Of baby groups and social bravery

Eli thrilled to have more egg shakers than he could ever hold at our favourite baby group.

I used to be really worried about attending new baby/toddler groups. It seemed too intimidating to walk into a room of people I didn’t know and try to join in (why yes I do have a little social anxiety, how could you tell?). Subsequently, when Lex was a baby we didn’t go to any baby groups. I eventually started taking him to swimming lessons when he was about 5 months old but as I returned to work (3 days a week) when he was 6 months old that was about all I managed to do with him. I feel sad now for not going to groups where I would have met some lovely people – my local LLL group for example – but I was just too worried about not knowing anyone. Of course it’s really hard to meet new friends if you don’t go anywhere to meet them!

When I was pregnant with Tilly I started looking for things that we would be able to do once I was on maternity leave. My lovely SIL took her son to a group that she thought was great, run by (my now friend) L. and so we started doing that – it was fantastic and we still go. I took Eli to L’s baby group today (and the photo of Eli with the treasure basket, that I use everywhere, was taken there when he was about 4/5 months old). In the first year of Tilly’s life we went to a lot of groups – library, toddler group, LLL, swimming and L’s groups. Almost everyday had an activity and it was great fun. When I returned to work I couldn’t attend many but it was fun whilst it lasted.

I know not everybody enjoys baby or toddler groups but I knew that I wanted to find things for Eli and I to do together – I never went to baby groups with the big kids and I really wanted to this time. Toddler groups weren’t really appropriate this time anyway, Tilly didn’t enjoy them anymore – she’s an October baby so, at 4, found most groups too babyish with not many kids her own age. Thankfully my Mum was able to look after her at times – taking her to the zoo or having her to play at her house – to allow Eli and I to find our own groups.

Baby massage at the children’s centre, which I managed to gather up the courage to book by phoning (yup, phone anxiety too dammit) lead to what was a lovely baby group. That group ended today – we were chucked out over a month ago because Eli was crawling (didn’t stop other crawling babies from being allowed…) but due to staffing blah blah they have stopped the group for now. I thought it would be nice to go to the last one (we were there for the first!) and asked yesterday at the Tuesday not-quite-a-group-but-a-chance-to-meet-up (though we have started calling it the see you next Tuesday group…). You’d think it was the most unreasonable request in the world – I received a reply, which I pretty much tuned out as the tone was horrible, about keeping the group rules intact and what if there are new little babies? Firstly, this is the last group do we really need to stick to the rules (especially when you’re breaking them for others)? Secondly, my friends still attended the group (Eli is the eldest) and over the last month there have been no new people at all. I’m rapidly going off my children’s centre (or at least the manager) the atmosphere, once lovely and welcoming, is now more annoyed and bored of us (the clients!) sadly.

To end this long! saga of baby groups, I went to a new group instead, for one year olds at another local children’s centre. I was brave and it paid off. This looks like it will be a lovely group for the next year and whilst I’m looking forward to our friends reaching their first birthdays and joining us I think we’ll also have fun on our own before they get there.

I thought I’d have more time…

When I became a SAHM I thought I would be freeing up some time, especially as the change coincided nicely with Tilly starting school. I mean, when Tilly was at pre-school and I was on maternity leave I never seemed to have any time to do much cooking, cleaning etc. but surely that was because I was up and down all day with the school and nursery runs.

Tomorrow is my first week where both big kids will be in school full-time – only one drop-off and one pick-up, bliss! I would like to say that I will be ensuring that my house is sparkling (and not just because someone has tipped glitter all over the floor) and that the piles of clean clothes (I got that far last week!) will actually be put away but I can’t really. So far the week is shaping up to be a social whirr of lunch, groups, more lunch and then on Friday, a day off (which I’ll probably spend slumped in a heap)… Work would be a break at this point (although lunch there wasn’t half as good as the Turkish place I’m going tomorrow).

So, how long did you breastfeed the others for?

Through our baby group I’ve made friends with a great group of mums all of whom are first-timers. To begin with, and surprising to me considering the breastfeeding rates in my local area, the majority were breastfeeders. This has changed slightly over time and I think we have a 50/50 split now as people have weaned onto formula for a variety of reasons. As our babies get older, the first two soon to hit the 1 year mark, there’s more talk of weaning and the question has been asked, ‘So how long did you breastfeed the others for?’.

The person who’s asked is handily the one who is most able to understand that everybody does what is right for them and my choice does not mean I expect you to do the same. I’m not ashamed that I fed the other two until they were a few months past their third birthdays but I know how strongly people can react to the idea of feeding a young toddler let alone a walking! talking! able to ask for it! pre-schooler. I’ve heard one person voice the idea that ‘it’s wrong when they’re bigger’ and it makes me sad and frustrated that it’s this attitude that can make extended breastfeeders hide away feeling that they are doing something strange and that they aren’t supported.

I hope that my answers to this question or its companion – ‘so how long are you going to breastfeed Eli for’ given truthfully puts a normal face to longer-term breastfeeding rather than the ‘look at the strange weirdos’ image the media likes to put across. I also hope that it shows that you don’t ‘have to’ wean at 6 months/1 year or which ever arbitrary milestone is reached whether or not mum and baby want to continue. Of course mostly I’ll be carrying on doing what works best for my family and me and happily supporting my friends in what works for them.

Yet another ‘expert’ at the children’s centre with the expertise of a banana

I like our local children’s centre. It is next to the big kids school so convenient and close to home. The woman who is in charge is friendly and fairly well educated (a bit obsessed with babies’ sleep but so are most of the parents she sees I suppose). I’ve met some good friends at the baby group (which we are now officially no longer allowed to attend but they’ve started a new session for us to go to so that’s nice) and we’ve had some interesting discussions there.

I do, however, take issue with the some of the ‘experts’ that we’ve had to talk to us about various things at the baby group. Many others truly were experts, the lady from the in car safety place was scary – don’t store car seats in garages or lofts! rear face forever! are you sure your seat fits in your car because even if it looks like it does it might not!! – but she did know what she was talking about. The lady from the speech and language team likewise although she did limit her scary talk to terrifying those whose babies used dummies. The PND counsellor knew her stuff as did the health trainer. There have, however, been a couple who have just left me wondering what exactly resulted in them being trotted out for the talk.

The first non-expert was the centre manager who came in to talk to us about treasure baskets. Now, years of going to a heuristic baby and toddler group has shown me how brilliant these can be and yet she did such a poor job of introducing them. She tortured us by making us talk about each item – OK for the first couple but then not much more could be said. She then tortured the babies but not letting them play with the baskets. She eventually left without saying goodbye probably cursing us for being a tough crowd.

Today was depressing too. A weaning ‘expert’ from another children’s centre who’s expertise was certainly doubtful as he:

  • stated that the guidelines are ‘always changing’ - well it’s been 6 months for almost a decade now…
  • stated that waking in the night is not a sign for readiness for weaning - great – then stated that it might be - huh?
  • couldn’t quite remember more than one of the signs of readiness
  • said that he didn’t know much about this new-fangled baby lead weaning thing - so new that the name has been around for at least 6 years, I first read about it in this Ask Moxie Q&A: Introducing Solids, and that ignores the fact that it’s a practice that’s been around much longer
  • gave some information but constantly ruined that with advice ‘well this is what the guidelines say but if I were you I’d do xyz’ - since he didn’t let us know any of the qualifications he has to be a weaning expert I can’t but assume that perhaps research studies are more useful than his gut feeling
  • insisted that you should always start with purées and never mix different foods because allergies scary! - really, so if you’ve no history of allergies and you’re starting at 6 months (oh wait he’s not too sure about the whole 6 month thing)…

At least he suggested that babies should be having table food as soon as possible (although did spoil that by insisting it should be mushed). He was also clear that milk should be a baby’s main food until they’re one thank goodness as that’s not the opinion of at least one of the local health visitors.

I don’t have the energy to write a complaint because really he didn’t say anything particularly harmful just disjointed advice and not particularly expert opinion. I think his main expertise came from having his own kid – not through any research or study on the subject he was supposed to be teaching. It’s probably a good thing we aren’t allowed to go to the group any more – not sure I could handle any more ‘expert’ advice.

Kids always have to prove you wrong

Today at our baby group (only allowed to attend one more session <sob>) while watching a 5 month old who had just conked out on the mat, I said to those around me that I have never had the type of children who could just fall asleep anywhere, like in a highchair for, I don’t know, an example.

Guess what Eli did tonight… How does a baby do that – you say, oh he never does x, y or z and within no time, and despite not having the receptive language skills or forward planning to make their parents look silly, they’ve done whatever it is they never do and you look like you don’t know your child very well.

Today it is possible that Eli had just not had enough sleep during the day as a trip to the zoo and then baby group had scuppered his ability to nap but it was, almost certainly one of the funniest things I have ever seen. The poor child was trying desperately to eat but just. couldn’t. keep. his. eyes. open. He then tried to sleep in the high chair but only lasted a minute before he realised he was horribly uncomfortable and started screaming. After I released him from his plastic not-a-bed he snored happily on my lap until bath time. Of course I was concerned that his impromptu nap would mean difficulty in getting him to sleep at bed time but no, he really was tired and had no issues dropping off in bed.

Sadly of course, this type of one-upmanship does not take place when you say things such as ‘they never sleep through the night’ or ‘they never spend days not bickering with their siblings’ <sigh>.

Treasure

I think this is one of my most favourite photos ever. Eli loves his Baby Eureka group and is desperate to play in the treasure basket but at 4.5 months can’t quite get his hands to do what he wants. Today he slept through the latter half of the session after lots of bouncing and attempts at the treasure basket. It’s been a bit quiet – there was only us last time and one other baby this week but it’s still a lovely group. I never went when Lex was a baby and couldn’t take a toddler when Tilly was teeny so I’m very happy to get to go this time.