Story time at your local library is the Holy Grail for many new parents because it is free, a chance to get out of the house, and a potential opportunity to speak to another adult. Many parents have successfully organized a weekly routine out of story hours, puppet shows, craft classes, and music and motion offerings presented by ever tireless, very creative, and immensely patient librarians.
In the process, parents meet other adults with children around the same age as their own, socialize, and maybe pick up some baby sign language. Having this kind of structure makes the many, many hours in a given week easier to fill when you’re the sole caretaker of a tiny, non-verbal human.
As I naïve new parent, I had every intention of making these classes my go-to social activity. Most start around the six-month mark, so when my first child reached this milestone, I scoured the events calendar at our public library. Baby Store Time and Baby Sign Language immediately popped out at me. Baby Sign seemed by far the most coveted class since it required preregistration, so I immediately honed in on it as imperative for my son’s development.
Successfully registered and full of excitement, we arrived 15 minutes early with an overly packed diaper bag. No diaper blowout or snack break was going to take us by surprise or rob us of a single precious moment of Baby Sign.
The teacher was predictably wonderful. The other parents smiled and were open to conversation. We settled our children down around a parachute laid out on the ground full of plastic fruits and vegetables. Today was the “food unit,” and I would go home with some new friends and the ability to communicate with my baby about what he wanted to eat.
All was going according to plan until I unleashed my son on the group. A seasoned crawler at six months, he made an immediate beeline for the most emotionally delicate baby in the class and aggressively snatched a fake apple out of her hands. Once she was a sobbing mess, he moved on to the babies quietly enjoying the fabric tunnel.
Screams and cries followed in his wake as my son gleefully plowed his way through the tunnel, snatching toys and bottles at random. For his final number, he managed to knock over a toddler during bubble machine time, taking him out at the knees with almost surgical precision.
Foolishly, I refused to give up on my dream. I continued dragging my son to Baby Sign despite the fact that he never actually learned one baby sign and even though the other parents’ patience was visibly wearing thin. I somehow deluded myself into thinking that maybe story hour would be a better fit. Unsurprisingly, our attempt to sit through a librarian’s quiet recitation of several children’s classics proved a monumental failure. Forced to admit defeat, I surrendered my dream of designing our routine around story time.
Once I finally stopped trying to mold my son to fit my idea of what a baby should be doing, I learned to go with the flow and find things he actually enjoyed. It didn’t take long to figure out that he was happiest in the baby carrier, taking walks with the dogs. He loved sitting in the rocking chairs on our front porch, watching traffic and chatting with neighbors or the occasional passing retiree. Running errands seemed to be genuinely entertaining for him.
In the end, I realized that on a beautiful day I would really much rather take my son for a walk along the river than sit inside a conference room learning the baby sign for tomato. On a dismal weather day, I could actually read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in the comfort of my own living room with a cup of coffee close by instead of lugging a fussy baby and an over-stuffed diaper bag through a downpour across town to the library.
In short, I created a schedule based on activities that I already enjoyed. I also took advantage of having a child who actually liked tagging along as I crossed things off my to-do list.
Although I missed interacting with the story time parents, I did meet a lot of adults on our rambling walks through state parks and trips to Trader Joe’s – more experienced moms and granddads who would commiserate with me about the lack of sleep and isolation I was feeling, folks with tried and true parenting tips I might not otherwise have learned.
It wasn’t the weekly schedule I anticipated, but it ended up being one that worked for me, and most importantly for my son. No preregistration required.