In the end, it wasn’t loneliness that made me do it – or even the belief that it was essential for Max’s development. No, it was plain, old-fashioned boredom.
Boredom, I think, is one of those things you’re not really supposed to admit to as a parent: in fact, the received wisdom seems to be that, once you have a baby, you won’t even have TIME to be bored, anyway.
But oh, you have time. You have SO MUCH TIME. And that’s the problem, really: because all of that time has to be filled somehow, and no matter how much you love your child, and enjoy spending time with him, some days – by which I mean most days – you can end up feeling like you’ve played with every toy (And even plenty of things that aren’t actually toys, but hey, if it keeps him occupied for a few minutes, right?), and read every book, and it’s STILL only 10:30. So what next?
In the spring and summer, it’s a whole lot easier, because there are walks to take, parks to visit, and a whole lot of new and exciting things to discover just by stepping out the back door and into the garden. At this time of year, though, the options for entertainment are a little more limited – especially if, like us, you live in the middle of nowhere-in-particular. I’ve been finding it absolutely essential for my own sanity to try to get out of the house as much as possible, but, well, there’s only so many times you can hit up soft play or, er, garden centres, before it all starts getting just a little bit old… which is why, a few weeks ago, I started to wonder if mum and baby groups might be the answer.
Now, my thoughts on these groups haven’t really changed, to be honest: they still kind of terrify me, thanks to my own, particularly awesome combination of social anxiety and extreme introversion. In the comments on my post on the subject, though, a couple of people mentioned that classes might be a better option for me, because, by their very nature, baby classes require everyone to focus on a particular activity, rather than just sitting around making awkward (For me, anyway) small talk. That made total sense to me, so I started looking for local classes I might be able to go to, and that’s when I came up against my first hurdle, because, at first, there just wasn’t a whole lot of information to be found. That’s not to say there weren’t a whole lot of CLASSES, obviously, because there were tons: it’s just that they all seemed to be SECRET classes. Like, I’d find a listing somewhere telling me that ‘Rumble Bumble Babies’ was on every Tuesday at 9am, but there would be absolutely nothing to tell me what the hell it actually WAS, or, you know, how long it lasted, how much it cost, whether you had to book in advance, or could just rock up on the day – that kind of thing. The first rule of baby groups is you don’t talk about baby groups, I guess?
“You could just phone them?” Terry pointed out, with the calm logic of someone who still uses the phone, even although it’s 2019, and most of us have long since forgotten that the little box we use to look at Instagram every day also functions as a phone. Imagine! (True story: my phone rang last week, and I was so surprised that I hit the red ‘end call’ button, thinking I was picking up the call. Then I put the thing to my ear, all, “HELLO? HELLO? WHO DIS?!” You can tell I don’t use the phone very often, can’t you?) But I don’t “just phone” people. Because, like many people with social anxiety, phone-calls are just THE WORST, really. Aren’t they, though? Aren’t phonecalls THE WORST? But I digress.
I didn’t really fancy having to call round every community centre and church hall in the area asking about baby classes they may or may not still be running, so I did a bit of Googling, and discovered the HOOP app, which gives you information on all of the different groups or classes nearby. Some of them can even be booked online, and I’m ALL ABOUT that, basically, so I downloaded it (That’s not a stealth advert, by the way – I found it myself and just really liked it…), and that’s when I came up against my next two hurdles, namely:
01. All of the local classes seemed to take place at the exact time Max usually has his morning nap.
02. They were all on the same day.
So, the class schedule in our area looks like a bit like this, basically:
THURSDAY: ALL THE CLASSES, ALL AT 10:30am.
By this time, I was starting to suspect that the universe just didn’t want me to go to baby classes, and I was pretty much OK with that. Then I remembered that I don’t actually believe in the idea of the universe having plans about anything (And, honestly, it would be SUPER-weird if the universe was all, “Totally fine with the many horrifying atrocities going on in the world right now, but let’s see if we can get Amber out of having to do Baby Massage on a Thursday morning, shall we?”), so I had another look, and that’s when I found Bookbugs.
So, Bookbugs is run by the Scottish Book Trust, and it’s a song, story and rhyme group for babies and toddlers. It’s free to attend, there’s a session in our local library, and, OK, it was obviously only on during Max’s usual nap-time, but the library in question is literally just a five minute drive away, so I figured I could try putting him down either earlier or later that day, and if it didn’t work out, well, at least we’d be close enough to home for me to just get him into the car, and home to bed without too much trouble. And, well, it’s thirty minutes out of my day… and even if it was a very awkward 30 minutes, it would still be a long, long way from being the worst 30 minutes I’d ever spent, wouldn’t it?
There was really no excuse, folks: we were going in.
Our first session was two weeks ago, and, to be totally honest, I was so focused on getting Max and I out of the house on time, and with all of our associated winter coats and snacks and drinks and the like that I didn’t really have time to feel nervous about it. Which was handy, really. (Top tip for people dealing with social anxiety: take a toddler with you everywhere. Not only is it an excellent ice-breaker, it means everyone’s so focused on the cute baby that you don’t even have to make much conversation: result!) Even if I had been nervous, though, it would’ve all been for nothing (YOU DON’T SAY! This just in, people: Totally Non-Scary Event Turns Out to be Not Scary. Read all about it!): it was a really small group, and as we got right into the session itself, there wasn’t really time for much in the way of chat, but everyone seemed nice, and no, I wasn’t required to do any solo singing or dancing, so while I did have a mild panic when I realised the first song was one where we sang ‘Hello’ to each baby in turn, and thought I was going to have to sing back some kind of response, funnily enough, it turned out NOT to be some weird kind of cult I’d turned up to, but just a group of mums singing nursery rhymes with their babies. QUELLE SURPRISE, right?
Where was I? Oh yeah: the session basically consisted of more singing, some of it using props like stuffed animals, or a giant, sparkly sheet, etc. Max seemed pretty bemused by most of it, to be totally honest, and was, as predicted, largely oblivious to the other babies, but he was given a Bookbugs sticker at the end of the session, which was just THRILLING for him (“OOOOOH!” he said, to everyone’s amusement…), so I think he did pretty well, all things considered. (Oh, and he also got his very first library card, too, which I’m pretty sure will blow his mind, as soon as he realises what it actually is…)
As for me, meanwhile, well, Predictable-Statement-is-Predictable, but yes! I felt totally awkward! Because all of the other mums arrived and left together, so obviously already knew each other, and OMG, I am such an interloper, I bet they all wish I wasn’t here! And oh noes! They were all much, much younger than me, and OMG, I bet they’re all thinking how old and tragic I am! And, uh-oh, Max is the only toddler in the group: all of the other babies are just a few months old, and I bet that’s making it really difficult for the woman leading the session to find activities that will be appropriate for everyone, and she wouldn’t have that problem if I wasn’t here, so, oh God, it would be better if I wasn’t here, wouldn’t it be better if I wasn’t here? And so on and so forth.
Of course, I’m very aware that all of this is very much MY problem. No one said or did anything at all to make me feel old, or tragic, or like I wasn’t welcome and shouldn’t be there … seriously, as I said, everyone was lovely, and almost certainly not thinking about me AT ALL. But this is how social anxiety works, unfortunately, and no matter how nice people are, there’s always this constant battle to suppress the, “But I bet they’re thinking something bad!” thoughts that keep on presenting themselves. It’s exhausting and annoying, but I’m determined not to let it get the better of me, so, the following week we went back for our next session.
This one was a little easier for me, because this time I came armed with the knowledge of what was going to happen. Max, however, was slightly less happy: he’d woken up a bit earlier than usual that day, and although I’d tried my best to put him down for a nap before we left for the class, he just wasn’t having it, so he was tired, cranky, and, at one point, just climbed up onto my knee, put his arms around my neck and his head on my shoulder, and let me cuddle him for a full five minutes. Which was kind of lovely, really, but also so totally unlike him that I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I’m pretty sure he was just tired, though, so I’m going to give it a couple more attempts, at least – mostly because I suspect it’s probably good for me to get out of my comfort zone every now and then, before I turn into a complete recluse or something.
So, we’ll keep going to Bookbugs, later this month Max is starting swimming lessons (Which I’m actually really looking forward to, because I think he’s going to love it. Talk to me again once I’ve attempted to peel a wet swimsuit off an over-excited toddler in a communal changing room, though…), and, in the meantime, we’re spending a lot of time at play cafes – which, as the name suggests, are essentially just cafes (YA DON’T SAY!) with play areas attached to them. Max absolutely loves them, though, and I actually think they’re probably more useful than something like soft play, say, in terms of giving a child some social interaction, because the toys are the regular kind of thing you might have at home (Just a whole lot more of them, obviously…), which I think encourages the kids to play together, and learn how to share, etc. (Or it will when they’re old enough, anyway: for now, Max is mostly just there for the play kitchens, tbh…)
Somehow, we’re getting through the winter, one class, and one play centre at a time. Spring really can’t come soon enough, though…