In a place like Iowa City, with so many educated and talented people, it’s important to know your skill set. Understanding what your strengths are and gravitating toward others who share similar talents is what creates that sense of belonging we all crave.
Take for me, for instance. I can make a hat out of almost anything. Halloween lunches, meanwhile, consist of jack-o-lanterns cut out of peanut butter sandwiches free hand, and Disney’s Elsa has nothing on my rendition “Let It Go”. I’ll admit, I’ve got skills. Mom skills. And I’ve spent three years polishing them to perfection. The problem surfaced when I realized that all my time spent Pinteresting toddler activities had actually ostracized me from other super parents. Now, the idea of talking to other grown ups makes my palms sweat. I’ve forgotten how to socialize.
I didn’t realize how bad it was until I decided to enroll my son in gymnastics. I was determined to give him an opportunity to socialize, but the idea of an official “play group” felt too stressful. As much as I wanted my kid to make new friends, I didn’t want the pressure of sitting with a circle of super moms. Choosing a class instead of free play seemed like an easy alternative.
I smiled and they smiled back, but that’s all that I had. I had forgotten how to adult.
When we arrived at our first class, I was overwhelmed by how advanced other children were. Are two-year-olds supposed to be able to put on their own shoes? Was that child speaking in full sentences? I looked at the mothers, some in yoga pants, some in leggings and sweatshirts that spelled “Cheer Mom” across the chest. I smiled and they smiled back, but that’s all that I had. I had forgotten how to adult. I had forgotten how to interact without funny voices and artistic sandwich carving. I looked at my little guy, his broad shoulders towering over the other spritely-looking children. He looked as out of place as I felt, but he didn’t care.
Taking a Tumble
The instructor told everyone to sit in a circle, and I smiled apologetically as I wrestled my kid to the floor. By the time we came to the obstacle course, I wanted to leave, but my child went running to the giant foam pit and crawled in, his eyes glittering. That “mommy-sense” triggered a turn in my stomach. I knew it was bad idea. But I saw the rest of the kids bounding in and out, and figured I was overreacting. He began to sink into the foam, and his face changed from excitement to concern. He was stuck. It wasn’t until I had fully lowered myself in that I realized the pit was approximately six feet deep, and there was no ladder.
I lifted my son out of the pit as the instructor blew a whistle, indicating it was time for a new activity. As parents and other children left the gym to participate, my child included, I found myself alone. I tried to boost myself up using my arms, but the pit was too tall and I couldn’t get enough leverage from the foam. Another mother suggested I put my foot up on the edge, and even gave it a tug, but I was fully stuck. I felt like a mammoth in a tar pit. I asked the other mother to watch my child and to send for an adult. A limber adult. She left, and the instructor returned looking frustrated.
She created a ramp using gymnastic mats, and I rolled out of the pit in a breathless heap. I asked if she had tried that before and she shook her head and smiled. I had the feeling she was trying not to tell me that I was the first person to ever be stuck in the foam pit.
By the time I found my child, he had assimilated into a new family. The other mother was attempting to coax him off of the trampoline while her children pulled at her shirt. I thanked her and threw him over my shoulder as he screamed, then promptly left, my legs still wobbling from exertion.
The New Frontier
Later that day, when my son was rolling around the living room, I told my husband I was never going back. He asked our son if he had fun, and he nodded. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t follow directions like the other kids, or that his mother got stuck in the foam pit. He had fun because he was allowed to experience something new, somewhere different. I realized that somewhere between changing diapers and the struggle of ditching maternity jeans, I had lost that desire to experience new things. So I decided to go back one more time. The next visit, when my son fell into the foam pit once again, I jokingly told the instructor I would pay her five dollars to fish him out. She did it for free, and I found a new place for my kid to hang out on Thursday mornings.
Here’s the good news. Getting involved in the local parenting community doesn’t need to be this stressful. There are several resources available in the Iowa City area for those looking to find friendly parenting social groups. In fact, Sara Meehan from Iowa City Mom’s Blog credits eastern Iowa for having a place for almost anyone.
“The biggest advantage, by far, is to meet other people who are ‘in the trenches’ with you,” Meehan said. “Whether it’s a teething baby, a preschooler who refuses to nap or a sassy pre-teen, someone is always going through the same thing that you are, and the best part of these events is finding someone who says ‘me too!’”
She recommends starting with groups and events that involve bringing the kids, as they can take the pressure off of making conversation with adults. “I think kid-friendly events are such an easy way to start a friendship with other moms, and then ease into the moms-only groups and events when you feel more connected,” said Meehan.
Meehan also has a golden rule for starting your own group.
“My number one tip is to be flexible,” she said. “There are moms of all types (part time working, full time working, work from home, stay at home…) and it can sometimes be difficult to find meeting times that work for everyone. Maybe try to mix it up, and have play dates on different days and different times.”
Type in “play group” or “Family” into the search bar, along with how far you are willing to travel and the site will display all of the groups registered in your area, like Coralville Family Connection and Iowa City Moms Meet Up. These groups usually have member dues, but will often schedule play dates, book club meetings or field trips that are suitable for moms and dads alike.
Iowa City Mom’s Blog is filled with personal experiences of parenting in the corridor. Check out this site for things to do, places to visit and the top picks for a mom-friendly coffee. They also sponsor events like trips to the zoo and meetings at local festivals designed to help parents make connections outside of the Internet. You can check out their website or connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or by joining their email list by emailing email@example.com.
If you’re interested in kid-friendly events, but not specifically play groups, check out corridorparents.com. The site features a variety of information on movie screenings, story times and outdoor play areas, in addition to highlighting great places to connect with other parents in a non-structured way.
Amanda Lund is a wife, mother and senior at the University of Iowa. A self-proclaimed Pinterest guru, she spends her time potty-training, drinking coffee and pinning projects to (finally) do with the pallets in her garage. This article original appeared in Little Village issue 184.