Ever since Muffin and Squeaker were born, our lives have changed in many ways. That may seem like a rather obvious statement, but it didn’t really hit me how much different our lives would become until I found myself living through the changes. It’s one thing to know intellectually that children require constant attention; it’s quite another to see the clock tick eight in the evening and to realize that you haven’t managed to accomplish anything else with your Sunday except keeping the children occupied.
This was brought back to me much more intensely during the last week of 2011, when our babysitter went on vacation, and, consequently, so did Nomi and I. Before the kids were born, a vacation meant that we could go somewhere, perhaps to New York City to visit family and friends, or we could just stay at home for the week and sleep late. With Muffin and Squeaker in the picture, our vacations, both in terms of scheduling and activities, are completely determined by their needs. In essence, Nomi and I just came off eleven days of Sundays, but these were not the stereotypical lazy Sundays of yore.
Each day began with the girls waking us with either babbling or wailing from their room. Many nights, Squeaker woke up wailing in the middle of the night, and we had to spend some time calming her down before we could get the family back to sleep. Later in the week, Nomi would let me sleep late and she would go take care of the girls’ morning needs, which I very much appreciated. But it’s hard to sleep when I hear my kids calling out, no matter how much Nomi worked to keep them quiet.
Breakfast each day was an amusing challenge. The girls’ regular breakfast is cereal, usually a mix of Cheerios and Rice Chex, or the equivalent. However, the girls have gotten used to the idea that on Saturday morning, when Mommy and Daddy don’t leave for work before breakfast, they can have “special Shabbat breakfast” of pound cake or banana bread.
After breakfast, we had to figure out what to do with the girls for the rest of the day. On some days, we didn’t feel like getting out of pajamas, and so we stayed home. The girls have many options for play at home. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends, they have a lot of toys they can play with. They also have a lot of books, and they enjoy reading with Daddy. But they can’t spend all the hours of the day just reading. So on those days we stayed at home, I would also let the girls watch some episodes of Dora the Explorer and YouTube video clips from Sesame Street. Having them watch video is not my first choice, but I sit with them and make sure they stay engaged with what they are watching by asking them questions.
And on those days we stayed home, bathing the girls was also an option. Muffin and Squeaker really enjoy bath time, as they get to splash water at each other and play with bath toys, including toy boats, toy fish, and the traditional rubber duckie. But again, they can’t spend all day in the bath, as much as they might like to.
We also introduced the girls to baking. Muffin enjoys the banana bread that Nomi bakes, and the vacation allowed us to demonstrate to them exactly why we can’t make more banana bread magically appear the moment they’ve finished a loaf.
So staying at home did present plenty of options. Most days, though, we wanted to take the girls out somewhere. But where to go? Just before Christmas week I called the to inquire about reserving the pass for the Museum of Science. As a Library Trustee, though, I really knew better, and sure enough, the pass had been reserved by other families well in advance for every day of our vacation. Instead, we relied on two other things, both of them free.
First, we took the girls to see their grandparents. Nomi’s parents are temporarily renting a place in Brighton while their house is renovated, so we walked the girls over a few times during the vacation. Muffin and Squeaker love to play with “Sabba” (grandfather) and “Savta” (grandmother), and it gives Nomi and me a chance to have some time to ourselves. Not that I used the time productively, but I did get to catch up with Facebook and other social media sites. Meanwhile, the girls got to play with toys, read books, and help Savta prepare lunch.
The second thing we relied on: the Brookline playgrounds. Normally we take the girls to the because it’s within walking distance of our home. However, if we have to run errands in Coolidge Corner, we’ll take the kids to the , which the girls call “firetruck park,” because of the piece of play equipment designed to look like a firetruck. I love watching Muffin and Squeaker as they run around on the ladders and the slides; even in the cold weather, they have a lot of fun playing outdoors.
I called Erin Chute Gallentine, Brookline’s Director of Parks and Open Space, to ask her about the playgrounds in Brookline. Gallentine is a parent herself, of a three-year-old and a five-year-old, so she appreciates good playgrounds.
“The playgrounds in Brookline are exceptional,” she said. “I think they’re a wonderful asset for families. Not only do they help build wonderful experiences and healthy lifestyles for families, they also build neighborhoods and communities. You get to know your neighbors.”
Nomi and I have found all that to be very true. We’ve met other Brookline parents at playgrounds, and the girls have gotten good exercise and made friends when playing. (I’ve also gotten exercise too, when the girls insist that only Daddy can push them on the swings.)
The last day of vacation, we arranged a play date for Muffin and Squeaker, but I think by then they were sick and tired of spending so much time with Daddy and Mommy. They rebelled; Muffin refused to put on her socks and Squeaker insisted on wearing her shoes on the wrong feet. So in the end, instead of getting a play date, they got one more bath, dinner, and then went to bed. As for Nomi and me, we ended our vacation more exhausted than we began it, but with a newfound appreciation for all the stay-at-home parents who care for their children throughout each day with no vacation in sight.
This week’s column is written by Michael A. Burstein.