You probably don’t even have the words to describe how much you love your baby. But I bet you have the words to describe your time at home with him. In addition to “magical” and “amazing” there’s also “exhausting,” “long,” and sometimes even “boring” which just makes the “long” feel even longer. The monotony can wear on you, whether you’re home all the time — or even just some of the time.
As a freelance writer, I worked part-time the first year of my son’s life. I loved that arrangement, and I don’t regret a thing. But I’d be lying through my coffee-stained teeth if I said I loved every minute of it. For starters, until he was eight months old, my son wouldn’t nap in the crib (or anywhere but the stroller or in someone’s arms), and even then it was only 25 minutes at a time. When I cut back to just one nap at 10 months old, things got a little better, but I was still never guaranteed more than about 45 minutes to myself. What that meant was that I had a LOT of time to kill with an often overtired almost-toddler. (And by “kill time” I totally mean enrich his brain through educational activities with developmentally appropriate BPA-free toys…and stuff.)
So what do you do when you just can’t “entertain” your baby anymore? Here are some of the things that helped us survive — and sometimes even thrive — in those very long days and weeks during the almost-toddler months:
Strict Meal and Sleep Schedules
Cutting down to one nap so early on gave me the freedom to do more things outside the house with my son during the day, but because I wanted him to form good sleep habits, I became a stickler about naptime and bedtime. And you know what? The mornings didn’t seem so long when I knew lunch was coming at 11, followed by a nap at noon. And even though my son was The World’s Sh*^#*est Napper for awhile, he’s almost always been a great night sleeper. So at 5 pm he’d have dinner, followed by a bath. At 6:30, I’d put him to bed and pour myself some well-deserved bourbon (and also do all the work I didn’t get done during his barely-there nap).
Working With My Partner’s Wacky Schedule
Because my husband works at a brewery, he often wouldn’t be home for bath and bedtime. While there were weekends and evenings when it would have been nice to have another adult around, this breakdown worked for us because my husband was the one who got up with my son at whatever ungodly hour he decided to wake up each day. Before I went to bed, I’d pump a bottle for their early morning snuggle fest (and I always woke up to nurse a couple times a night). This meant I got an an extra hour or two of sleep every morning — which was everything — and my husband got quality time with our son every single day.
Long Stroller Walks
As long as it wasn’t pouring rain or above 90ºF, most mornings, we’d take a long walk to a coffee shop, hang out for a bit, then make the long walk home. And because it took for-freaking-ever to get myself and my son ready to leave the house (layers in the winter, sunscreen in the summer) these outings could sometimes fill up most of a morning. Plus, it was really the only exercise I was getting at the time. (Though I later discovered the magic of a barre studio with free childcare, and wish I’d known about it so much sooner.)
Eating Lunch Out
To a baby, just being in a restaurant is stimulating and entertaining. Plus, it’s a good way to get your kid used to eating out; as they get older they start trying to squirm out of the high chair and cause a scene. Now, given the fact that during baby’s first year of life I wasn’t spending much money going out at night (remember movies? sigh), I decided it was worth it to eat lunch out with baby a couple times a week. Sometimes it was just the two of us, though sometimes we’d meet up with a mom friend, or a non-mom friend, or my mom or mother-in-law. Didn’t have to be a fancy restaurant; the setting really doesn’t matter. But being in a new environment was enlivening. And delicious. And it made time fly. Bonus was I didn’t have to cook (and I got to be smug about having a baby who eats vichyssoise and pâté.)
Having a Go-To Spot
Before I actually had a baby, I remember thinking, “I’ll never get tired of reading books to my child!” After several months of motherhood, it sometimes crossed my mind that having an illiterate kid might actually be preferable to reading Where’s Spot? or Hop on Pop (even the freaking abridged version) one more time. In those moments, as much as I hated dealing with the schlep of the car seat, I’d force us to just go somewhere. If I were a better person, that somewhere might have been the library, but usually we went to Target. And my household never ran out of diapers. So there.
ONE Weekly Group Activity
As much as I tried, I just never really dove into organized mom-and-baby groups. And because my friends’ kids always seemed to be on different nap schedules, I very rarely made one-on-one playdates happen, either. To be honest, I felt like I had to be “on” all the time for my baby, so even just the idea of being on around a bunch of other moms — in any setting — was exhausting. But both my husband and I have musical backgrounds, so when my son was about six months old, I signed us up for a Friday music class. Sure, I still had shake maracas and do some cringeworthy do-si-do’ing, but the focus was on the kids and the teacher, not me, and my son couldn’t get enough of all that cheesy music. I don’t think I could have handled more than one “official” structured activity a week, but finishing the class every Friday felt like some kind of achievement — like my little sidekick and I had kicked yet another week’s a$$. That’s a priceless feeling.