The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 3, 2006

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Around Home This year, I'm sending a belated Valentine to my playgroup

I'm really late with this Valentine, but I know the recipient will understand. Or the recipients. This particular missive of fondness and affection is addressed collectively to my playgroup, the dozen or so other mothers of preschoolers with whom I've been spending my Tuesday mornings since my daughter Holly turned one.

They'll understand why I'm late with Valentines this year, because their houses are just like mine: busy, noisy, messy and overrun with paperwork. They know that getting Valentines out on time would be almost as rare a feat as getting to playgroup on time, which is why we've never really posted an official start time for our weekly gatherings. You get there when you can and you stay until your child seems ready for the next activity of the day.

The irony of my enormous fondness for my playgroup is that before I joined it, I confided to another friend that I really wasn't a playgroup kind of person. "I'd rather find my own friends and just hope they have kids my daughter might want to play with," I said back then. "Having kids the same age just doesn't give me enough in common with another mother to want to spend two hours every week hanging out together."

But it turns out I was wrong. Having an array of things in common isn't the point. What's so interesting and useful about the playgroup paradigm is that we are in some ways such a random sampling of people who all have just that one thing in common. Random is a relative term, of course. The fact that we all live in Carlisle imposes certain obvious socioeconomic parameters, and the fact that we have all either borne or adopted infants in the past four years somewhat defines our age group, give or take 15 years. But in most ways, my playgroup friends are the most random group I've ever been part of. Among the dozen or so of us who generally gather on Tuesday mornings are an attorney, a teacher, a software programmer, an editor, a journalist, a social worker, a hairdresser, a corporate executive, and a clinical nurse. Some families live in Carlisle's newest and largest houses; others live in ordinary-sized homes just like the ones I played in when I was growing up in town. Some of us have older children and are wise to the ways of recess duty and school committee meetings; others are still negotiating the maze of preschool choices for the first time. I couldn't tell you where more than two or three of them went to college or graduate school, because unlike other groups of friends I've spent time with in adulthood, we never talk about college. We talk about daily life with small children, because that's what we all have in common. When bonds strengthen over other interests — similar political beliefs, or the same taste in fiction, or a shared passion for cross-country skiing — it's a bonus.

It's no accident that I can go on and on with enthusiasm for my playgroup without ever mentioning the kids. After all, I call it "my" playgroup, not Holly's. She has fun too, of course. She likes the other kids in the group, and finds a few she wants to play with every week. But I still maintain that at least speaking for myself, playgroup is more about me than about my daughter. Literally, it's her peer group, but to my mind, the other women facing the same issues I face as mothers of preschoolers makes us well-matched peers as well. We talk about things as trivial as the latest strain of stomach bug and as unrelated as town zoning ordinances. We lobby each other to vote in favor of the footpaths, attend the CSA Auction, and volunteer at Old Home Day. Without playgroup, Holly would find other things to do and other kids to play with; but without playgroup I'd feel as though I'd lost an important foothold in my demographic.

An experience I had a couple of years ago cemented my faith in the importance of playgroup as a form of parenting support. It happened when I went to my friend Jen's wedding. When I met Jen in second grade, she had a host of playgroup friends she'd known since they were all toddlers. They stayed close in grade school, but drifted apart as their differing personalities emerged in teenage years.

Only one of Jen's playgroup friends attended her wedding. But what caught my attention was that almost every single mother from that group was there. Decades after the kids no longer needed their mothers to form social groups for them, the mothers had hung in there together anyway, by choice, bonded by those weekly morning get-togethers.

So even though I'm three weeks late in doing so, I'm sending happy Valentine's thoughts to my playgroup friends. Despite the jokes we might make about it now, our kids will most likely not marry each other; most of them probably will not even stay friends. But we will stay friends anyway. And for that I'm grateful.


2006 The Carlisle Mosquito