It Takes A Village

This is a re-post from Redefining Traditional, a community aiming to equip student parents with the tools to navigate their various roles, build a community of support and belonging, as well as providing a space for productive dialogue amongst policy-makers to help reimagine higher education. If you’re interested in contributing to our online community, we encourage you to share your story as a student parent by filling out this form.

Heather Watts smiling to the camera
Heather Watts, Design Researcher

Throughout my childhood, I lived in a number of different communities and homes. Burlington, Ottawa, and Cambridge, Massachusetts are just a few placed I have called ‘home’ over the years. Our moves across Turtle Island were a result of different career opportunities my father pursuing. I remember the networks of friends and family that supported me as a young child: Anna in Burlington, Tara in Ottawa, and Robin and Charmaine in Cambridge. I’m sure there are many others, but these are folks I have vivid memories of riding bicycles in the driveway, taking long walks down our residential street, and playing hours of Monopoly with (you know you’re making an investment of time when you sit down to play Monopoly!) To these people, I thank you. You weren’t merely babysitters, or but people who I looked up to, confided in, and leaned on during my younger years.

Fast forward twenty-something years, and there is a new life brought into this world. My Nico. When I think about our network, our village that has had a hand in raising Nico, and raising me as a Mother, I can’t help but get a little emotional. It goes beyond babysitting him when I have a mid-term paper due in six hours, beyond picking him up from school when I have class, and beyond buying him new shoes as he grows (which is going a little too fast for me, to be honest!). Of course, I am grateful for all these contributions, but want to stress that the impact and love of our village goes far beyond that.

A tree growing inside a heart. When the pandemic hit, my son and I had already planned on coming to my family home to spend the March Break with my parents. As cases began to rise and we learned more about COVID-19, we decided to stay in Six Nations and not return to Toronto. Our apartment sat empty from March to August, and only saw human life when we came to pack up our belongings and move out. I feel fortunate to be with my family during these incredibly challenging and uncertain times. I was asked by a co-worker earlier in the summer if it was weird for me, as a 30-year old woman, to now be living with my parents. The question struck me as somewhat judgmental and caused me to pause and reflect. The short answer is no. Returning to the land that my Poppa played on as a little boy, that my aunts and uncles visited as children, that my sister raised her family of five on, is something that is so sacred and special. My colleague’s question also revealed to me a difference in worldview or expectations in her community versus mine. My family is my village. My son is fortunate to have a relationship with his aunts and uncles, cousins, and extended family that goes beyond holiday dinners and milestones.

To our village, we love you and we appreciate you. I know I don’t express it enough. You are the reason I can even be in a doctoral program. Your unconditional and unwavering love and support are felt at the deepest parts of my spirit and I am fortunate to have you all.

Mom. Dad. Felix. Aunt Janet. Lisa. Stu. Vanessa. Shane. Aunt Ginger. Uncle Dean. Maise. Joe.

Kwanorónkwa – We love you all.

A family on a trip waving and smiling to the camera.
Our family in the beautiful Dominican Republic last December

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