An Almost Farewell Ode to the Northampton Parents Center
Theo, my youngest child, turns five in a just two months. The fall will mark the beginning of his school career as I send him off to kindergarten each day. No longer will I have long stretches of morning or afternoon to fill with a small person. While at times I cannot wait for our new reality to begin, I’m going to allow myself a moment of nostalgia here with you. Having a child under 5 has been part of my identity for nearly 12 years. When my oldest son Isaac turned 5, I had a new baby. When Henry turned 5, I had a three year old. Now this smallest one is growing out of library story times and play gyms. We went to the Hampshire Regional YMCA last week to enjoy the under 5 open playtime and Theo was checked at the door. He is still eligible, but he is towering over the other kids. Of course, they let us in, but I was surprised at my reaction. I didn’t realize how big he looks to everyone else. He is still my littlest one.
Since Theo has been in afternoon preschool this year, we discovered the Northampton Parents Center, three large rooms located in the basement of Edwards Church. Sometimes we go multiple times in a week — other times we are absent for days or weeks at time. But the Northampton Parents Center is always there for us. Theo is aging out of it quickly. I’m perpetually asking him to watch out for littler children — and he does quite nicely, but I see how tall and big he looks. He is craving the company of other kids these days more and more.
In the winter time, I feel like hibernating. This month has brought snow upon snow, parking bans, school delays and cancellations. The Parents Center stays open as much as possible. Theo enjoys the riding toys the most — they are all set up in the church basement to go around the loop with gym mats and pop-up tents in the middle of this preschoolers’ roundabout. He loves having a place to go move his body — to jump and shout.
The second room is more subdued for when we are in a laid back frame of mind. The room is set up with a rice table, homemade playdough brought in by parents, puppet theater, and wooden train track. Mostly, it is full of kids and their caregivers. I can take my knitting, drink some tea, chat with moms, dads, grandparents (all of us this winter overwhelmed by the snow removal), shaking our heads at how much it does take to wear these kids out.
Swansea Benham Bleicher, the coordinator of the Northampton Parents Center, manages to learn the names of all these kids who drop in and out, some hardly pausing to draw breath. She is welcoming to all families and takes time to get to know everyone. There is coffee, tea, and snacks for kids and grown-ups. She runs a brief circle time at the end of every playtime. The kids shout out for their favorite songs. Theo loves the Go Bananas song. Thursdays includes a music class — it can be busy, but if your kid loves to sing or dance, it’s worth it.
Both room have baby safe zones, so if your little one needs to get down and crawl, their are spots set up for them to explore where they will be safe from trike driving preschoolers.
I can hardly believe Theo is about to age out! I can’t wait to go back with friends and their small ones just to visit. The unstructured playtime gives kids the perfect amount of freedom to explore and play while parents connect, warm up and forget about being stuck in the house for a while.
The best way to find out more about the Northampton Parents Center is to visit. Located at 297 Main St. (lower level), the Parents Center is open Monday-Thursday from 9:30-11:30am, whenever Northampton public schools are in session. Kids 0-4 with their caregivers are invited. I know you will get a warm welcome.
This Saturday, February 12th, 2011 from 4-7pm, visit the Northampton Parents Center for a free potluck dinner and family fun night! Bring a dish to share, and prepare for an eventful evening! NPC music teacher Felicia Sloin will perform at 5:30pm.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4, leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out. She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.