Although I'm technically not a stay-at-home-mom in the traditional sense, being a graduate student does allow me the freedom to spend much of my day, most days of the week, with Eliza. This winter is getting loooooong, and it's been a particularly tough one, so we're starting to go a little stir-crazy around here and are always looking for new things to do. Our house starts to feel small if we spend all day playing here - Eliza is bouncing off the walls by the time hubby gets home, so we try to do at least one thing every day outside of the house. As I was chatting with the other moms, we started swapping ideas for toddler-friendly outings to help the cold winter days less painful. Here is our list of favorite outings - what are yours?
- The public library - most libraries have at least some toys in their children's area (not to mention lots of great books to read!), and some even have play areas. We are really lucky to have a great play area at our local branch - it has a grocery "truck", complete with play food and a cash register, a kitchen, a puppet area, a play mat with lots of great toys, and some comfy couches. I can think of two other branches within a 20 minute drive that also have nice play areas - as you can tell, we visit the library often.
- Children's museum - we have a GREAT one here and my parents bought Eliza a membership for her birthday so we get in "free" each time we visit, which, in the winter months, is at least once a week. There is a wonderful toddler room where Eliza can run and crawl and climb, all in a safe, fun environment. It also has a lot of other rooms (they call them "galleries") for other ages, so it will grow with Eliza.
- Storytimes - there are lots of different story times offered at our local libraries, many of them tailored especially for babies. To me, a good baby story time includes music, short books, an enthusiastic leader, rhymes, and is not more than 30 minutes long. There is a bookstore about 15 minutes from our house that offers a particularly awesome baby story time on Tuesday mornings. It is led by a wonderful woman who has spent the last 10 years working only with very young audiences and developing a really really neat story time program for kids 0-2. She will usually read two or three short books and in between them she sings, plays instruments, brings out puppets, even introduces a letter-of-the-day each week. She focuses on early literacy development and encourages parents to do these things at home. It's great, and Eliza has loved it ever since we started going (I think we first went when she was 7 months old). It is totally free, too!
- Indoor Playgrounds - we recently discovered a neat little indoor playground in our area. It's a place where Eliza can "run" around (hah, I guess she's not really running yet), climb, go down slides, crawl through tunnels... and they let us in for free because she's only a year old - bonus! It's not a great choice during really busy times because of all the big kids running around (Eliza was nearly trampled by a rowdy pack of boys last time - my mama reflexes kicked in and I seriously almost punched one of them), but if we go right when they open in the morning, it's perfect and Eliza always has fun - and it wears her out, which is nice before naptime :O)
- Playdates - I joined a mom's group when Eliza was two months old and I'm so glad I did. I know there are horror stories about mom's groups being clique-y and women being catty, but really, I've had a good experience overall with the groups I'm a part of. My favorite play dates are those that are at another mom's house. It's fun for Eliza to play with (or, as is more accurate for her age, alongside) other toddlers/babies/kids (and to play with new and different toys, too!), and it gives me a chance to socialize with other moms. Even when I don't agree with everyone about parenting decisions/topics, it's still interesting and everyone is usually respectful (with only minor exceptions here and there - but that's to be expected).
Some days, we just run errands and hang out at home doing chores and playing, but those days can be just as fun. She doesn't mind going to the grocery store or Target with me, as long as she's not confined to the cart for more than about 20 minutes, and when I have chores to do at home, we make that work too (although some days are harder than others, depending on her mood!). If I'm cleaning the bathroom, Eliza will play in the bathtub with her bath toys while I clean, and when we're in the kitchen making dinner or cleaning or washing dishes (no I do not own a dish washer!), she enjoys banging on the pots and pans (or banging the lids together, marching band style!), rummaging through the tupperware drawer, or going through "her" basket (I have a wicker basket in the kitchen that I just stuffed full of odds and ends for her to play with).
So, that's what we do all day! Of course there are those days... but thankfully she is so sweet and such a little love that the rough moments are quickly forgotten. I am loving spending so much time with my girl, and couldn't imagine life any other way. It's not always easy, but it is always worth it and it's never boring!!