Monday, October 25, 2010

Get Out of the House

One of the best pieces of a advice I can give to a new stay-at-home mom is to find ways to get out of the house. The prospect of ten hours alone with the baby, five days a week, for weeks on end was very daunting. Getting out of the house was a very simple way to make the time more managable. It breaks our day into chunks of time. However, at first, going out alone with Natalie was scary. I was worried about Natalie becoming inconsolable in the middle of the grocery store. I wasn't yet comfortable nursing in public. Then there was the car seat to deal with - getting it in and out of the car, placing it on shopping carts correctly. And then, I didn't really know where we would go since we didn't have family near by to visit or friends who were home during the day.

In the beginning, the easiest way for us to get out of the house was to take a walk. Almost every day while Mike was working from home before returning to work, I went on a walk with Natalie. We still take a walk as often as possible. When she was under about 8 months and under, a walk was a guarantee that she would take a nap. Once we resumed walks after the peak of summer heat, we switched to the forward facing stroller and Natalie no longer naps on our walks. I like this better because it is a way for me to entertain her. Natalie really enjoys being outside. I often talk to her about the sounds we hear and some of the usual things we see, but it is also a time when we both are quite and just look around. And, fresh air is supposed to help babies sleep better.

Walks isn't the only way we get out of the house, though. One of my favorite outings is the weekly (or sometimes bi-weekly) trip to the library. As a self proclaimed bibliophile, and taking into account my profession, education, and love for my hometown library, it is no real shocker that I took Natalie to the library for the first time when she was just three weeks old. We've gone almost every week since then unless doctor appointments, being out of town, or bad weather have permitted it. (Even when out of town, we've gone to other libraries on occasion).

There are a few things that make the library a great destination. First of all, we go at a specific time for story time with Mrs. A. The content of story time for babies and toddlers includes a few books and many songs, most of which include hand motions or lap games. This is a great way to entertain a child, and you go home with new songs to sing. The other invaluable competent to story time for stay-at-home moms is the social aspect. We do not have family in the area or any friends in the area who are also stay-at-home moms. This means from about 7am to 5pm, its me and the baby unless a politician or Jahava's Witness comes to the door. Story time allows me to see other adults, even if we don't get to talk much. And, of equal importance, Natalie gets to see other children and adults. As she's grown, she has gotten familiar with not just the story time librarian, but some of the regular moms and their children. (I'll write another blog about what makes a great story time / children's library).

A trip to the library is also a great outing because of new books to take out. Library cards are usually free. So, for free, you can sit and read several books and / or take a home a big stack to read at home. If you can't afford many books at home, this is very economical. If you are sick of reading the same books over and over, this adds some variety. The library is particularly great for holiday themed books, which aren't really worth the price to read for a only a couple of weeks. Children's libraries usually have not only traditional picture books, but also board books versions of favorites (such as Goodnight Moon) and board books directed for babies (such as Global Babies).

Lastly, the library is a safe place to let your child run around. True, there are racks she could whack her head on, but its really no more dangerous than the backyard. Unlike letting her walk in a store, she can't really cause much damage, and even if she did, the librarians are used to it. All the children's rooms I've been to have been set up so that Natalie can't get away from me and run out of the room into a more dangerous location (like the street).

Another way to get out of the house is to join a play group. I took Natalie to play group the first time the week she turned one, which was the perfect time for us. She was walking so she could explore toys on her own and she was at a low for stranger anxiety. For us, we found a play group through our home visitor program. It is held a community center downtown. It meets twice a week, with the second meeting having an optional craft. Seventy-five percent of the play group time is unstructured play. Just like going to the library, it is a great place for Natalie to see other kids playing and to be exposed to other adults; meanwhile, I get an excellent opportunity to talk to other moms. The variety of toys is also great. Natalie gets to try out different types of toys without us investing any money. If she were to really love something (for example the baby dolls with bottles or play dishes) we can now purchase them knowing she will use them. It also allows her to use things we can't afford or store, such as large train sets or those super cool kitchen set ups I always wanted as a kid. Lastly, play group is an even safer place for her to run free since everything there is meant for to play with and it totally baby proofed.

A trip to the park is also a great way to get out of the house, as long as the weather permits. At first, Natalie didn't like the park. She was scared of the equipment. A few times, I took Natalie to the park near our library to just see the people and sights or to sit on a bench and have a snack. Now that she is a year old, she is interested in exploring the park even if she doesn't swing or slide much. We had to try out four parks before we found one we love. This one has your standard play ground equipment which is clean and in good working order, but it also has a duck pond and several fields to explore, including a baseball field with dugout and bleachers.

We are currently looking for more safe places for Natalie to explore indoors, since walks will be out of the question in a matter of months due to the snow. (Even if I wanted to bundle her up, the tall snow banks and mess ground will make it unwise). Last winter, our usual daily outing was to go run errands. Most of our errands are shopping. We went everywhere - Walmart, Shaws, Hannafords, Kmart, the pet store, the book store, the music instrument store, the craft supply store, Khols, Sears, and just walking around the malls. This worked out well for doing Christmas shopping, but otherwise usually resulted in me spending more money than I planned. It was fun to show Natalie the different things you find only at certain types of stores and to fully explore our usually haunts for things for her to see, such as the goldfish and ceiling fans at Walmart or the lobsters and books at the grocery store. While not as child friendly as other places, shopping does expose your child to new people and things. It gives you both a change of scenery.

Sometimes we would run other errands that didn't qualify as shopping. These are things that before I had a baby, I would usually put off doing for a long time and then do all in one day. Instead, we would do one or two a day. These included trips like: donating items to Good Will, donating food and diapers to a food pantry, going to the post office, paying bills in person, going to the bank, returning bottles. These are even less stimulating for you and baby, but they do provide the change in scenery and you can have the satisfaction of completing a long to-do list. You don't have to stay at home when you have these things to do. You can find a way to make it work.

Of course, there are tons of places to go as family outings on weekends or vacations. For me, most of these things are a little too far away or too long of an activity for us to do alone, but I also choose to save them for times that Mike can be around to enjoy them with us. These types of outings would be going to the beach, the zoo, museums, apple picking, petting zoo or farm, etc. As Natalie gets older, we will add many more places to this list.

I also recommend to get out of the house without your baby. It is very freeing to carry only your belongs in a small purse. To walk without pushing a stroller. To park where you please without worrying about distance to shopping carriage returns. You'll be amazed how quickly you can run a few errands without having those extra steps of carting the little one with you. Getting out without Natalie is something I don't get to do often. Ideas for what to do when you get out without baby: a walk, errands, fun shopping, salon, visit friends, see a movie your husband won't see, take a class through a local college or adult education program. Another great luxury is being alone in your own house. So get Dad or Grandma to take baby one of the above places and enjoy your time alone!

Another piece of advise you see all the time is getting out as a couple without your baby. This is another thing we struggle with. We don't have a baby sitter. We've gone out alone less than 20 times in a year, and at least 75% of those times were when Natalie was sleeping. So, I big piece of advise I have for parents is to not do what we did. Find a babysitter sooner rather than later. Once we finally get one, I'll write about the process we went through.

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