Kindermusik. Gymboree. Mother’s Center. Baby Swim Class. Moms Club. Moms and Tots. Story Hour at the Library. SAHM Club.
I read over the seemingly endless lists of activities for mothers and their young children, page after page in the free local parenting newspaper. There’s just one problem. For me, these are all a few thousand miles and an ocean away from being “local.” I picked up the paper on our last visit to the States.
Here, just outside Madrid, Spain, I have seen nothing of the sort. There are no organized activities, no play dates, no nothing. So, from the moment Pedro wakes up until the moment he goes to bed, we have our own little program: Just Mommy and Me. My husband helps out when he can, but most days he arrives home from work right about the time Pedro is having dinner and getting ready for his bath and bedtime routine.
Our neighborhood is new, and I often see women pushing strollers or carriages through the supermarket, along the street. I imagine these women in their well-kept houses, their children playing quietly (without the benefits of U.S.-style child-friendly television programming such as Sesame Street) as mom prepares healthy snacks and lunches that the kids are only too happy to eat, and with a minimum of mess. Then, after a refreshing two-hour nap, mom and tot head serenely toward the playground. Why would they need Kindermusik or play dates?
Okay, I’m sure this little fantasy is not the whole truth. In fact, after the four months covered under Spain’s maternity leave, most moms go back to work. While many American moms are “opting out,” this is just not economically feasible for most Spanish couples, who need two incomes to pay the bills. The general employment situation is such that those who have a steady job are likely to do whatever they can to keep it, so that means going back to work.
Though of course there are some moms here at home with the kids, the concept of the Stay-At-Home Mother doesn’t seem to exist. In the States the SAHM label serves as shorthand, denoting a woman who has chosen to be a full-time caregiver and who is committed to providing her children with plenty of opportunities for their optimal development. Here, it seems that those moms who do stay at home take a more casual approach, thus my perfect-mom fantasy above.
But the truth is that I don’t actually know any SAHMs here. And that is another problem. When I take Pedro to the playground in the mornings, there are often no other kids there, or else a few kids accompanied by that most-favored of daycare providers, Grandma or Grandpa. On a few occasions I have actually found, and conversed with, other mothers, but it doesn’t help that Pedro rarely stays in one place long enough for me to exchange the most cursory of small talk before I have to run to catch him as he attempts to high-dive off the slide or run into traffic.
Some days those 13 hours between wake-up and bedtime seem to stretch out endlessly, leaving me to tear my hair out, or at least pop in that Elmo DVD one more time so I can log on to the Internet for some adult interaction (no, not THAT kind of adult interaction, I promise!) What I find online is an instant community of moms — there are bulletin boards where you can get advice on everything from sleep issues to fussy eaters to biting, from experts or other moms who have, in Internet lingo, BTDT (been there done that.) Endless lists of mama blogs, online journals that allow the reader a personal look into the daily lives of other families. Specific email lists for moms who share a similar parenting philosophy, or have similarly aged children. And my favorite, lists for writing moms, where I can get in some discussion about the creative process and recover a bit of my former self, yet where no one will roll their virtual eyeballs if you mention an important baby milestone. In many ways these online friends, some of whom I have been corresponding with for a few years now, really do fill the need.
Still, I find myself yearning for some real-life friends to chat with over coffee, or to hang with at the park while our kids play in the sand.
For now, I order books from my favorite library-substitute, Amazon.com — books for moms like me, desperate for ways to provide Junior with appropriately enriching activities and alternatives to scaling the furniture. One of them recommends: “Read this book from cover to cover and create a weekly planner with activities you want to try each day.” A Weekly Activity Planner form is included for my convenience, along with the admonition that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” It’s a bit overwhelming, to say the least.
But maybe there is some good in all of this. Certainly it’s nice to live in a culture where there are no so-called “Mommy Wars.” Pedro and I can stay in our pajamas all day if we want to, with no one’s schedule to consider but our own. Truthfully, from some of the accounts I’ve read of those toddler classes, it sounds like they can be pretty awful. Of course I’m still hoping to make some other mom-friends, and perhaps I will meet some in my childbirth ed. class (yes, we are expecting Baby Number Two in July!) or in some other place when I’m least expecting it.
In the meantime, though, I am optimistic about today’s first activity, coloring. I pull out a pack of washable markers, and cover the area of the table in front of Pedro with white paper taped down to the plastic tablecloth so he will have a large, fixed surface on which to draw. I give him a few colors, help him take the tops off, and watch as he makes a few marks and squeals with delight. So far, so good. I go into the kitchen for a moment to see if the washing machine has stopped, and when I come back, I am dismayed at what I see.
Pedro has lost interest in drawing on the paper, and instead has been ripping it off the table in pieces. Meanwhile, he seems to have discovered that markers also work on hands and arms. So much for that activity.
But that’s okay — tomorrow is sure to be a winner. I’m whipping up a batch of homemade playdough, and we’re going to get down and dirty. And if all else fails, there’s always Elmo…