Review of Luv 2 Play, Sutton, MA

Last weekend, little man and I had the opportunity to check out a new indoor play place, Luv 2 Play, in Sutton, MA.

I’m a huge proponent of free play, especially outdoor play that is both imaginative and, well, free of cost. Unfortunately, I can’t stand being cold and wet. This winter in Central Massachusetts, more days than not have been just that. With February school break around the corner, I knew I’d need a back-up play plan for when the weather, and therefore my mood, was foul. So I was as excited as my son to discover a new indoor play area opening close by. Aside from indoor trampoline places, Luv 2 Play is one of the only indoor play places close to us.

Luv 2 Play is a franchise with multiple locations, but the Sutton one is the only one in Central Mass. We visited during their soft opening, just prior to their grand opening which was Monday, February 10th. They were definitely using the soft opening to work out the minor issues with the registers (learning how to input coupons) and in the snack area (not all options were available yet), but the staff was amazing and patient as they learned and welcomed the first visitors. Be prepared though, you will need to purchase grip socks the first time, and dress cool as it was very warm the day we went, especially once we started running around.

The multi-level main play structure is the perfect place to wear out small bodies before nap or bed, and to exhaust out of shape parents and guardians as they attempt not to smack their head in the maze of slides, crawling tubes, and obstacles. Think American Ninja Warrior: Preschool Edition.

In addition to the main play area, there is a pretty large number of pay-to-play video games. Frankly, I wish this wasn’t a feature since I take little man to these places to avoid screens on bad weather days. However, I understand it could be a draw, especially if parents have kids of multi-ages and need a treat to bribe the older kids to accompany younger siblings. That said, the play areas have a lot of fun to offer the older elementary kids without the added cost of these games.

Another hit with my guy was the ball pit in the toddler section, which he still qualifies for as it is for ages four and under. The block area with large foam Lego-like blocks was another place in which we spent a long time playing. And, despite being over the age, I had to pull my guy from the very tempting baby area, too, with its soft foam climbing blocks and push toys.

Additionally, there is a snack bar with drinks and hot and cold snacks, party rooms for birthdays or private groups, and plenty of seating for parents or tired kiddos to take breaks. The snacks and drinks were pricey, and you aren’t supposed to bring outside food in, which was probably my biggest complaint since it adds considerably to the cost if you are spending a few hours and can’t bring your own snacks. I understand the allergy issue but feel a peanut or all nut ban would suffice.

Other than costs, which are almost always an issue at kid play places, Luv 2 Play is definitely a place I’d recommend to other parents. The staff was available throughout the areas to help kids and parents, they were all friendly, and, my personal favorite, they were almost constantly cleaning. The play equipment was clean, creative, varied, and safe. And most importantly we had a fun, screen-free, active time as a family even on a cold rainy evening.

 

Embracing Help: Hiring a House Cleaner

We all outsource—we send our kids to schools or daycares, our cars to the mechanic, our pets to the groomers and vets. No one blinks an eye at most of these habits, because we can see that having a professional help us is efficient and leads to a better end-product. Yet when a mom or wife hires a cleaner or a cook, we judge. I judged.

There was a time when whenever I heard someone mention having a house cleaner I had all I could do to keep my snarky “that must nice” comment in my head where it belonged. I thought cleaning ladies were a luxury reserved for the wealthy, or at a bare minimum only for two-income families. A house cleaner was a privilege.

Then I got pregnant via donor and could hardly stay awake long enough to drive myself home during my first trimester. There was no one to help with household chores besides my parents who were already doing too much for me, and if I did too much myself, I ended up at the OBs with bleeding and the panic that comes with fearing the worst. Suddenly hiring someone to help clean sounded a lot more like a necessity than a luxury. So I caved. I cut back on a few other expenses (who needs a landline anyway?) and hired one. Just temporarily to get me through my pregnancy.

Then it was just to get past healing from my c-section. Then through infancy and his reflux and weight gain issue days of little sleep and lots of crying (his and mine). Then it was…well then it just was.

At first, I felt guilty or lazy admitting to people that I paid another working mom to clean my house for me. I felt like it was a luxury I shouldn’t have as a single mother who frequently complained with friends about the crazy costs of raising a child. Surely if I was really worried about my budget, I shouldn’t have a house cleaner. Right?

Wrong. I wasn’t hiring someone to clean so I could have time to binge-watch tv or take a weekend nap—although, frankly, even if I was, that would also have been ok. I needed help, not just because I’m single, but because I am a mom, and moms juggle a million jobs. Or we attempt to. Usually, one of those balls gets dropped. And it might be cleaning the house or it might be one of a dozen other chores. Or it even might be taking time to play with our kid, or take a quiet minute for ourselves, or spending time with our partner.

I needed someone to take something off my plate. For me, coming home to a clean house is a source of relief and comfort. Hiring someone to help provide that for me, so that I can relax and focus on my family, my job, and my other chores after work instead, is not just a luxury, it is a true sanity saver. It is a tool in my self-care, anti-anxiety toolbox that I now have come to view as no different than getting a babysitter when I need a break or calling out when I don’t have the time or energy to cook.

I do understand that there are families that even after dropping other expenses and arranging their budgets still can’t afford this type of help, and I feel sorry about that, just as I feel sorry for families that can’t afford other items and assistance I can provide for myself and my son. But I no longer feel sorry or embarrassed for paying for the help I need. I’ve cleaned house of the guilt and am a happier, healthier mom, teacher, and woman because of it. And I absolutely could embrace my cleaner for all her help!

 

Photo credit: ID 149432776 © Chutima Chaochaiya | Dreamstime.com

Dating a Mom

Recently, I dove back into the dating world. I don’t know why I decided now was the right time. While we’re past diapers, nursing, and the terrible twos around here, we’re also still dealing with occasional clinginess and nearly nightly co-sleeping, and have yet to have a non-family member babysitter. Not an ideal combo for wanting to go out in the world on a weekly basis.

Despite this, something pushed me to give the crazy world of online dating another go, and it might have been fate, because within a matter of days I connected with someone who is quickly becoming quite special to me. And it’s a good thing she feels the same, because dating a mom is no joke.

The biggest challenge is that, well, I’m a mom, and motherhood doesn’t come with an off switch. Being a mother means my kid will always take precedence. His schedule, his needs, his feelings will always be my first priority. My cell phone will always be within reach just in case there’s an emergency. I will always feel the tug to respond to his cries, even if it means putting on pause whatever else I am doing. Most days he will be the first person I think of and take care of upon waking and the last person I check on before drifting off to sleep. Dating a mom means accepting that for quite a while in the relationship you will play second-fiddle to someone who can’t even wipe his own butt yet.

Just as dating a mom isn’t easy, dating as a mom isn’t easy. I have less time, less money, and more responsibility than I ever dreamed of when I dated as a single and free twenty-something. I can’t go out as easily as I used to, but I need to be even more careful whom I bring home because of who is already at home. And both dating and motherhood are emotionally exhausting—exciting, intense, and at times exhilarating—but exhausting.

Luckily, moms, especially single moms, know how to multitask, schedule, and just plain make shit work. Sure, I have fallen asleep some nights in my son’s bed when I had said I’d try to call my new girlfriend, but I also have managed to do dishes, play fetch with the dog, and fix my son’s iPad 35 times all while chatting with her. Long before returning to dating, I had learned to make time for all that needs to be crammed into one day or at least learned to deal with the stress of knowing it’s impossible to actually fit it all in. I learned to prioritize and let go. If you become a mom’s special someone, she will make time for you. It might mean being invited over after bedtime despite a sink full of dishes and a floor full of Legos, but a mom with a mission will make it work.

I’m making it work. And I’m so happy I dove in before thinking of all the challenges or worrying about each and every possible roadblock. Because dating a mom and dating as a mom is doable. It takes patience, understanding, organizing, and a touch of faith and fearlessness on the part of both parties, but it’s doable. Maybe even ideal. After all, a mom knows her heart can grow exponentially. She knows caring for someone isn’t always easy, but it’s worth all the hard work. Being a mother has given me confidence and strength, and over time has taught me how to share myself with someone and allow that person to change me for the better without losing my old self completely.

And on the flip side, anyone hardcore enough to take on the challenge of dating a mom is worth the effort and the wait. He or she’s interest and commitment must be beyond what is normally required, so if it’s there, it’s probably pretty special and intense. And very much appreciated!

Maybe it was fate that brought me back into the dating world. It certainly feels that way whenever I’m with my girlfriend. But I also think I was finally at the right place in my personal growth to accept another person into my fold, and I credit that to the last four years of parenting. Being a mom certainly adds layers to dating and finding the right person, but it also has made me ready to take on those challenges.

 

Photo credit:I D 122486443 © Henadzi Pechan | Dreamstime.com

The Making of a Dog Lover

I am and have always been a cat person. In fact, for several years, the students in my school dubbed me the crazy cat lady and insisted on buying me cat-themed Christmas gifts just to see me scowl. Inside, though, I was okay with it. I identify with cats. They like sleep, sunshine, and have a propensity to be chubby. They are loyal to those they love and couldn’t care less what the rest of the world thinks. They are my soul animals.

Dogs. Not so much. I’ve always seen dogs as stinky, drooling, and not self-sufficient. They jump on you in the summer and scratch your bare legs with rough nails and scare the hell out of you on a bike ride or run by lunging and barking in what can only be a ferocious attempt to tear the flesh from your bones. So, yeah, dogs also kind of scare me.

Why on earth then am I now the doting, proud owner of an adorable whippet mix pooch?

Well, he’s almost four, cute as hell, has mostly stopped drooling, and enjoys sleeping in my bed most nights, despite the fact he has a really nice bed of his own.

No. That’s not the new dog. That’s my little man. The dog- (cat-, bird-, baby goat-) lover. The future veterinarian. The boy who has opened my eyes to so much I had ignored, disliked, feared, or overlooked before.

You see, it turns out kids smell, drool, have accidents all over the house, and need constant training and attention, too. Having one has taught me you can love despite all these things. You can see beyond the messes and stresses to the love and pure joy someone or some-dog brings into your life. Realizing this with my son, and seeing how happy he is in the presence of animals, opened me up to the possibility of becoming a dog-person.

That said, I knew it wasn’t right to get a dog for a child. Children can’t be responsible for the full-time care and love an animal needs and deserves. Nope, if we were getting a dog, I had to have my heart in it too. I did some soul-searching and realized I could face my fears, get more exercise, and be forced outside even in the cold weather if I embraced the idea of a canine in our house. So began the search for the dog that would change my mind about the species.

After oodles of Google searches, a couple bites, some heartworm treatment, a month of waiting, and multiple trips to Connecticut, that perfect pup arrived. Jessie is as perfect as a dog could be for us. She loves Ian, demands snuggles and belly rubs, pulls me along so I up my running pace, and is far kinder to the cat than the cat is in return. She also smells at times, has accidents, and hogs my bed (thankfully, she’s not a drooler). But this crazy cat lady loves her despite it all. I love her loyalty, her playfulness, and her gentle ways. I submit to doggie kisses, willingly pick up her poop, and research the best diet to keep her healthy and with us for as long as possible.

You could say Jessie converted me into a dog lover. Or you could say my little man helped me make the transition. But really I think they both just taught me to love more openly, more broadly, and more deeply — dogs included.

On Turning Three

To my little man on turning three,

The first letter like this I wrote to you as you turned one. You were teetering into toddlerhood but still firmly my baby. You were learning new things each day but still needed me for just about everything. I had grown to love you more than I had ever expected, but some days it was exhausting. Some days I wanted to speed up time to when you were just a little more independent. A little less baby and a little more boy.

Flash forward two years, and I do mean flash, and you stand on the brink of boyhood. You still need your momma for a lot, but every month, every day, you learn to do one more thing without my assistance. You defiantly declare, “I do it on my own!” if I butt in where you feel I’m not needed. And while I am so intensely proud of each new achievement, I am also aware of that small ache that misses you needing your hand in mine.

In the year ahead you’ll master potty training, start preschool, take swimming without me in the water by your side, and probably learn to climb some new terrifying piece of playground equipment without my hands boosting your bum. Because you have indeed become less baby and more boy. It’s wonderful, but it’s also a little sad. I think maybe you sense it, too.

Lately at bedtime, in the darkness of your room, you tell me you need me by your side. “Don’t leave! I want you to snuggle,” you whisper, clinging to my clothes. After two years of putting yourself to sleep, you suddenly need the touch of me beside you again. Being a big boy all day is hard work, and when night falls you’re okay with being my baby again.

I probably should break the habit. I need the hours after you go to bed to be productive. I want you to be a good independent sleeper again. I know there’s a wee bit of manipulation in your puppy dog pleas to “stay more minutes” and I should hold firm and say no.

But the truth is, just as your still small hands grasp my sleeve and pull me close to you, I am clutching tight to the baby you once were and in my heart will always be. So for a few more nights I will curl up by your side, rub your back, and sing to you the same lullaby I’ve sung since you were an infant in my arms.

Even if the almost three year old you changes the lyrics these days to be about tooting. Boyhood here we come.

This time, though, let’s take it slow.

Love you forever and always,

Momma

IVFML Podcast: Sharing my single mother by choice story

Earlier this fall I received an email requesting to be interviewed by another blogger, a podcaster couple actually, who created and hosted the podcast IVFML through Huffington Post. I was honored to be asked and excited to be featured on their site and share my story with their listeners, so of course I agreed. (It didn’t occur to me until later that a podcast meant I’d have to be recorded live and would eventually have to listen to my own voice when the podcast was released, or I might have wimped out, lol!)

Answering Anna’s questions about my journey made me realize how far I had come from first making the decision to become a single mom by choice. It was interesting to reflect on decisions like choosing a donor, that seemed monumental in the moment but now seems fairly unimportant in the day-to-day of raising my son (aside from the amazing connections with his donor sibling families). In fact, in the day-to-day, a lot of things that felt hugely important or unbelievably difficult seem inconsequential now. Chatting with Anna and her husband made me realize just how hard this single parenting gig has been at times, but also how I wouldn’t change a thing.

To hear the whole conversation check out the episode on iTunes here: IVFML Season 2, Episode 9: All By Myself. My part of the episode starts around 16:30, but the beginning with Molly Hawkey, a single woman and comedian just starting her journey to single motherhood, is both hilarious and poignant.

Also, as a side note, I recently started an Instagram account for the blog @minus_prince_charming I’d love to have you following along!

Image credit: ID 118203431 © Oleg Dudko | Dreamstime.com

Holiday Book Advent Calendar, Year Two

Last year I wrote a post about trying out a holiday book advent calendar with my son, who at the time was 20 months. It was an idea that I hadn’t seen or paid attention to prior to having kids, but fell in love with after little man arrived. It was a huge hit with both of us—he loved opening a present every night, and I loved reading different holiday-themed stories each night. Needless to say, it was a no-brainer to do it again this year—although I did add a bit of a twist.

I started with the bin of books I put away from last year. I weaned out the true baby books and some I just didn’t particularly like. To replace those, I went a little nuts on Amazon creating a list of potential new books for this year. Under Christmas stories for toddlers I searched for his interests…er, obsessions: dinosaurs, anything Disney Junior, Paw Patrol, Give a Mouse a Cookie, lift-the-flap, and scratch and sniff books. Then I added a few classics like Snowmen at Christmas and Bear Stays Up for Christmas. We had been gifted The Polar Express this summer to cover the train obsession, as well as the books-to-make-mom-cry category. (Seriously, I sobbed during my first reading of that one!)

A few flash sales later (and one email to his grandmother with a link my wish list) and bingo, I had more than the 25 books needed to fill out the month. This weekend I wrapped them all, combining a few sets, and leaving the Gaga (his name for gramma) books at her house to be opened and read with her on Fridays when they’re together all day.

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Last year I stacked the books and let him choose a book randomly from the pile. This year I put them in a plastic bin loosely ordered to assure the newer books will be opened early, so we can enjoy them all month.

December 1st falling on a Saturday this year, I also chose a special book to be opened first, Christmas Cookie Day, and along with it a small present I found on sale, the Melissa and Doug Christmas Cookie set. If all goes well, I’ll let him open both after nap and we can bake a batch of real cookies together to eat while we read the first of many holiday books!

The only other change I’m making to our holiday book advent calendar this year is adding an element to try to teach my little guy about giving, not just receiving. Our thankful turkey and focus on gratitude this month left me looking for ways to continue teaching and modeling positive qualities. I made a “Give, Make, Help” list of 25 things to do, with the idea that before we open a gift from the book pile each night, he’d first do something nice for someone else. I kept everything pretty simple, age-appropriate, and, with only a few exceptions, mostly things we can do right at home, such as help feed the cat or clean up toys, make a card or picture for someone, or give hugs or kisses. I’m sure it won’t be flawless, but it’s a small way of beginning to teach him that the holidays are about caring for others, and gifts are only one way we show that.

Frankly, I’d prefer snuggles and books with my boy to any present.

Happy Holidays and happy reading!

For those looking to add some new stories to their own holiday list this year, here are some affiliate links to some of the books in my little guy’s advent book calendar this year.