Playgroups. I think we all must have some preconceived idea of what goes on when a bunch of mothers and their offspring get together for such an event. We envision babies sitting on play mats sucking on teethers, and toddlers laughing at each other while eating graham crackers and cheerfully drinking apple juice in sippy cups. Kids making friends and learning social skills. Moms chatting over cups of coffee, sharing the war stories of parenthood. Kids happy. Moms happy. Its a winning combination, think recess peanut butter cups. If only.
I attended my first playgroup when Zack was just about two months old. While I would never have admitted it at the time he was really, well a blob. He nursed, he slept, he cried and occasionally made a face that somewhat resembled a half-smile. Yet, off I went, armed with a fully packed diaper bag and a loaf of homemade banana bread. I was ready to face the world, join a playgroup, get out of the house. The playgroup was a disaster, or at least it was in my mind. It was a group comprised of 6 or 7 women and their infants. We met at the designated home and sat on the floor, babes attached to our breasts, or wailing in a car seat. We made polite conversation between diaper changes and spit up episodes. One mother boasted about how she made her own baby wipes, another explained the benefits of "attachment parenting" and proclaimed that co sleeping was the "only way to go". I decided not to share that my baby wipes varied depending on what brand was on sale at Safeway and that Zack had been sleeping in his own crib since the day we brought him home from the hospital, I thought I might get voted off the island. After about an hour had passed we all collected our diaper bags and babies and said our goodbyes. I thanked the hostess and left knowing I would never be back. Playgroups just weren't for me.
I stuck to my vow and never attended another official "playgroup" again until Evan was born and I made the decision to stay at home. At that time I had enough self awareness to know I would go crazy sticking around the house 24/7 and that I had to fill my days with a variety of kid-friendly activities. I found the group through the Highlands Mommies email list. The group was just getting started and members were all women having babies in June 2008. Most of the mothers had older children as well so there would be playmates for Zack. Our first gathering was somewhat awkward. We got together with our newborn babies and compared notes about their development and our lack of sleep. I hosted. I was a little concerned that these ladies would be less than pleased with my hyper dog Bascom and my non-organic snack offerings. Nobody seemed to mind. In fact, over time we all grew more and more comfortable with one-another. We started meeting weekly, the wine began to flow, the topics of conversation began to switch from 100% child focused to our crazy in-laws and our future goals. Real friendships actually began to form, all in the backdrop of shear chaos. (The kids). As we chatted away and sipped our wine, the children created all kinds of trouble. As the kids became more comfortable in our homes, we would find bigger messes. They would find the cheerios and spill them across the kitchen. One child got into my cat box and play with the "sand", another poured a box of baking soda all over the attic floor. But it was okay, because in fact, mommies were happy and kiddos were happy. I have actually been about just how much I get out of playgroup, more than I think my children do!
This was perfectly illustrated at last Thursday's get-together. Moms were blabbing away in the kitchen, venting about the past week's events, and the kids were, well having a "tuff time". Particularly Zack and a little 3 year old named Jamison. Zack had insisted on bringing Mr. Brown Doggie to playgroup. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Brown Doggie, he is a shabby, poor excuse for a stuffed animal. He is well loved and accompanies Zachary almost everywhere. Zack had temporarily lost interest in Mr. Brown Doggie and was focused on a plastic something-or-other. Jamison grabbed a hold of Mr. Brown Doggie, and Zack lost it, and I mean lost it. He ran chasing a boy nearly one year younger than him around the room, arms outstretched, mouth open wide in an ongoing wail. Jamison's mother and I turned from our conversation to attend to the boys and redirect. All was well in the world for approximately two minutes when Jamison and Zachary were fighting over something once again. Frustrated we again turned our attention to the boys and tried to defuse the situation. Just as we were refilling our glasses, another cry from Zack-"Mommy, Jamison is being mean to me!" Now although I want to raise a sensitive, empathetic child, there is a large part of me that wants to tell my son to "suck it up! Your bigger than all the kids here today, and given your genetic make up and physical stature this is the last time in your life that this will be the case, so quit your crying!!". But I kept my mouth shut. It was Jamison's mother who whirled around and said "Jamison, just stop it! Can't you just.... play by yourself?" At this I had to burst out laughing. Wasn't this after all, PLAYGROUP??????
Yes, our playgroups are messy, chaotic and noisy, but so are our lives. I found that it is far better to share this experience with good friends, rather than to go it alone. Thanks to my ladies in the June Babies play group.