hated the people. I was really sad. Just in general, and really sad on that team, just because I was like “what the fuck am I doing these people suck. I can’t stand my life with these people.”
So I tried a whole bunch of things, and one of the things I tried was living in this coop, and it was really cool, it was really great, I loved the people I met through it, I loved the environment, I loved the parties that we threw, I loved weird off-nights when we were hanging out around food. That was kind of the big take-away for me.
I ended up moving out after a semester because people were getting really into amphetamines and coke, and I didn’t really want to fuck with that, so -- I didn’t think it was a great situation for me to stay there more than a semester. Yeah, it was too bad. And plus, once you do that, there’s so much else that goes along with that. I saw that the vibe was changing, and what it was turning into wasn’t going to be for me, at least not for a living arrangement.
evy: For parties, though…
sam: For parties, great for parties, and wonderful people. I’d still go there to hang out occasionally.
evy: But didn’t want that to be your home environment
sam: No. It’s weird being the only person not on speed in the room. Not a great feeling, not a great time.
sam: So I kind of wanted that when I moved out here not knowing anybody, kind of wanted that feeling again, being able to step out of your room and say hi to somebody. The intimacy of the friendships you develop with housemates are not really replicable in many other walks in life.
sam: Now, ways that it’s dissimilar. We’ve talked about this -- It’s a lot more directed and it’s a lot more consciously built, and not just something you pay for.
evy: Like the other thing, you feel like you paid more people to do the work of figuring out what was going on?
sam: I paid room and board, we bought through dining services, the janitorial service did the bathrooms, that kind of thing. There was no leaving your stuff out in a common space. The common spaces weren’t ours, not like this. The only communal common space was the kitchen, which is why the kitchen was so cool.
evy: So did you hang out in the kitchen a lot, or did you hang out in people’s rooms?
sam: We hung out in the kitchen, and the dining room, yeah and people’s rooms. So the addition of organizing the kitchen and organizing the common spaces in this house are a lot more about what the community revolves around, or the decision points, the… active politics, I want to say. In a good way!
evy: Yeah! It’s not for everyone, but it’s cool
sam: That’s the stuff of life. Of communal life, anyways. You have many people, you have to make some decisions, some people will be disappointed, how do you make sure that those people feel like despite the fact that they’re disappointed they were still part of the process? Can you lose out on an issue and not feel like you lost power?
sam: So yeah, I wanted that again, and was going nuts living by myself with Andrew and Arthur, no offense to them, I love them
evy: Well, they’re like 4 years old.
sam: They were 3 at that point! Yeah you’re not really a person if it’s just you and your kid. Sorry, you love them, but you’re not.
sam: I think I overestimated how comfortable people would be with my age of kid, or just like know what to do. If you see a kid doing something they’re not supposed to be doing, tell them to knock it off. If you see a kid doing something right, you praise them. That’s kind of it.
evy: If they ask you a question, you answer them.
sam: Yeah, other than that, you listen to them, try to figure out what they’re saying, and respond in kind.
evy: They’re a lot more like normal people than I think people think -- I think that’s part of it.
sam: Yeah, kids are simple. Vibes in equals vibes out. You show them respect and positive energy, you’ll get it back. Pretty simple. Well, a little more complicated when you’re a parent, but not way more complicated.
evy: So you were expecting more people to know how to interact with them.
sam: Yeah, but also people have gotten to know them. I thought it would be a lot easier off the jump for people to start building relationships, and it took a while, but people are really surprisingly getting into the swing of things.
evy: It’s funny, apparently Jenny has never hung out with kids much before. She’s just on the same wavelength.
sam: Yo she’s a natural.
evy: This is just how she interacts with the world. She just treats them the way she’d want her inner child to be treated, I think
sam: That’s beautiful. Hell yeah. Good.
sam: You know, the way that everyone interacts with them is so funny.
evy: What do you mean?
sam: The amount of attention that people feel like giving to them is different person to person. And that’s fair. I can’t, y’know, give the attention to Andrew and Arthur that I want to give them. In an ideal world I’d like to see people engage with them directly-
evy: Like, regularly?
sam: More like, if you’re walking past them and they say something random to you, it would be cool for more people to be like “oh yeah totally, I feel that, what about the other Thomas the Tank Engine thing?” Y’know, just spit back. Cause they’re saying random stuff to you but they’re actually trying to bond with you.
Sometimes people don’t even respond. Look, if that was a grownup saying something, they’d be able to relate to you more directly and say something that you’re actually interested in, in a way that meets your needs. But they’re a kid. They have no idea how to meet your needs. They can barely meet their own.
evy: I remember someone once saying to me, “I interact with kids the way I would with an adult -- if they say something I’m interested in, then I’ll talk to them, and if they're not then I won’t.” And I was thinking, the chances of them talking about something you’re interested in is a little… But you can learn to be interested in it. Same with adults.
sam: Yeah. I talk to them about things I’m interested in. We don't get that far, but a little bit. Or, if they’re curious about something, I go way into depth.
Let’s put it this way. If a kid makes a bid for your attention, not only should you give it to them, you should give it to them in the way you would like it returned to you. If Arthur’s like “why is it raining?” If you’re a weather person and you think that weather's cool, you explain exactly why it’s raining. Because then in the future he knows that you’re a person to bring curiosities to. That it’s safe to be curious with you.
evy: DId you learn a lot about parenting before doing the parenting thing?
sam: L-O-L. No, not even a little bit.
evy: You seem to have a lot of intuitions that I have, not that I’ve directly learned that much about parenting.
sam: I have learned every single one of my intuitions on the job. Every single one. I knew nothing. I’d never interacted with little kids before.
evy: That’s hardcore.
evy: Presumably, most of it is easier, which is why you’re here. Like, if a parent was considering moving into community, would it be all things better? Or are there some things that are harder?
sam: Being more mindful about the pollution that your kid puts off. Thinking about noise and stuff.
evy: That’s actually the same thing Cami [another Village parent] said (laughs)
sam: Yeah, kids make a lot of mess. They have no idea how to clean up after themselves, and it’s excruciating trying to make them do it. Their attention spans, their brains are just not set up for that.
On the other hand, it’s a good thing to be mindful of. Like, I’m not innately a clean person, I really struggle with it, but if it’s in a common space that I’m responsible for then I owe the duty of keeping a common space clean. It’s a lot easier to do that than to keep my own shit clean.
evy: How much do you value having the common space being clean? Are you like “ah it’s so nice that the common space is clean because I’m forced to keep it clean”, or are you more like “eh, this is the same but at least other people are happy.”
sam: I do like that it’s clean. I think the standard of what I consider clean and what other people consider clean is different. Like, a couple things here and there, I consider clean. Some people don’t consider that clean -- they want nothing out of place. So that difference in definition of what clean means is kind of the only spot of friction really.
evy: But your definition of clean is still something you’d have more difficulty doing if you were by yourself
sam: A lot more trouble.
evy: So it’s still beneficial. So that’s the main thing that’s harder, that you have to put in the work to keep things clean, and to like control the noise of your kids. Whereas if you lived by yourself, you’d just let them scream and be like, eh that’s fine for now.
sam: Yeah -- People who weren’t good at this at the jump have mostly become good at this, I will say, to everyone’s credit. -- not an ability people had, but have developed. That’s fair, it gets learned. Ask me how I know. The flip side is it’s definitely, I don’t want to say weird, but different -- most people who aren’t parents interacting with them, I can see them having to change gears, where as for me I’m like, oh a kid, I know how to interact with you. Like it’s just automatic for me.
evy: Whereas you see them take a moment and be like. kid… we’re, yes, right…
sam: I would ask people to spend more time with new kids off the jump to get to know them. People weren’t hanging out with Andrew and Arthur all that much until you set up the thing [childcare signup for the end of Sam’s work day after the twin’s caretaker left] -- which was clutch.
evy: Yeah! That had multiple goals -- one of them being to help you, and one of them for people to talk to the kids.
sam: And it succeeded on every goal!
evy: It cycles too -- the more they like hanging out with them, the more they’ll also want to watch them for you (laughs)
evy: So, yeah. I’m pretty excited with the progress
sam: What surprised me too is that Andrew and Arthur love that.
evy: It surprised you?
sam: I never know what to expect when my kids are developing relationships with a new person. I just have no idea what’s going on in their heads. I am a third party for the first time in their lives on something. Them building relationships with people who are not me -- so that’s been a new experience for me big time.
evy: You’re just like, “whoa this is what it’s like to hang out with you while you’re hanging out with another adult.”
sam: Exactly, yeah. Watch them work with Jenny on a craft project. I’m just like, oh, wow!
evy: And like, Jenny is a different person than you doing different things with them.
sam: Totally different instincts with them, and her instincts sometimes work. So yeah, Arthur and Andrew doing something, I know what I would do.
evy: But she knows what she wants to do.
sam: Yeah, and does it, and it works for her and them. I’m just like, astonished by that. It would be so dependent on the person they’re interacting with.
evy: That’s neat!
sam: Yeah. It’s good for kids, I think, to be around people who are not their parents. Both their own age and older. And develop meaningful relationships with a lot of people.
evy: I think a relationship with your parents is super different than a relationship with a different adult.
sam: But it’s important to develop relationships with other adults.
evy: Yeah, they’re not the ones punishing you, or the ones you go to for protection, they’re just like… a friend who also knows a lot of stuff
sam: Here’s a fucked up thing about society, is that a lot of adults that you’ll develop close relationships with as a kid, are people who are in a position of authority over you -- teachers, coaches.
evy: Yeah… This is a rare instance of just a friend. Obviously not a kid-level friend, but they’re not strong punishment people, they’re just there to hang out.
sam: Yeah, exactly. They’ll tell you to knock it off if you’re doing something dangerous or abusive, but otherwise they can just be like “That’s not how I want to be hung out with, I’m over here”. It’s “meet my need” rather than “learn this rule”, as the ask from the grownup.
evy: That’s pretty cool
sam: Yeah, and I think that most, thinking about teachers and coaches -- is totally different.
evy: Yeah, they have a goal. I think that parents are less of that, but they’re also your one go-to, or two go-to people that are deciding what your life looks like, which is a little… a lot.
sam: I think there’s often an assumption that kids need stability, and that’s true but only to a point. Kids are remarkably tolerant of ambiguity if you acculturate them to that. Like, there are going to be people in and out of the house all the time
evy: Right… Like the idea of -- you’re raising someone here, and they’re going to make friends with the adult, and the adult’s going to move away!
sam: Yeah. That’s part of life. You’re not going to hurt the kid. Sadness is not trauma.
evy: And presumably they get attached to teachers, and teachers are only around for a year. That’s a change that they know happens. You get close to a teacher, and then it’s the next year and you have a different teacher.
sam: I think it’s fine when people come in and out on a day-to-day basis, like -- Willow’s here, Willow’s not here. [Willow’s partner] is here, [Willow’s partner] is not here. I think the idea is that it’s good to teach kids that the important things in life will always be there for them. Their parents, their needs. But distinguishing between that and -- oh this thing has changed, and that’s okay -- is a very good lesson to learn. A little bit of tolerance of ambiguity is a very good thing. Not a lot in our culture makes people do that.
That’s what I have to say.