Raising Mary: Activities Without Mom

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In her black bodysuit, pink tights and ballet slippers, Mary ran to me from the lineup of other girls. “One more hug,” her teacher said, then led my daughter into the dance studio. She looked back with huge, worried eyes, wanting to cry but proud enough not to.
It was the first time I left Mary alone at an organized group activity, although I stayed in the waiting room outside. She was a few months shy of three.
Mary was nervous
for the first classes, but soon she was asking whether it was time for dance. About the same time, she started preschool two full days each week. This was just coincidence; Mary would have been in preschool earlier but this was when a spot opened.
Three wasn’t some magic age that we believed was best to start these activities, but as a child with a stay-at-home mother, Mary wasn’t getting enough time with kids her own age and seemed a
little shy outside the family.

We hoped preschool would build her confidence and give her a chance to learn to socialize before ‘real’ school. And dance seemed like a good fit because she’s dramatic and expressive and loves dancing about the house.
There had been group activities before this. When she was an older baby, I brought her to an hourly playtime at an indoor gym, with some instructor-led songs and games and some free playtime. There was a library read-along group, and there have been swimming lessons. (I don’t want my kids to be woeful swimmers like me!) But I was there with her.
I’ve always felt raising my kids is my job, and it’s part of the job description to do things with
them that enrich them (although kids do need to learn to play on their own). I would feel like a lazy worker if I puttered around the house every day, just doing time. I’m not babysitting, I’m parenting. It’s the same reason I feel bad if they go a few days without being able to play outside. Maybe if I worked outside the home, I wouldn’t feel like this because they would be getting so much stimulation and interaction at a daycare.
Having said that, sometimes it’s mentally exhausting coming up with things to do at home. (By the way, I freely admit to days of not wanting to do anything and letting Mary watch too much TV.) So part of the reason we put Mary in preschool and dance was for me to have a break. You know you need more free time when 30 minutes in the waiting room at dance school feels like a guilty pleasure.
Here it is: I love my little girl – and I love dropping her off for eight hours at preschool! Woo! Besides, there are things the preschool does better. Mary is stuck with a mother who hates crafts. Oh, I’ll sit with her and slap stickers on a page and work with her on making her letters. But glue elbow pasta on construction paper or make masks out of paper plates? As we used to say back in the ‘80s: gag me with a spoon. At preschool, she gets to do crafts.

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