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There came a time when my baby was about six months old that I realized that a trip to the grocery store didn't constitute a full day of activity in the outside world for either of us, even if one of us was sneaking samples from the bulk section. The brief walk around the block later in the day wasn't adding much either. (I'd try to make it around the whole neighborhood, but my cell phone kept running out of juice.) So, while sitting in my living room for the tenth straight day, I realized the time had come to consider some alternate entertainment options.
Up until this point I'd avoided organized baby activities. I've never been much of a joiner, and in the beginning I had a ready-made excuse -- I could barely get the baby in and out of the car in less than an hour. Plus, I'd always been a bit closed-minded about these types of things. I'd hear people talking about Mommy & Me, and judging by the name alone it sounded like something I'd have absolutely no interest in. I couldn't help but think, Your baby doesn't need to be making friends at three months old -- you do! But not with people you'll meet at Mommy & Me.
I imagined the worst: magenta-colored walls with enormous yellow suns painted on them, and mommies as perky as preschool teachers, nuzzling their little cuties in their laps, singing cherished children's songs that I wouldn't be able to recall even if there were a gun to my head. Especially if there were a gun to my head! A lot of women taking their mothering very seriously.
So I looked into some alternatives, and as it turns out, there's no shortage of organized activities for you and your cherub -- provided you have unlimited time and money. You can sign your infant up for tiny baby gymnastics, Itsy Bitsy Yoga, dance classes, music classes, and, if you live in New York, you can sign your six-month-old up for Broadway Babies, so they can learn to drool their way through Rent. If you decide that a trip down your birth canal isn't enough of a workout for your newborn, there's even a swimming class that offers lessons for one-day-old babies. What the hell? That just seems like a waste of money. You know how newborns are, by the time the kid is thirty-six hours old, he'll have forgotten everything he learned.
After I reviewed my various options, Mommy & Me started to sound more and more tolerable, so I reluctantly signed up for a class at a local temple, put on my fanciest drawstring pants, and hoped for the best. Maybe I'd make a friend.
It turned out my initial fears were not unfounded.
The group consisted of about twelve women and their babies arranged in a big circle on large colorful mats on the floor. Each mat had a face depicting a different mood and the name of that mood, such as HAPPY, SAD, SHY.
I scanned the room for my best discreet exit strategy, and then planted myself and my baby on a GRUMPY mat nearby.
The woman who sat down on my right had a baby approximately the same age as mine, so we struck up a conversation, which immediately proved difficult because of an unfortunate neon sweatband around her forehead. After a few minutes of not knowing where to look, I turned to the woman on my left. It was then that I made a truly frightening discovery -- she too had a neon sweatband! Imagine the Vegas odds on two out of twelve women in the same room having on the exact same fashion atrocity.
Luckily, right about the time I'd run out of places to focus, our "leader," a woman whose pleasant personality made up for a lack of expertise of any kind, asked who among us had "baby issues" they wanted to discuss. She hit pay dirt with this crowd. It seemed plenty of moms were champing at the bit to hear the advice a group of equally inexperienced women could give them regarding certain pressing concerns. My attitude was getting poorer by the minute.
We spent the next forty-five minutes exchanging information on scintillating topics such as Is Diaper Rash Really a Rash?, The Pros and Cons of Spending Extra Money on Dreft Detergent, and Are Pampers Really Better for Girls? If there hadn't been a leader present, perhaps we could have discussed more important mommy issues such as How to Clean Your Bathroom Without Actually Cleaning Your Bathroom, or Finding Time to Masturbate, but this was definitely all about the babies.
One woman giddily suggested that it might be a fun mommy activity for all of us to drive about forty miles out of town later that week to watch her get her new child car seat installed, and unbelievably, a few women actually seemed genuinely interested. I momentarily considered inviting everyone along for my next Pap smear but was scared I'd get some takers.
During this time my mind started to wander a bit. I glanced around to see if there were any moms who felt as out of their element as I did. I noticed one woman was wearing a pink tank top with the words "Brody's Mommy" spelled out in sequins, like she was some sort of Brody groupie. I wondered what this was all about. I love my baby too, but I've never felt the need to shout it from my breasts. Hey, I own my home, but I don't have that information bedazzled on the seat of my pants. Plus, I've never seen anyone wearing an I HAVE HERPES T-shirt. Yet I happen to know that one out of every six people carries the virus. Wouldn't that be much more helpful personal advertising?
It also occurred to me that I could get a group of mothers with babies around my baby's age together at one of our houses or a park -- for free. This is officially called a playgroup. For a lot of women this is ideal; but I had to be realistic. I can't figure out how to fit a vegetable in with a pasta dish. There was no way I would be organizing a group of women and their babies to be in the same place at the same time -- with snacks -- on a weekly basis.
I snapped back to attention as we shifted to the entertainment portion of the class. Our leader opened her set with a couple of baby crowd-pleaser songs: "Open, Shut Them" and "Wheels on the Bus." It was as I'd feared; I didn't know any of the words to these songs and felt self-conscious and out of place. But as I scanned the room to see if anyone would notice if I snuck out, I finally caught the eye of a woman who looked as ill at ease as I did. She smiled at me and rolled her eyes. There, I'd made a friend. My work here was done. I figured I'd try to get my new buddy to ditch this group and go to the mall.
But when I looked down at the little wriggly baby in my lap, I saw that she was loving it: the atmosphere, the songs, the other babies. My little sweetie's eyes were lit up like Paris Hilton's in a Fendi shop. My heart melted, and I knew I was in for the long haul. She giggled her way through every baby song, clapping game, and nursery rhyme. I leaned in close, nuzzling her ear, and whispered, "You do know this means you will not be putting me in a home when I get old, right?"
Just when it seemed it couldn't get any cheesier, a couple of bird hand-puppets made an appearance. I think they were supposed to be birds, because of the "Two Little Blackbirds" song that accompanied them, but it was difficult to make a visual ID. These puppets looked like they'd been sewn by someone in the midst of a seizure, on a train...during an earthquake. Yet the babies responded like a bunch of sex starved blue-hairs at a Tom Jones concert. I could swear a couple of the babies were so excited they threw their Pampers into the middle of the room. It was downright embarrassing.
And then I realized something even more troubling. I was kind of into it in spite of myself, smiling and laughing along with my baby. I couldn't pinpoint the exact moment I'd gone over to the dark side, but it had happened.
Later in the parking lot it really sunk in as I strapped my exhausted baby into her car seat and yelled "See you next week" to Brody's mom as she drove away in a huge white Lexus with a vanity plate surrounded by flashing lights that read, naturally, BRODYSMOM. I knew with certainty that this wouldn't be the last time I'd be sacrificing my dignity in the name of motherhood. Yes, I'd be back at Mommy & Me next week. And the week after that.
But I wouldn't rule out a little private weekly playgroup with my one new Mommy & Me friend at the nearby El Torito -- free except for the price of four margaritas.
Copyright © 2006 by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor