Saturday, August 9, 2014

Child Swapping, or Raising Kids in the Village Style

My kid is The Smelly Kid. She's 2.5 years old  and gets about a bath a week. Sometimes up to three, but that's usually the result of being stuck indoors due to weather and needing an activity, not because I've suddenly turned into a responsible mother.  Her most recent bath was given by a fellow mommune member and the whole situation left me so grateful that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

I have a standing appointment every Thursday evening. One of my friends always takes my daughter so I can go without having to arrange for paid childcare. For three (ish) hours every Thursday night, my kid plays with another kid whom she dearly loves. I pick her up 15 minutes before bedtime clean, fed, PJ-clad, and happy. This arrangement has been in place for over a year now and I take the other kid once a week, too. Those days I have three (ish) hours of my daughter basically laughing her ass off because she is so delighted by her friend.  My regular arrangement didn't work this past week, so another mommune mommy happily stepped in. Again, I picked up a happy, clean toddler who was reluctant to leave and again, I was floored with gratitude. It seems that babysitting really shouldn't leave me teary-eyed, but here's a list of reasons, in no particular order, why child swapping is The Best Thing Ever:

1. My kid gets a fight-free bath. Evening baths are a struggle in our house, it always seems to be a race to make and eat dinner, get teeth brushed and get to bed. Bath just doesn't fit in most nights. Daytime baths/showers only happen when she's been in the sandbox/at the beach/in the pool and they're usually rushed because I want to play as long as possible and wait to leave until we really should already be home for naptime. But buddy baths are awesome! They are a fun activity into themselves and the last much longer (and therefore kiddo gets cleaner, right?) than a solo bath.

2. My kid interacts with other kids on a long term basis. Three hours to a toddler is an eternity: they go through every possible emotion at least twice. Instead of a play date that I would just leave during a meltdown, we all work through powerful emotions and see each other in all moods.

3. My kid tries new foods, new routines, new books and new activities, she sees what it's like have older or younger siblings, she plays with pets (she has neither siblings nor pets), she gets to see other ways of family dynamics that are different than ours.

4. I am a better parent when I have 2 (or more). If I'm at home with kiddo alone, I will check email between stories, I'll follow up with clients as soon as they text, I'll drag kiddo to the big park that I want to go to. When I have more kids, I'll play with them both. I'll engage them in helping make dinner, I'll bring them to the cute kid-friendly bakery to watch cake get made, I'll put on Toddler Pandora and dance. I get out a rut.

5. The kids play together. YES! It's true more and more every week. They invent their own games, their own lyrics to songs, their own version of sharing. They talk to each other and negotiate on their own terms. It's actually amazing.

6.. The love. When my daughter was first starting to sleep in her own bed at about age 2, she invented a soothing bedtime ritual where she listed to people who loved her. She would start with Mama and Daddy, then branch off. Always in her top 10 were the Mommune family members (including dads, siblings and sometimes pets). And she's right. They do love her. What a gift.

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