My son Henry arrived on this earth three years ago on a humid Sunday in June. I know it was humid because our air conditioner broke around the same time as my water. It was 90 degrees outside and 90 degrees inside — the optimal conditions for misery.
I woke up with contractions at 6 a.m., delivered him at a birthing center at 1 p.m., and was home that evening in time to watch Dateline. Even in the dreamy, worn-out phase following childbirth I couldn’t be bothered to lay low in the maternity ward. At least 10 immediate family members and one air conditioner repairman were waiting for me back home.
That evening as I passed Henry around my oppressive living room like a hot potato, the reality of the situation hit me.
“It’s June in Florida and you’ve got a new baby in the house,” mused the A/C repairman. “If it were me, I’d get a new unit.”
I took one look at his catalogue of overpriced A/C units and one long look into the wondering eyes of my son. I could sense in my son’s strong, fidgety body that he was just as intent on blowing our popsicle stand as I was. We would not be confined to a lonely air-conditioned domain.
However, by the end of June I was exhausted beyond measure, hooked on sweat pants, Nutella sandwiches and Bravo’s daytime programming. As much as I loathed being housebound, I found myself becoming increasingly cool with my new domestic pattern: Sleep two hours. Nurse Henry. Sleep two hours. Nurse Henry. Mow down cereal. Mainline coffee. Nurse Henry. Watch The Today Show. Call my mother to discuss Kathie Lee and Hoda. Nurse Henry.
But then friends stopped coming over to gaze at my son, my parents flew home to New York, and my husband returned to work full-time.
And true stir-craziness set in.
That’s when I realized that salvation was right outside my door.
I live on the outskirts of downtown St. Pete, one block from Coffee Pot Bayou. Countless parks are located within a two-mile radius of my house. With little regard for central air, I spent the dog days of my summer doing what was unimaginable to both my husband and my A/C repairman:
I pounded the pavement.
I walked for miles with Henry’s jog stroller, in the bottom compartment of which I stowed a throw blanket, a cooler, a cheese sandwich and a book. I walked with my iPod. I walked with an iced coffee. Sometimes I listened to podcasts. Sometimes I listened to birds.
Inevitably, my son would fall asleep before we reached our destination, allowing me to steal some time with a book under a tree. During these quiet moments I felt as I hoped I might feel as a new mom: calm, cool and collected. Physically removing myself from home forced me to better spend his naptime. Rather than catch up on dishes and laundry, I caught up on reading. A devoted flip phone user, I didn’t even have access to email at the time.
I rarely used a car that summer. I walked to the grocery store. I walked to restaurants. On a long hot day in August, I rolled up to an outdoor bar and ordered a beer. Now that I have a 3-year-old and a demanding workload, I realize the true sanctity of this time.
Our favorite spot was and still is tiny Allendale Park. It’s off the radar of most parkgoers because it doesn’t have restrooms, a playground or access to the water. We spent entire afternoons during the first few months of his life lying in the shade there on a yellow blanket.
I would read Henry books. I would sing him songs. We’d shake his rattle like a tambourine and fiddle with pinecones and clover. Usually we were the only two people in the park, which made me feel a little like we were the only two people in the world.
Looking back I see now why I spent my first summer as a mother this way. It was a subconscious throwback to how I spent my summers as a kid — outside, in the dirt, wishing time would stand still.
Five tips for spending the summer with bébé
• Join a mommy boot camp. Fit4Mom is a one-stop shop for active new moms. A franchised operation with locations in St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay, Fit4Mom offers Stroller Strides sessions, weekly playgroups, monthly moms’ nights out and family activities. Visit tampabay.fit4mom.com
• Rock out with your baby. You and Me & Music Together, aka Music & Me (see story next page), offers a class for babies 8 months and under at locations around Tampa Bay. The music development program will help you bond with your baby and expand your lullaby repertoire.
• Hone your parenting skills. Check with local baby stores to see if they offer any interesting classes. Some baby boutiques offer classes on cloth diapering, baby wearing, nursing and more. St. Petersburg-based Growing Up and Thank You Mama are especially popular among crunchy, holistic parents.
• Stop by the library. Storytime at the library is truly the best bang for your buck. It’s free, it’s low-key and you’ll go home with a head full of adorable nursery rhymes you can sing to your little one again and again and again.
• Go for a swing. The park system in Tampa Bay is first-rate. Playgrounds and picnic shelters are plentiful, especially in St. Pete. You’d be surprised by how many charming city-owned parks are tucked away in neighborhoods you’ve never explored. Visit your city’s website and scan the listings in the parks and recreation department. You’ll never want to visit the mall play area again.