On a Saturday I took J to dance with Ginny Martin. The lessons are wonderful—Ginny is a warm and positive presence, the children are uninhibited and joyful, and, unlike many dance classes, there’s no prescribed dress code except bare feet. I sat with a friend who had two daughters—one attending class, and her sister, who was not yet old enough to enroll. Little sister pulled off her shoes and socks so she could be barefoot like the dancers, and she watched intently, entirely absorbed. It’s true that she’s too young to participate in the class and feel successful (that’s what Ginny would say), and lucky for everyone, she’s still content to watch. But eventually the desire to dance and participate will be overwhelming, and sitting on the sidelines for 45 minutes will be torture.
When you have a very small infant, you can stow the precious child in the infant car seat and carry her around like a rather heavy, clunky handbag. Your older child can spend some blissful time pretending like that new kid doesn’t exist (oh, wait, was my kid the only one who felt that way? Why did all the other big siblings cover their babies with kisses?). It’s an excellent transition time. Then, sooner than you might expect, your baby will be grown-up enough to have strong opinions about your activities.
Back when J was a tiny infant, I took her along with me & M to Tumbling Tykes. This was Tykes “old school”, before Stacy bought the place, back when Marcy was usually the teacher. Moms would casually park their infant car seats in a corner and gossip while the toddlers had fun. But at a certain point, leaving the child parked just didn’t seem nice anymore. No problem, I thought, I’ll pop her in the Baby Bjorn. Now, I don’t know if they still do it, but back then, there was a rather threadbare puppy-dog puppet, Tyke, who would dance about on Marcy’s hand welcoming each child by name, often complete with a kiss. The kids loved it. But the problem was, Tyke only welcomed the paying customers. I could certainly understand Tyke’s position. And yet. J was probably only 5 or 6 months old when I realized that she was watching the puppet attentively, looking forward to a sweet little puppy cuddle and greeting, and then watching the fleabag pass her by with no acknowledgment whatsoever. You could see her teensy infant confusion—can Tyke see me? I’m somebody, too, right? It was heartbreaking. And next thing I knew I was forking over money for a “gym” class for a child who could not even walk.
Tumbling Tykes was (and probably still is) a terrific mixed-age activity for the very young set, if you’re willing to fork over the cash. Same with Music Together and similar music programs. It’s an opportunity for everyone to do something fun together, even if they’re enjoying it on different levels. Singing and dancing together is a great bonding activity at our house—we do a lot of it. Sure: during class, will you spend part of the time nursing or diaper changing when your toddler urgently begs you to participate? But that’s how it is all the time, everywhere.
Is it possible that what’s super-fun for your bigger child is just way too much for the infant? Alas, yes. For a little while, I was doing some activity followed by a trip to the wonderful Guilderland Library. Unlike many of the libraries I’d visited, their storytimes included two of my favorite elements together: mixed age group and the elusive drop-in (instead of registering ahead for a program). I used to go on Thursday mornings with Miss Barbara, and the reading/music/more reading/film/craft was simply unbeatable. For the first few months of J’s life it was fabulous, and then, without warning, J began shrieking uncontrollably at the end of each storytime. In the library. Every single time we went. We just had to quit going for a while—it was way too stimulating. A few months later J had matured a bit. We picked up again and everyone could enjoy the activity.
It’s pretty rare to find an organized activity that’s exactly appropriate for both of your kids. They’re probably at least a year apart, and a year means a lot when you’ve only racked up two or three of them so far. And yet your sanity requires that you come up with some things to do. Casual, open-ended activities might work best—of course playing outside is terrific, but it can be tough to come up with stuff indoors. Indoor playgrounds are an excellent option. My girls were always big fans of Joyful Jumpers. Come to think of it, I love it, too, especially because there are comfortable couches for the grown-ups to sit and/or nurse on, and you can eat snacks or lunch, too—a plus now when it’s too cold to picnic. It might be worth it to invest in a family membership at a local museum, especially since many museums have special programs for free or reduced admission elsewhere. For example, as members of the Schenectady Museum, we were able to visit the Boston Children’s Museum and Boston’s Museum of Science as well as Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ–all for free!
Finally, there’s the glorious playgroup. Getting together a good playgroup, even if the ages of the children are pretty mixed, might be the best & cheapest way to keep everybody happy during the long winter. In fact, it’s well worth its own post, one of these days.