Every week I cart my offspring off to two or three lovely playgroups, and apart from the fact that they both seem hard-wired to fill their nappies in the most foul way the minute we walk through the door, we all have a lovely time. However, I’ve recently come to the realization that these crayon-filled congregations are not actually for the kids. They provide coffee, crafts, community, and conversation for the sleep-deprived, the floundering, the lonely, and the brave. As an added bonus, they let you bring your children!
If I don’t see another adult all day, my poor husband really knows about it. He arrives home after a hard day in the office to be met with a frantically gabbling picture of dishevelment, who is so desperate for some adult conversation that she can’t actually remember how to make conversation but instead monologues for 25 minutes about the nappy contents of his offspring, current storylines on Paw Patrol, possible dinner choices, and a detailed analysis of how the toddler’s nap is going to affect tonight’s bedtime (it’s never a positive conclusion). Get the poor man a beer.
Don’t get me wrong, I love and am fully aware of how lucky I am to spend every day of these formative years with my kids, but I do have a limit on how many conversations I can have about pretend (but very strict) picnics in one day. (This is the toddler’s current favorite game; it involves a very complex diet plan for each of her stuffed animals, and I am required to comprehensively understand this and serve up the correct colored lego block meal to each “friend” while she sits and watches. The menu can change on a whim and I am not informed when this happens but the consequences for not knowing are dire.)
If I’ve had a few hours of grown-up interaction, my husband will arrive home to a spotless house, an immaculate and cheerful wife, perfectly behaved children, and a delicious gourmet dinner on the table. Okay, that’s a complete lie, but he will get five minutes of peace and quiet with his beer.
The craft table at my local playgroup is wonderful, but not because it’s providing my toddler with a diverse foundation in creativity and self-expression. Every week there’s a different and imaginative craft activity complete with a “Here’s One I Did Earlier” example, and every week the table is packed…with mums. We all pay lip service to helping our offspring color within the lines, but eventually get so involved with decorating miniature fairy doors with glitter and beads that we don’t notice that Junior left the table 10 minutes ago and is currently shoveling half the snack table in his mouth while Mum is distracted.
With a two-month-old and a toddler, I currently find myself particularly starved of creative outlets, and any free time I do get is somehow absorbed by incredibly unsatisfying tasks such as showering, life admin, painting three and a half toenails before being interrupted, and removing baby puke from myself, my carpet, my bed, or my toddler. Let me tell you, the playgroup craft table is the highlight of my week.
Support for the body, support for the mind
There is nothing better than a sympathetic ear over tea and cake at playgroup. I do try not to moan my socks off every week, but during the last few weeks of my pregnancy I was like a whale with a sore head. I was delightful company. But everyone cared so genuinely, because they had all been there before, and really, properly sympathized. It was a bit like having my own personal cheerleading team – it helped push me through those interminable days until I could take my tiny man into meet the squad.
Whether it’s talking about pregnancy, feeding , sleeping, or tantruming, playgroup mums really do form your squad. Tell your childless friend that you’ve had a bad night’s sleep with your cluster-feeding newborn and she will sympathize, sure. Tell another mama and she will grimace in shared pain, and wordlessly get you a cup of coffee while you try and staunch your leaking boobs. Next week you will do the same for her.
Oh, and don’t forget the cake. Any place that involves a voluntary cake rotation is well worth attending in my humble and sugar-addicted opinion.