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.

Sometimes the seaside is lovely and sometimes it’s cold and windy (but the kids had a good time)

We went to the beach today. It seemed like a good idea at the time – the children’s centre were renting a beach hut, there’d be activities for the kids and friends for me to chat to, in theory a lovely day. In reality it turned into a day from which each participant emerged with a different story.

Eli would tell you that he had a good time (mostly). He sat on a picnic blanket near the beach and played with shells, spades and pebbles. He had a box of snacks (but would have preferred the snacks his siblings had). At the café he chatted to the other babies and was most put out at not being allowed to crawl about on the, frankly, very grubby floor. He then enjoyed a lovely cuddly sleep in the sling as we walked down the beach before heading home and singing and chatting to Lex in the car.

Tilly and Lex would also tell you how much fun they had. They dug in the pebbles and collected as many shells as possible (although were somewhat disappointed to be limited to taking home two each). Tilly enjoyed the opportunity for some sticking and drawing in the beach hut. They had hot chocolate with both cream and marshmallows in the café and were allowed to chill out with the iPhones whilst the adults chatted and relaxed out of the wind. They then had a chance to run down the beach and explore the exposed rock pools which was fun even if there weren’t any crabs or fish to be seen. All the fresh air meant heading home, cuddled under coats in the car, was a nice time to rest rather than an end to all joy and fun (as it often is).

I had a reasonably good time, sitting with Eli on the beach, chatting to my friends and watching the big kids have a good time. The wind was annoying but on a pebbly, muddy beach at least there was no sand flying into my eyes (except when toddlers digging in front of us threw it in the air but I blame the parents for that). The most entertaining part was on the drive in when, on a narrow stretch of road on which we had priority, an older woman coming the other direction decided to try to push through. There was nowhere for her to go and no amount of her gesturing and driving at the car in front of us made it possible for her to pass us or us to pass her. The stalemate was only ended by R getting out of the car and pointing out to her the priority sign showing she was in the wrong. At that point, with much unhappiness, she made a complete hash of reversing back through the bollards that marked the start of the narrowing, to allow us to pass. She acknowledged R’s cheery wave with what I can only imagine were words not meant for young ears. The incident is still making me chortle hours later.

R did not have a great time. I don’t think watching the big kids whilst I socialise is his idea of a great time. Tilly spilling his drink and Lex dropping his phone on the floor weren’t happy moments either. He was especially narked when, trying to type in his pin code to pay for drinks, Tilly’s constant chatter flummoxed him and caused him to freeze his card through incorrect pin entry. His only happy moment (aside from unable to read signs lady on the way in) was probably when we left and just missed being soaked by rain. The drive back even annoyed him when a learner driver was sent to try his remaining patience.

So, 9/10 for the kids, 7/10 for me (the wind knocked a few points off) and about 2/10 (if we count the old lady as 2) for R.

How often do you manage a family day out where everybody has a good time? We achieve it occasionally but it often seems that at least one person will have a miserable time despite the activities. I’m guessing as the kids get older and their interests diverge it will become even more tricky. Still, at least kids (unlike grown-ups) are relatively easy to entertain even if it is overcast and windy digging in pebbles is great fun!

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.