When getting ready to start maternity leave, I created a Google Calendar called “Parker” and promptly filled it with every single potential support group or maternity leave activity that I heard about from friends, my pediatrician, and Mt. Auburn Hospital. For example, I had bookmarked this post (from exactly three years ago!) and thought that I needed to attend multiple activities every single day of the week. Though Parker behaved better and I felt a lot happier on outings, I soon realized that having a few consistent activities and room for flexibility worked the best for us.
Class & Free Drop-In Groups
Having spent most of my teaching life in very structured time blocks, I longed for the familiar comfort of school when faced with the prospect of unstructured maternity leave. I signed up for the JCC New Arrivals (0-3 Months) and Getting to Know You (3-6 Months) classes at Ready, Set, Kids! in Arlington thinking that parenting classes would help me figure out how to be a mom. Early on, we did check-ins and had a group discussion/lesson about pertinent developmental topics such as sleep, breastfeeding, or preparing for the return to work. As the babies got older, we got to do more activities with them (such as parachute play or the ball pit). I appreciated getting to learn in a small group setting from an experienced teacher and in the company of mothers who were facing similar challenges. Each week, our teacher Liz did an amazing job of focusing each week’s discussions so that we could make progress without getting overwhelmed by the sheer multitude of parenting information that’s out there. I’m sure a lot of the information could have been found via Google, but the filtering definitely helped me focus on Parker’s development. Similarly, the strong personal connections in our small group were worth so much more than the class tuition. Even though I’d come into the class not even thinking about creating a support network, I left with a lot of wonderful mom friends. We spent many a fall afternoon relaxing at Kickstand Cafe or Common Ground, and now we’ll meet up for small “reunions” when there’s a holiday such as Presidents Day.
Two of the women in my JCC classes recommended the Medford New Parents Group as well. This free group meets at Medford High School on Tuesdays, and it’s for parents of children up to 1 year old. Each week, members will check in with their highs and lows for the week and then have an open discussion (one conversation for the entire group). A few folks often meet up at Colleen’s for lunch and some social time before group. Though this group’s facilitator is just as excellent as the JCC one, it has a completely different feel than the JCC classes. It’s drop-in, so it’s a lot bigger with less consistent attendance. There are dads as well as moms (no dads allowed at the JCC classes), second-time parents, and working parents. The discussion topics don’t follow a developmental timeline–for instance, they often arise out of circumstances such as wanting advice for holiday travel. I really enjoyed learning from parents with older babies in this group. Even though they weren’t struggling with the same challenges I was, they often had great advice from having gone through those experiences already. Another bonus: seeing their babies sitting up, crawling, and walking gave me stuff to look forward to for Parker. I also really appreciated that Aine, the facilitator, has a way of making everyone feel welcome and like they can move forward from even the most frustrating of circumstances.
The Library: Cambridge Public Library Lapsit
The library was always one of my favorite spots as a child, so I’d always planned to take Parker there for storytime and crafts. A few friends recommended the baby lapsit (with the caveat that the competition for tickets got so fierce that you’d have to arrive an hour beforehand). At first I thought that was crazy, and didn’t even attempt to go until Parker was 9 weeks old. I took a friend’s advice to go at 9:00 a.m. to pick up a ticket for the 10:00 a.m. lapsit and then go across the street to Darwin’s for a coffee. Parking in the library garage is cheap and easy to find on Monday mornings, which helps with early arrival. When the weather was nice, I’d stroll Parker around the neighborhood and check out the corgis playing in the nearby dog park. Sometimes I’d pick up books for myself in the new fiction section, read board books to Parker in the children’s room. I liked that the children’s room was so welcoming–it’s super clean, has ample bathrooms and changing tables, and lots of couches to sit on and nurse. It’s always hopping with parents, caregivers, and kids.
The lapsit itself lasts about 20 minutes. Julie the librarian (and her model baby Jake, a Curious George doll) leads the group in singalongs and finishes with reading a board book. The “good morning” song always starts, followed by introductions of the babies. The songs are consistent from week to week (to help the babies with language development). The lineup usually includes Pattycake, The Wheels on the Bus, Tony Chestnut, Kissing Frogs, Open Shut Them, Dump Truck, The Noble Duke of York, Trot Trot to Boston, Let’s Go Riding on the Elevator, Jumping Frogs, and Twinkle Twinkle. Even when Parker was going through fussy stages, he was always enraptured by all of the singing and the other babies. I grew to love it as a way to kick off the week.
We also liked:
– hanging out in coffee shops or restaurants (especially Diesel, Dwelltime–now Barismo, and Bagelsaurus)
– walking on the Minuteman Trail, Somerville Community Path, Alewife Greenway, Fresh Pond, and the Fells
– Capitol Theatre Baby Matinee: only went twice, and realized that this is best for really young babies…at six months, Parker would want to be entertained constantly rather than just sleeping through the movie.
– O2 Mommy Baby Yoga: only went once, and now I wish I’d been able to go once he hit six months because he doesn’t need to be held as much and would probably be happy exploring toys on the mat.
Stuff I Wish I’d Tried
I know it’s impossible to do everything, but I do wish I’d tried the following:
– Little Fox Library Singalong
– Jeff Jam Singalong
– Museum of Science (esp. because I could go for free as a K-12 teacher)
– Trustees of Reservations hikes
– Hike It Baby