We speak about tribe a lot. As homo sapiens, we live best in community groups of 12 to 30 people.
When a new family arrives at the ranch, we usually see a family isolated, lonely, and frustrated. Barraged with advice and declarations of how to “fix” their special needs child, they get advice from everywhere. The grocery store (“if you were just more strict with him”) and from well meaning relatives (“have you thought about military school?”). Even therapists, specialists, and teachers chime in with opinions.
What kind of a world would we occupy if these families could just be? What if there was a place to celebrate being family, to feel encouraged, and to offer support? A meal eaten with other families while children played nearby. Sound Utopian?
Most definitely not.
When we gather our magical family camps atop the ridge at Square Peg, we create tribe. We eat together, play together, and tell stories together. We sit at the water’s edge, let our guards down, and rely on each other. Every single time, these tribal gatherings create something amazing.
Several weeks ago, another tribe invited me to screen a film entitled “Horse Boy” and to lecture on the Horse Boy Method, Rupert Isaacson’s technique for working with autism. You should know that I will talk to anyone who offers me a microphone or a soapbox (or both). So what did I do? I packed up the film and some brochures and headed out knowing only that I would speak to a group of Chinese parents at a church in Saratoga.
When we arrived, several young adults with special needs were milling about. It took them a minute (maybe less) to look me in the eye and call me “auntie.” I felt at home. I provided a brief introduction, dimmed the lights, rolled the film, and took a seat in the back while parents trickled in. All too soon, the time was up and parents rushed out the back door to take their children out of class. Our host approached us with an honorarium, a plaque, and an invitation to join the group for dinner.
We accepted all three.
In the cafeteria across the courtyard from the church sanctuary, all of the families gathered together for a community cooked meal. The food was simple and delicious and was served on brown McDonald’s trays. Kids ran, played, and ate while banging on instruments and dancing. Announcements were made, birthdays acknowledged, dish-washing assignments made, and plans formalized for the next meeting.
We learned that the group started in Fremont in the 90’s and now boasts several hundred families. This Saratoga group is the original group’s first satellite and is growing quickly. As dinner wound down and the tables put away, groups formed—groups for mothers, for older kids, for fathers, and more.
I was astounded to the soles of my dusty boots.
Some of us perceive Chinese culture to be punishing toward special needs families. Shame often isolates these families even more so than in the US. How did this group engage the best of Chinese culture to form a community of caring, celebration, and tribe? A tribe that clearly responds to the needs of each member. Here’s my real question—why aren’t we all doing this? Why is this special? Celebrating family with food and music, song and dance, art and support, is surely the best of who we can be. It happens every other Saturday in a cozy little church in Saratoga.
I’m honored to be part of this community.
Let’s start more tribes. Let’s honor the family and create communities to break the spell of isolation. Help Square Peg be that blessed space for families to celebrate tribe. Parent groups come and go. Groups where moms can “get away” are terrific but I’ve seen power struggles and overworked organizers cause most to crumble. What about groups that include the whole family—siblings and fathers—and offer something for everyone as well as celebrate community all while not trying to fix something?
I’ve lived it, I’ve seen it, and I’m here to tell you it’s very, very good.