Friday, December 18, 2009
Parents Connection bonds young families – to each other and community
What an interesting conundrum raising small children in Carlisle can be. I moved here five years ago, when my first child was merely six months old. We chose this town for many wonderful reasons, not the least of which was the fabulous school system and quiet serenity that was so difficult to find after a busy day in downtown Boston.
And so it was; we moved, unpacked, settled in and began the process of acclimating. What we had miscalculated was how difficult it was in beautiful, bucolic Carlisle for us to meet new people with small children. We felt isolated, without a clear path to a social network (the old definition of “social network”)…how could that be? This was one of the most desirable places to live, by all accounts. Especially regaled by parents who raved about the schools – what planet was I on? Clearly, I had missed something major in my grand life plan. And then, by the grace of I don’t know what or whom, I was contacted by someone from the Carlisle Parents Connection about a playgroup that was starting. It was that playgroup, five years ago, which was the first step in connecting me with a peer group, something that I consider to be a life-saving measure to a young woman navigating the life-changing event called “motherhood.”
So fast forward five years and here I am, now the mother of two children. I might even say that I feel relatively comfortable as a citizen of Carlisle and that this town has moments of being magical. My daughter is thriving in the school system and my son is enjoying his toddler years, playing with younger siblings of my daughter’s friends. Who would have imagined how totally isolated I had felt – and then my perspective changed. I love it when that happens!
The Carlisle Parents Connection (CPC), originally founded in 1995, had gone dormant over the past couple of years for a variety of reasons, most of which are not clear to me, but the surviving pieces were the website (thanks to Deb Kablotsky) and the playgroups (thanks to many dedicated parents and Heidi Kidder). I went to one of these playgroups with my son about nine months ago where I met a group of parents, most of whom I did not know, which I was very excited about. (This is the sort of town where you don’t realize how many people live here until your child goes to kindergarten and there are 50+ families in their class you have never even seen before.)
The conversation that ensued with the group was like déjà vu for me. It centered around the desperate need to connect with other parents. The point was made that, as a new parent, you are overwhelmed with information every day (teething, feeding, daycare options, sleeping or not, product recalls, which toys are safe and appropriate, it is okay to want to run screaming from the house during nap time, etc.).
“It was so cool to inherit a whole new group of people that you instantly had loads in common with,” says Tracy Brady, mother of two boys ages three and 18 months. “Suddenly you realize, wow, I’m not the only one who can’t figure out how to juggle a nursing newborn with grocery shopping and the desperation of needing adult conversation during the day. And all of them were as exhausted as I was – it was great!”
As a nurse practitioner, I have spent years learning about and practicing the art of connecting humans to their support networks – it just had not dawned on me that there might be other parents with young children who also felt the lack of community in Carlisle.
Through the course of this playgroup, another parent and I shared our previous experiences with the Carlisle Parents Connection, only a few years before. The energy of the group bubbled over from there and it became clear to me that this was something that had been, and was about to become again, a lifeline for new parents in this town.
And so it goes. I went home, picked a date for our first meeting and the rest is recent history. We have had tremendous success, there is a wonderful group of parents out there who very much enjoy this outlet for their children and the connection with other parents. The CPC really does represent the simple sense of community that is so important.
The CPC organization
Currently, as an organization, we function very similarly to years past, on a volunteer basis. We were lucky enough to be left with the fabulous resources of previous leaders. We have officers in place to help keep things organized, but it is also an ever-changing endeavor, and as we grow, we hope to add more depth to the things that we offer. We also function under the umbrella of First Connections, a non-profit division of the Justice Resource Institute that offers significant support to new parents in 11 nearby towns. We have a representative (who is also our membership chair) who attends monthly First Connections meeting, keeping us abreast of what other groups are doing in the surrounding areas, again linking us to our greater community.
Currently, we offer playgroups, support local charities and have approximately ten kid- and adult-friendly events over the course of the year (September to September), including Moms Night Out, Dads and Donuts, the New Baby Event, Halloween Party, Holiday Party, Winter Social, Spring Egg Hunt, Wash-a-Fire Truck and a Tag Sale for Charity. There are volunteer chairs of each event who solicit the help of other members as needed. This year we are also going to have an Adult Only Potluck with a charity collection for Birthday Wishes, which offers birthday parties for children who are in need.
Playgroups are hosted by parents or nannies in their homes on a rotating basis and we have a coordinator who funnels interested parties to the appropriate organizers.
The current playgroup structure includes five functional playgroups: a Nanny Playgroup for mixed ages and then four groups with children by age, infant to four years old, listed on the website.
The Playgroup coordinator is Melissa McMorrow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in joining.
We currently have 31 families holding annual memberships, most of whom joined this fall at the Halloween Event. You do not have to be a paid member to join a playgroup, and you also may attend CPC events as a non-member for a fee of $10 per event. The annual membership fee is $30.
Our Holiday Party is December 19 from 10 a.m. to noon in Union Hall. Come by for a visit with Santa, craft project, snacks, charitable collection of canned goods and good old sense of community.
I leave you with my own personal thoughts on this. Once I had a child in the Carlisle Public School, and even just starting preschool, I had an overwhelming sense of community. But before that first day of school, I had no way of knowing how connected I was about to become. So tell your friends and neighbors, the CPC is alive and well, looking for new members and ideas.
Visit our website, www.carlisleparentsconnection.org, to see how you can join or get involved. ∆
Jen Derkazarian is chair of the Carlisle Parents Connection.
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito