Playgroup = magic

7 01 2014

As all parents in the lonely houses of Western-model child-rearing know (and any non-parent with a scrap of imagination will have no trouble believing), there is nothing on Earth that will ever make you feel as stupid as finding yourself responsible (solely or jointly) for the maintenance and happiness of a tiny human, one who doesn’t actually know anything, but can with a single half-focused look convince you that you know ever so much less than nothing and are being judged as so, so lacking.  So there’s a lot about baby-parenting, after 15 1/2 months of doing it, that I’ve learned–I must have, because somehow, working with that afore-mentioned less-than-nothing, I’ve kept her alive.  For 15 1/2 months, most of which Matt’s had to work long days all week during.  There’s also a lot I’m sure I’ve done completely wrong, and a few things I might even feel confident that I might have guessed at in a not-entirely-awful way.

Hands down, though, there’s one totally, definitely smart thing I’ve done as a first-time baby-parent: I started a playgroup.  This may seem silly and obvious to more experienced parents who have done playgroups for years, and it may seem dull or even utterly mad to people who aren’t expert at the stuff–especially the expecting-parents, who can’t really imagine one child running around rearranging everything in the house and spreading crumbs like a snowstorm, and who therefore would never guess that multiplying that insanity would be a good idea, but I swear.  It’s not just a good idea.  It was my best idea.

Let me tell you about the magic that happens here on Tuesdays: kids come over and run around.  Sometimes they squabble, always they spread crumbs; they play with Evanny’s and sometimes Caleb’s toys; they eat whatever snacks we’ve made, they push my kid down sometimes, they have diaper accidents…not sounding magic yet?  Try it this way: they give my kid free lessons in sharing, playing together, picking herself back up, coping with conflicting interests, taking turns on the slide, being gentle with babies, and seeking help and comfort from other mommies–all really important little-kid life lessons that I, on my own, could never teach her.  Free.  And because we’re the ones who usually host, free-without-leaving-the-house (an amazing asset when the wind chill is -22).  And the even better part?  Those kids come with moms (and once we even had a dad!), and the moms bring not only snacks to share but adult conversation: advice about all kinds of little-kid problems to solve; local-expert recommendations for where to go with little people, where to buy what they might need, what kind of sling, available where, works best for carrying what age baby how; instructive stories about nursing and adapting and discipline and room-rearranging; different parenting styles to watch modeled in real life–and, again, it’s all brought, for free, to my living room.  All we have to do is clean up the house a little (which those of you with little kids of you own know never happens unless people are coming over, so it’s a serious hygenic boon, really–like having an excuse to “have” to shower!), put day clothes on (sometimes), put the kettle on so there’s tea to share, and be downstairs by 10:30.  Ish.

So, sure, it’s a dim, domestic sort of miracle, the sort with no hint of an angelic choir anywhere around to herald its arrival, but there is only so much you can say to the cats and a baby (and I talk to all four of them all the time) before you start to go a little mad. And sure, it’s not a dishwasher (whose arrival, in this house, would absolutely be accompanied by an angelic choir)–and as tea cups count, it does tend to make a few extra dishes. But for the wonderment of both of us having other voices in our ears besides our own, conversations to listen to that we didn’t start (and maintain, and finish, and by “we,” I think it’s pretty obvious who I mean), faces to watch–and attention to capture–other than each others’, it’s an amazing, life-affirming, we-might-survive-our-second-winter-after-all sort of thing without (choir or no choir) earthly parallels.

Want to make your own?  If you have a baby, you probably already have the basics: wherever and with whatever you already play with the baby, invite other people with babies to come do it too.  Our starting ingredients were living room + baby toys.  The other really important ingredient is other people with babies.  We found ours on Facebook–our neighborhood, luckily, had a page for neighborhood news, announcements, questions, lost pets, etc. already, so I just build a sub-page and invited anybody in the neighborhood with littler-than-school-age to join the group so we could share little-kid-parenting contacts and recommendations; then I basically said “who wants to come over on Tuesday,” and that was that.  Magic.  If your local kid-pool involves kids older than yours, or a lot younger, you might remind folks to bring some age-appropriate toys so their kids don’t get bored (with Caleb’s stuff here, we didn’t have that problem, but I’ve noticed that mostly the 4- and 5-year-olds who come are happy to spend at least half of their time playing with toddler toys anyway).  If you only have a tiny baby still, buy a cheap pack of sippy-cups and a box of Cheerios at the grocery store: those, a pack of wipes handy downstairs, and maybe a roll of paper towels (we’ve done fine with cloth rags) have been enough to solve any problem we’ve run into for the last four months.

We didn’t start ours til she was about a year old, but that was more because I didn’t find out about the neighborhood page to get the Facebook thing started until late May, and then we were too busy all summer and had Caleb and travel plans anyway, so we didn’t have time to be bored or starved for company.  But if I were doing it over, I’d start earlier, because goodness knows I could have used people to talk to last year and role models for dealing with toddlers before I had one!

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