Last week, I turned to Chris and said, “These days, I don’t really know what a day alone with Sprout is like.” His schedule now is drastically different from when I was on maternity leave and Chris and I are usually together on the weekends. Seeing an opportunity, he responded, “Do you want to?” We didn’t have anything planned, so I gave Chris the “day off” on Saturday and had a whole day dedicated to mommy-kid bonding.
Of course, deciding on an activity was paramount. Both Sprout and I get antsy hanging around the house, so I definitely wanted to get out. I first contemplated going to a “toddler play date” advertised on Meetup, but then realized that I didn’t want to mar it with my awkwardness of needing to make small talk with strangers. I also decided against attending a local puppet show, figuring that Chris would want to be present for Sprout’s first theatrical experience. In the end, I decided to go to a local nature center (we have a lot of them around us) that we hadn’t been to yet.
The Nature Center turned out to be even cooler than I had anticipated. The largest room replicated a Mid-Atlantic deciduous forest, with a stream running into a pond populated by turtles and catfish. Sprout loved observing the turtles from a bridge over the stream – even more than he enjoyed climbing up and down the steps. Across from the bridge, there was a tunnel with a window into the pond, allowing you to peer into the pond at eye level. Unfortunately, holding him up to the window didn’t last long because my arms were starting to give out. There was also a mysterious “cave” that required crawling into a dark tunnel. While I was totally keen, Sprout was uninterested in exploring anything he couldn’t stand up in, backing straight out of it. At least it’s something to save for when he’s older.
Another room was super old-school, with a yellowed Mark Trail comic and beaver and fox pelts on the wall. He found stroking the fur fascinating, while I scrambled to rub his hands in sanitizer before he stuck them in his mouth. Those are so old that they can’t have bacteria anymore, right? It also had a kiosk where you could press buttons to hear different bird sounds. Pushing buttons plus high pitched noises equals toddler crack.
Outside offered more opportunities to critter-watch; the Center is a rescue facility for predatory birds. All of their birds, which include vultures, hawks, owls, and even a bald eagle, are so injured that they can never be re-released. We happened to be lucky enough to be there while the keeper was feeding the vulture. I found watching the vulture methodically tear apart a mouse fascinating, but Sprout was wiggly. In only a few years, I’m sure it will hold his interest far more.
We spent the rest of the time at the Center rambling along the hiking trails. I let him walk ahead of me, redirecting when he’d start to wander off the path. Besides it being good environmental stewardship, I also didn’t want to deal with the threat of poison ivy. He’d stop occasionally to pick up a stick, look at a leaf, or poke at a stone. However, he was surprisingly focused for his age. Our time ran out before his attention span did.
The rest of the day was more pedestrian – lunch, a nap for both of us, and a trip to our downtown area and grocery store. I even made dinner! But it was good to even have that ordinary time together.
I’m so grateful that we had our mommy-son bonding time. Sometimes I get jealous of Chris because he has so much time with Sprout alone. While I wouldn’t want to be a stay-at-home parent myself, I wish I had a little more time than the hour and a half before bedtime and the weekends.
Even when I’m there and all three of us are together, Chris can unintentionally dominate the play. He tends to be a little more physical with Sprout when playing, with more tickle fights than I do. He’s also just inherently funnier, being able to make up silly songs on the fly. I’ve learned a lot about being flexible from him and I’ve become much more comfortable as a mom, but I still feel intimidated once in a while.
Obviously, Chris benefitted from this time away as well. In fact, he attended a gaming group he found through Meetup and enjoyed himself! As he hates attending events where he has to talk to strangers, much less going by himself, I was so proud of him.
So this uninterrupted time with Sprout was refreshing. I could luxuriate in spending time with him without worrying about being back in time for dinner or anywhere else. I suspect we’ll make this a regular monthly event, as it seems to be good for everyone’s emotional health.