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

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

Motherhood Murdered My Creative Mojo

While most mothers, myself included, love our children and cherish our role as parents, many will also tell anyone who’ll listen how merciless motherhood can be. Some mothers will TMI you to death about the various body parts that will never return to their original size, shape, or functionality. Plenty will admit that nearly three years after giving birth, the hormonal and emotional changes still leave them bawling like a newborn with colic at the mere mention of a Hallmark movie. Nearly all can espouse to the damage years of sleep deprivation can do to one’s memory, patience, and sanity.

Me? I’m here mourning the loss of my creative mojo.

Prior to getting pregnant I wrote. I wrote. A. Lot. Four novels and a novella in about six years, in addition to nearly weekly blogs. I would come home from work, run (or slowly plod) the same four miles of sidewalk every day, surrendering my thoughts to my characters and the fictional world in which they lived, then crash on my couch for marathon writing sessions that could last until two in the morning. Writing didn’t pay the bills, but it was more than a hobby or something I did. Writing was who I was.

Just after announcing on my blog that I had become pregnant, I was honored to be accepted into a writing conference for authors of children’s and young adult novels. I sat down with a real New York agent to conference about my newest book, and while she gave me feedback on my novel, what she was really interested in was my blog and my real-life situation of becoming a single mother by choice. I was encouraged by her excitement and interest. I thought maybe this was my ticket to breaking into the world of paid authorship. So after a few more rejection letters regarding my novel, I decided to focus my writing efforts on blogging about my experiences.

Throughout my pregnancy I kept up the blogging with some regularity. It wasn’t too hard. Blogs are usually short, and the time it took to write and post them was about as long as I wanted to spend on anything other than nesting and napping.

When my son arrived, even the blogging trickled down to nearly non-existent. If I wrote, it was heartfelt and impassioned, because I didn’t have the time or energy to write anything I didn’t feel needed to be shared with the world. But I didn’t write much. And I never wrote fiction, not just because I didn’t have time, I also never had ideas. It was as if the daily tasks of motherhood had sapped my ability to create.

I thought it would pass, this muddling of my creative mojo. I figured it was just a form of mommy brain, which turns out is more than a catchy excuse for forgetting your pump parts on the counter half a dozen times, and is actually scientifically proven changes to a woman’s brain during and after pregnancy. There’s no such proof that motherhood specifically kills creativity, but I suppose it makes sense that if certain parts of my brain changed and expanded, others had to make room.

About a year and a half into this single motherhood gig, I actually had a spark of creativity. A new idea for a novel began to burn in my writing soul, and for a few days, maybe even a week, I was convinced I could nourish it into a full-blown return of my creative self. I couldn’t. I don’t remember what suffocated that spark to keep it from becoming a flame. Perhaps one of us got sick, or my son had a few nights of interrupted sleep, or laundry piled up to the point I considered wearing underwear my post-pregnancy body had no business wearing. In other words, motherhood happened. And motherhood always trumps creative mojo.

But should it? Always? At what point does an artist or writer’s sense of self, their creative soul, need to not be ignored for fear of losing it altogether? If there is a point of no return, I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of it. If I wait until my son is older, my job is easier, my finances are more secure, my brain and body have recovered from these early years (or at least settled into a new normal), I’m not sure I’ll still have the writing skills or publishing knowledge I have now.

Most importantly, I worry my creativity will be so diminished there will be no hope in reviving it. I love being a mother, but I’m not ready to allow motherhood to murder my creative mojo.

To keep my creativity alive, I know I need to prioritize. I need to let go of my need for a clean, picked up house. Despite the mental escape of mindlessly skimming through social media at night, I also need to put away my phone and pick up my pen and notebook. More than any of these, though, I need to find a way to mentally reset, to learn to daydream again, to allow my mind to wander—and not to all the worries, tasks, and responsibilities of parenthood. That’s not easy anymore. What used to come naturally, will now take work. But I’m willing to put in that work.

So I will continue to read articles about my craft and to inspire myself by reading novels written by fiction writers who made motherhood, even single motherhood, and writing mesh. (J.K. Rowling, you are, as always, my hero.) I will keep plugging at the draft of my newest novel, even if the pages I write after an exhausting day of teaching and parenting are mostly crap. I will retrain my brain to let go, to wander, to create again.

Because while the pulse of my creativity is weak, it remains—a soft, steady reminder of that part of my soul whose voice will not be silenced—even if it is covered in snot and sleep deprived.

 

Photo credit: © Viktoriia Hnatiuk | Dreamstime.com

Learning to Trust My Mom Gut

Last weekend my family was having a party for my grandmother’s 95th birthday, obviously a very special occasion, one I truly wanted to attend and wanted my son to attend. Unfortunately, it was scheduled to start at noon, the time my son is usually drifting off to sleep for his nap. It was also being held in one of my grandmother’s favorite places, Purgatory Chasm. For those of you outside central Massachusetts, think picturesque wooded picnic area surrounded by potentially deadly (and therefore seriously toddler-tempting) rocks and rock chasms.

So was it an ideal event for us to go to? No. In fact my first mom gut reaction was HELL NO.

But then other influences started creeping in. Out of state relatives whom I would have loved catching up with were attending. My niece and nephew were coming, and my son adores his older cousin. There would be chocolate cake (hey, that lure is real). And probably most importantly, the loss of my other grandmother this spring weighed on my heart, and the ‘what if this is the last birthday?’ thought popped up and wouldn’t easily be swatted away.

So I squashed my mom gut instinct that told me a tired toddler overstimulated with family and food and tempted with his favorite activity, rock climbing, would be a disastrous combination. And we went anyways.

Do I need to tell how this ended? Do I need to describe the epic meltdown that ensued shortly after his usual nap time when I had to tell him no he couldn’t climb the chasm that our picnic table was placed directly in front of? Do I need to explain why I ended up holding him for his entire three hour nap on the couch when we got home and he still couldn’t settle? It wasn’t pretty. But it also wasn’t his fault. This wasn’t a case of a two year old being a brat when he didn’t get his way. (We’ve had those meltdowns too, so I’m well versed in what they look like.)

This was my fault. I know what my son needs (sleep, regular mealtimes, minimal stimulation near nap), and I ignored it because I had a case of family fomo. I’d like to tell you it was the first time I’d ignored my mom gut, but the truth is I’ve already done it too many times to recall. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it didn’t. Even when it does, it’s a pretty crappy parenting technique to play Russian roulette with my kid’s emotions.

Little man isn’t the easy-going, adjust-to-any-environment kid. He never has been and maybe never will be. I thought I’d accepted that before now, but the truth is I’m always looking for signs he’s ‘grown out of it’ or is getting better in crowds or stimulating situations. Sometimes it’s because as a single mom I really want, maybe even need, to get out and attend these events. Other times I’ve felt guilty missing out on important family gatherings. Either way it’s often led me to do something my mom gut told me was not a good idea with my fingers crossed and breath held.

I hope after this last incident that I’m finally done with ignoring my mom gut. I can’t shelter my son from every possible difficult situation, but while he’s still little, he needs an advocate to look out for what’s best for him. He needs me to trust my mom gut.

Mother’s Day as a Single Mom

When you’re a single mom, Mother’s Day looks a little different.

There isn’t any sleeping in. When little man wakes up at 4:10, then again at 5:25, there isn’t anyone else to push out of bed to go get him.

But then when you pick him up and give him a good morning hug and he tells you, “So happy!” you’re pretty damn glad it was you who went in to get him, and you could care less what time it is.

Breakfast in bed is out, too. So you have some fun and make yourself a gourmet version of the frozen Spiderman waffles your toddler son likes. And, hey, they’re not so bad.

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Despite the cold and damp, it’s you who takes your kid to toddler soccer, which is basically equivalent to herding baby cheetahs who’d rather run away and pick dandelions on the muddy field than actually touch the ball with his feet. But when your future florist gets freaked out by another little dino roaring at him (something he was doing to you all through that spiderific breakfast), it’s you who gets the hugs and the request to “go home now.

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And since it’s Mother’s Day and you’re cold and wet and just not into pushing a two-year-old to play team sports quite yet, you go with the flow. And go in search of smiles—his and yours.

His comes easy. Find a swing and wag your tongue back at him as he wags his at you.

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Yours might cost a bit more but it is worth every penny and every calorie—even if it wasn’t eaten in bed at a decent hour.

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The rest of the day is about the same as any other Sunday. Busy. Exhausting. Too short to even dent the to-do list.

But it is also overflowing with gratitude and laughter and love.

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Mother’s Day as a single mom, as any mom, is more than being pampered or having time to take an uninterrupted shower (though those are nice perks if you can get ’em). It’s about being appreciated, and the best part of being a single parent is getting all the hugs, “thank you, mom”s, “ugga mugga”s, and sloppy wet kisses. I am loved by the little person I love more than anything else. That’s all this mom really needs.

Well, that and the donuts.

Happy Mother’s Day to all!