Thursday, September 21, 2006

Willow's First Day of Playgroup

So yesterday I took Willow to her first day of playgroup of the year. The playgroup is a distant reincarnation of a group I attended with Josi and Niki years ago. It's very different. The toys are fancier, the location is bigger and it's entirely free to attend - no membership fees! Also there are 2 full time ECE workers ready to help at anytime.

Willow seemed to have a good time. She is pretty bashful with strangers, but I could tell she was very pleased too! At circle time at the end Willow squirmed until she was right in the centre of the circle in front of the ECE reading the story, then she lay down right in the middle of the circle and played footsies with another little girl. It was very sweet. I think this will be a weekly outing for us.

I was kind of glad that they are in a new location now. I tried to go last year, (it was the new program, but at our old location)and had a hard time adjusting to all the differences. I kept comparing this new group with my old group. So much had changed. For one thing it is entirely government funded now. There were no ECE's in the old days like there are now. The Early Childhood Educators cater to the parents and children, whereas we had to work pretty hard at times to keep the group going. I know the new group sounds wonderful, but let me tell you why my old group was so special.

When Josi and Niki were little I attended a playgroup right here in my little rural neighborhood. It was a fun experience for us all. One thing that is so common amongst new mothers is the isolation of staying at home all day with babies and preschool children. Playgroup saved me from that lonliness.

It's funny to think how much I loved that experience. I'm a pretty introverted type of person and to a point I really love my privacy and quiet time, but apparently I really needed some kind of social outlet at that time. Getting to know these mothers was tough at first for me. I wasn't sure I had very much in common with these ladies. Motherhood is what we had in common. Trying to find community was another similarity. And that was all that was needed to form friendships.

Our community playgroup was unique in that it was formed and run by the mothers who attended. We applied each year for a very small government grant, about $7,000, enough to pay the rent of our space at the community hall. Any other money needed for supplies, toys, trips, parties was raised through a small membership fee and fundraisers.

We organized all of this through an elected commitee. Holding a place on the commitee meant really digging your hands into the management of our group. We held monthly meetings, most of which were open to all members. Every member was encouraged to express their ideas. This was our group and we wanted everyone to feel ownership.

All members were expected to help out with cleaning up, serving snacks, leading circle times. We did allow some people to escape duties if it really wasn't their bag. We set a seperate, slightly more pricey membership fee for those who wanted to escape duties. Most people preferred to help out. I like to think that it was because they wanted to be involved.

I've always stayed out of the spotlight in groups an organizations. Being an introvert means I've always dreaded any focus on myself. Still I got so involved with this group I served 3 years on the committee. I was the newsletter editor for two years and was chairperson for one year.

For my older kids, they have sweet memories of trips to the pumpkin farm, halloween parties with Wanda the Witch (the kids were terrified of her!) making her balloon animals and our annual year end picnic.

For myself I have memories of drinking coffee and talking, sharing advice, seeing families grow, pregnancies, new babies, even some sad times, times of loss. Sharing with mamas who although were very different than me, shared that one thread of commonality : Motherhood

I still see those mother's in the hallways of my kids' school. We don't really get together these days, but we catch up when we pick up our kids, volunteer at the school or watch the school's yearly halloween parade. These mothers, who worked so hard to make our group work almost entirely outside of a goverment organized sytem are the same ones who work hard to keep the school going despite the lack of funding threatening to end anything extra curricular.

They taught me what community is. They are what community is.

So the new group may be very different. I can't really imagine feeling that level of involvment, but I do hope to make connections with my community. Mamahood is our bond!

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