Monday, December 28, 2009

You Give Me (Cabin) Fever

The stork visited our apartment building only once in the five years prior to AS's birth, and the winning family moved to a new house with their first born within months. This suddenly dawned on me during the waning third trimester of my pregnancy, and I wondered momentarily if there was some rule prohibiting children that I'd overlooked in our co-op by-laws and if we would be forced out onto the cold streets of December after one all-nighter with a crying newborn. But AS quickly became chummy with the building's longest resident who is our next door neighbor, several members of the board of directors and the superintendent, securing our family's rightful place here. We also befriended expectant parents living in a similar unit above us when we heard their first child was due the following year, encouraged that AS would have a buddy close-by and we would have yet another reason to stay in our cozy-for-three but affordable home.

AS continued to make acquaintances as he toddled beyond our front door to explore the halls and lobbies of the building at-large with his walker wagon. Following a blizzard, when record-breaking snowfall and sub-freezing temperatures prevented us from venturing outside, the indoor common areas became AS's playground. But after a day or two, something akin to cabin fever set in as we grew weary staring at the same four walls and window views of an alley.

When the snow melted making sidewalk travel with a stroller feasible, we bundled AS up in layers of clothing and sought other public venues for indoor amusement. This proved more challenging on a shoestring budget than heading out to the neighborhood park on a balmy day, but once again the Washington, DC area did not disappoint.

First, we followed our pediatrician's recommendation to check out some free 45 minute introductory Play and Learn classes for children ages 0-5 at Gymboree. Gymboree classes are guided by enthusiastic teachers who refer to children as "my friends" and who balance opportunities for structured movement and independent exploration on colorful pint-size gym equipment that is eye-candy for grown-ups and makes me wish I was two feet tall again. Wooden steps, tunnels and bridges encourage climbing, and sturdy plastic slides and teeter-totters help develop balance. Parents are encouraged to participate in group games that may include singing, hand motions, soap bubbles, wiffle balls, or even a parachute. These activities follow an age-appropriate curriculum geared towards building and exercising the cognitive, physical and social skills of children through play.

Gymboree offers other classes, including Music, Art, Sports, Family, and School Skills, as well as Birthday Party Packages. In fair warning, the Gymboree approach is a bit commercial with images of trademark Gymbo the Clown making appearances in the songs, toys and even on the playground equipment. Employees also follow up with a phone call after your initial free visit to encourage you to pay for additional classes. It was tempting to say "yes" because AS truly did enjoy himself there, but our search to find cheaper alternatives to remedy the winter blues continued.

Getting to Gymboree presents challenges to Washingtonians who eschew driving as there are no classes offered within the city, but the Bethesda, Maryland location is accessible by Metro rail or bus lines. Use the Trip Planner feature on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) website to find the most direct route and the amount of fare. Maximum fare for an adult is $4.50 per person. Up to two children 4 years and younger may ride free with each adult paying full fare.

Word on the street is that the National Building Museum is the place to take your kids in the city to thaw out. NBM's Building Zone is a playroom for ages two to six (and their adult companions) with activities and toys intended to introduce children to the building arts. A playhouse, plastic tools and toy construction trucks, giant building blocks, and architecture picture books and puzzles are available to spark future engineers' imaginations.Soft-blocks for constructing a seven foot-tall arch with your family are available in the museum's Great Hall. The huge atrium is a great open space for crawlers and toddlers to safely explore while Mom and Dad sip coffee at tables near the museum cafe. Admission to NBM is free (or pay-what-you-can), and the museum is conveniently located across the street from the Judiciary Square station on Metro's red line or a quick two blocks from the Gallery Place/Chinatown station on the yellow or green lines.

Science buffs may want to visit the Butterfly Pavilion at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to get their nature fix in a climate controlled environment until warmer weather returns. This is a great place to get some portraits of your young'un, so don't forget a camera!
All Smithsonian museums have free entry, but the Butterfly Pavilion is a fee-based special exhibit where you stroll among live butterflies and exotic plants from all over the world. Tuesdays are the exception; timed-entry tickets are still required to the exhibit but are available for free at the Butterfly Pavilion Box Office each Tuesday morning beginning at 10:00 am. Otherwise ticket prices are $6 for adults and $5 for children ages 2-12. Tickets are not required for children under two years old.

Oh's and ah's could be heard from AS as we wove between massive fossils in the Dinosaur Hall and experienced the eerie sights and sounds of the Mammal Hall. Visit the Insect Zoo if you can stomach a tarantula feeding demonstration. This may also be the only place in town you'll welcome seeing and even touching a Giant Hissing Cockroach.

Native Washingtonians will be especially interested in the Birds of DC exhibit and the Nature's Best Photography Show. If you're a shutter bug like me, you'll want to see the impressive nature photographs captured by the NBP Youth and Conservation Photographers of the Year. Nature's Best Photography magazine is founded in Northern Virginia but reaches an international audience. A free spin-off publication created by and for young people ages 12 to 21, NBP Students, was launched on-line. Encourage your budding naturalist to get his or her own photographs or stories published!

Take in the Discovery Room before ending your sojourn at NMNH. In the Discovery Room, museum staff interact with visitors and present objects from the collections such as fossils, skulls, and shells. Young people hone their skills of scientific inquiry through close examination of the objects, gathering evidence, and drawing conclusions. Programs are available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from October to May. See the museum website for up-to-date information.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History also has a space dedicated to hands-on interactive play in addition to regular museum exhibits where touching objects in the collection is usually forbidden. Spark!Lab helps kids learn about the history and process of invention through games, science experiments, and inventors’ notebooks. My sister jokes that this area of the museum is a potential Purell-fest with the mutual handling of objects and sharing between kids, so bring your own bottle of hand-sanitizer if you're a self-described germaphobe! If you're feeling inspired after your museum visit, the Spark!Lab website includes how-to's for conducting experiments on your own at home. Build a drum or yo-yo out of recycled materials with your child or grow a hydroponic vegetable garden!

The ongoing NMAH exhibition "National Treasures of Popular Culture" showcases artifacts that fall into the category of museum objects you can NOT touch, but we love it just the same. Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” and Kermit the Frog are on permanent display along side other paragons from American music, sports and entertainment culture spanning the last 100 years. All indisputably worth braving frigid weather to see!

Where do you take your cubs when you come out of hibernation? Let us know!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Hours vs. Happy Meals

He was seated in a highchair for mere seconds when, with lightening speed, my son lunged across the table and sent a ceramic bread plate crashing to the concrete flooring of the trendy bistro we had regrettably chosen for a celebratory lunch date. For our first time there, we made one helluva entrance. My husband was momentarily preoccupied with his broken watchband as I attempted to secure AS in a highchair that was missing one half of its lap belt. Thankfully, the drinking glasses and knives were out of reach. The bread plate had looked like a harmless white circle in my peripheral vision, not a discus. Our perturbed host balked, then snatched up the broken pieces with a measure of animosity. I surmised, they don't get children in here too often. The lack of a changing table in the bathroom supported this assumption. Normally, I would have offered AS a spoon, plastic straw, or napkin to keep himself entertained at a restaurant, but in this case I decided it was best nothing else hit the floor for the remainder of the meal. This is why, I realized, many frugal parents are happy to settle for a trip to MacDonald's, but I can't justify spending money on any food other than groceries these days if it isn't good quality.

So we don't eat out much despite living within spitting distance of the District's mecca for gourmands and carousers, Adams Morgan, except to observe birthdays and special anniversaries. We also make the occasional effort to swing by a Friday Happy Hour frequented by old friends. When I say "we", I mean all three of us. Bringing AS along means not paying for a sitter. It also provides him with additional sensory experiences and social opportunities. He loves an adventure and is a bit of a novelty at the cafes, eateries and watering holes where we were once regulars. On AS's first birthday we returned to the Indian restaurant where I went into labor nearly 24 hours prior to his birth (what they say about spicy foods is true, or maybe it was merely coincidence). The head waiter gave AS a tour of the kitchen as well as carried him from table to table as he took orders from customers in the dining area. He brought AS a complementary cup of mango juice and offered to take our picture as a memento. AS ate it up, the attention that is, but he also enjoyed the juice and the curry.

Restaurant employees often remark how well AS behaves, and aside from the occasional accident (such as the aforementioned bread plate) it is true. We attribute this to his exposure to bustling public places from a very young age. We took AS to The Diner at 2453 18th Street, NW when he was just three months old, assured that the din in the restaurant -a combination of music and vibrant conversation- would act as white noise to lull him to sleep. When he awoke and momentarily fussed, we could still enjoy our meal knowing that his mews wouldn't break any DC laws regarding noise limits.

The Diner is one of three successful sister establishments in the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC owned by super-savvy restaurateur Constantine Stavropoulis. Open City and Tryst are the other two. Stavropoulis has discovered the perfect formula for success; offer nourishing comfort food, coffeehouse amenities and a full bar in a cozy setting. There are many quality "home-cooked" meals on the menu for both adults and children, including to-die-for macaroni and cheese at The Diner, at prices that won't make you regret your choice to take a night off from cooking.

Coloring pages (or menus) and crayons are available for kids at The Diner and Open City, and all three restaurants have a changing table in the bathroom. Stavropoulis, I could kiss you!
The waitstaff is wonderful and have never hesitated to bring AS another spoon, plastic straw or napkin to play with even when it is apparent that these things will ultimately wind up on the floor. Animal crackers are routinely served with coffee drinks at Tryst and Open City (for adults, not kids), but our waitress at Open City brought a separate plate (another bread plate... this one didn't wind up on the floor) of cookies to our table to AS's delight.

Open City has both indoor and outdoor patio seating and is therefore our first choice when warmer weather permits. High chairs are available at Open City and The Diner, but Tryst's thrift store decor encourages snuggling up with your child on one of their well-worn couches. Board games are available at Tryst, but I can't vouch the boxes include all of the pieces. Better yet, bring your own game!

The hours are long at each place: Open City Sunday-Thursday 6am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 6 am-1 am. Tryst Monday - Thursday 6:30am - 2:00am, Friday - Saturday 6:30am - 3:00am, Sunday 7:00am - 2:00am. The kind folks at The Diner, God bless 'em, keep it open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! While these hours should accommodate any child's (or exhausted parent's) nap schedule, we recommend getting there early for a table whether it be for a weeknight dinner or weekend brunch. You will find yourselves seated more quickly and the servers more attentive during off-peak times.

On mild days we also love the child and dog-friendly environments found around 4 or 5 pm on the outdoor patios of Wonderland Ballroom at 11th and Kenyon Streets, NW, Adams Mill Bar and Grill at 1813 Adams Mill Road, NW, and Chief Ike's Mambo Room, 1725 Columbia Road, NW. Wonderland and Ike's have some healthful low-cost choices on their menus. We like the vegetarian options at Wonderland (usually served with a simple but tasty mixed green salad) and the gourmet grilled cheese sandwich at Ike's. None of these places has a kids menu, high chairs, or a changing table in the restroom. So bring some cheerios, plan to hold your child in your lap, and don't expect to stay too long! It may cost a couple dollars more than a McMeal, but on the patio parents can grab a cheap beer and a savory appetizer and enjoy a brief outing in a stimulating urban atmosphere with their child.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Library Love and KidLit Commendations

Among my first missions after marching forward determinedly into the judicious province that is Stay-at-Home-Momdom was to reacquaint myself with the District of Columbia Public Library system. No need to buy new books or CDs, rent DVDs, subscribe to magazines or pay to download audio books and music when the public library has all this and more. They even have free wi-fi! When the librarian who issued my card informed me about the checkout limit of fifty items, I laughed out loud in amazement. I thought it unlikely that I would ever borrow so much but reconsidered after learning that parents are the ones most likely to make use of that generous provision. Especially since there is no fine for overdue children's books. Imagine that!

The DC Public Library system is a little more sophisticated than it was last time I checked. A printout of books you borrow is available upon request at the checkout counter so you can gather them from the far corners of your home and return them without worrying you've missed something. The DCPL website offers the ability to renew books online, place holds on materials and request transfers to your local branch. You are even able to download MP3's of books, music and videos! I love that I receive e-mail notifications before loans are due and when "holds" are available for pickup. You may also return books to any library branch, not just the location where you originally borrowed them. How sweet it is!

Many of the branches offer special programs at no cost. For example, computer software training is available for adults, storybook times for children, and online Homework Help for teens. There are occasional sales of used library books, family-friendly performances such a visiting dance troupes, book clubs and much more.

The Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library, the third oldest public library building still in use in Washington, hosts several story times throughout the week to encourage literacy in the very young. Lap Time on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. features librarians reading short books and leading fledgling visitors from birth to age two and their caregivers in songs, games and fingerplay. The popular Neighbor Time is offered twice, at 10 a.m. and again at 11 a.m. on Thursdays, for children up to age five. Preschool Story Time on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. is also recommended for ages two to five. Here children may participate in singing, dancing, games, crafts and, of course, storytelling! Some of these programs are sadly underutilized by the community. A friend took her son to what was ultimately a private screening of an Elmo film because no one else showed up. Kudos to the library's media specialist for going on with the show!

The children's area at Mt. P takes up an entire floor and is stocked with many new titles and much-loved classics from board books for the wee ones to beautifully illustrated picture books well-suited to beginning bookworms to chapter books for older kids who are more voracious booklovers. Texts in the fiction section are available in several languages including English, Spanish and Vietnamese. The non-fiction collection is also impressive; I found myself perusing the Art stacks and discovering some photography books I'd love to have in my teaching collection. The board books are displayed in large wooden crates set on the floor so parents can relax and let curious toddlers plow through them without fear of disclosing an irreverence for the Dewey Decimal System. AS recently lost a shoe in there but the librarian found it in no time. Made me wonder if that happens fairly often.

Reading rooms have soft recliners for kids and are illuminated with natural light filtering in through large windows. The walls of the nooks were painted with a stunning mural, titled "Animal Circus", in the Depression era by children's book illustrator and acclaimed Disney animation artist Aurelius Battaglia (Think "Dumbo" and "Pinnochio") and are still in arguably good condition due to a protective plexiglas covering. Battaglia was a DC native and attended the Corcoran School of Art (now the Corcoran College of Art + Design). Take some time to share this local treasure and its history with your youngster. It's one of the many things that makes this city unique.

What else makes the Mt. P library our family favorite? Here are a few things that come to mind: The librarians are helpful and kid-friendly. They always ask if we need assistance and often take a moment to talk to AS. They are also careful to create a safe environment for children; I have heard them remind adults that they must be accompanied by a juvenile to stay in the youth sections. Among the biggest attractions for kids- a computer loaded with educational games (and others for web-surfing) is available.

This historic library is undergoing an "environmentally friendly and sustainable" renovation next year, and the librarian I spoke to was hopeful it will reopen after about ten months in the Spring of 2011. In the meantime, the branch will move to a temporary location and operate on a smaller scale. If you know where the temporary location will be, please let me know!

A recent radio report suggested children should be read to beginning at birth at least twice a day by their parents to stimulate language development. Encouraging very young children to turn the more manageable pages of board books, bath books or soft cloth books helps them to understand sequence and to develop motor skills. Some of AS's favorite library picks have included the interactive board books Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden and Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Rod Campbell. In fact, AS said one of his first words "Boo!" when hearing Laden's book for the umpteenth time and learned to mimic new animal sounds ("Roar!") as we read and re-read Campbell's. Author and artist Mo Willems' (formerly of Sesame Street) humorous Pigeon series is a hit with our whole family, as are the Look books by Tana Hoban which feature photographs that children view through die-cut windows to encourage more active viewing.

While AS is captive in his high chair during meals, I read to him from the more delicate picture books whose thinner pages don't withstand the rough-handling of a one-year old. Jon J. Muth's zen influenced stories Zen Shorts and Zen Ties are among the most beautifully illustrated we have discovered at the library. His watercolors are reminiscent of Japanese Sumi-e brushwork but more contemporary and whimsical. The Three Questions is another reflective story by the same author and, to my husband's satisfaction, was inspired by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's profound short story of the same name. Each story features a panda as a pivotal character. Of course, pandas are near and dear to the hearts of adolescent Washingtonians as they are first introduced to these impressive animals at our National Zoo.

Curious to know what school-age children are reading or looking for recommendations for your child? Download an informative report by Renaissance Learning, and skim down to page 4 for a list of titles by grade and age.

If you are budget-conscious and can resist the urge to shop, Barnes and Noble bookstores host morning story times at various locations throughout the week. Browse the B&N website under "Stores and Events" for dates, times and programs. Each week they select books based on a different theme, often appropriate to the season or special holidays throughout the year. We find it is also a comfortable indoor play place on especially hot or cold days. There are usually small benches or chairs for children to curl up on with a book. If your child is in the mood to play instead, toys are provided (our local B&N has a much loved and abused train table). The staff also seem tolerant of children playing with the merchandise (such as the menagerie of stuffed animals for sale) and using the story time stage to enact their own imaginative narratives.

Which library, story time, or book satisfies your child's need to read? Please recommend one, or more!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Arts in Infancy Part 2: Visual Art

"My newborn son is asleep on my lap, and I am finally doing what I had hoped to begin ten weeks ago- document in words and pictures his first year. He was born in early December and the days since have provided many challenges and joys. I feel like there is already so much that I should have captured, so many experiences to commit to paper and yet there has been so little time to do much more than simply live. We've been in survival mode."

These are the first words I penned in a journal I hoped would serve as a keepsake of our first year together. I imagined an artist's book complete with new writings, images and other memorabilia collected on a continual, even daily basis. Before my son's birth, I naively assumed I would have plenty of time during my three months of maternity leave to care for a newborn as well as continue the creative work I was accustomed to producing as a child-free artist. Of course, it was weeks before I even had the presence of mind to brush my teeth and wash my hair regularly. Every free moment was dedicated to the pursuit of sleep in a desperate attempt to recoup what was lost during the night nursing my son for thirty minutes every two to three hours. The only creative energy I could spare was applied to finding ways to entertain him during the day. Unloading the dishwasher became an introductory art lesson as I described the circular and rectangular shapes of plates and baking pans and clanged them together in a multi-sensory performance piece. To bathe myself, I secured my son in his bouncy seat just steps away from the tub and rippled our geometrically patterned shower curtain with my left hand to create a visually stimulating OpArt experience for him as I attempted to wash and shave with my right.

As soon as the baby's eyes could focus more closely, we lay side by side on the floor together looking upward at illustrated children's books like Harold and the Purple Crayon. He kicked his feet excitedly in response to the bold lines and distinct shapes of Crockett Johnson's simple purple and black drawings. He responded similarly to pictures in books by Sandra Boynton, Richard Scarry and Dr. Seuss, which have comparable design characteristics.

I must admit, though, that I was finally motivated to make art at home with my son when I discovered my friend's boy, just a month older than mine, was already creating paintings with his feet in preparation for an "art opening" or Open House at daycare! I scoured parenting chat rooms and books for ideas on how to I could introduce my infant son to the visual arts in age appropriate and safe ways. I was specifically on the lookout for projects I could easily do with him at home myself (read: without an extra pair of helping hands) while my husband was at work during the day. I discovered some lively on-line debaters disputing the merits, even the possibility of making art with children less than a year in age. But I was not to be deterred; it was not too soon in my mind for Artful Son (AS) to experience the joys of art making.

Of course my greatest concern was finding nontoxic art materials that would not irritate his sensitive new skin or accidentally be ingested. Instead, I found ways of preventing AS from needing to touch the art materials at all! Inspiration first came from a surprising source, author and mother Ruth Yaron's bestselling book Super Baby Food. This is primarily a resource for feeding your baby and toddler, but it has a wonderful arts and crafts section filled with many thrifty ideas. She even includes a recipe for making your own playdough and other art materials that are so safe for children they are even edible! What's more, Yaron is very conscientious when it comes to creating a safe home environment so her tips are always both child and earth friendly.

For our first endeavor, I squeezed a dollop of tempera paint in each of the primary colors, red, blue and yellow, onto a white paper plate. Then I carefully inserted the plate into a clear gallon-size Ziploc and sealed the bag closed. AS was propped up on a pillow with the plate placed beneath his feet. I encouraged him to begin kicking which started the paints mixing into secondary colors, green, purple and orange. After a few minutes, I removed the plate from the bag and allowed it to air dry. We then experimented blending cool and warm hues. For AS, the process was the most enjoyable part, but I was delighted to have the finished products, tempera paintings, to keep and share. In times to come, we explored (with varying success) basic printmaking, finger paints, and air-drying clay.

While safe children's art materials, such as Crayola paints, crayons, clays and construction paper, can be purchased relatively cheaply, I am a big fan of artist and educator George Szekely's concept of "environmental shopping". Szekely encourages his own children and students to search in unlikely places for non-traditional media and techniques. For example, cardboard boxes can be cut and recycled into sturdy painting surfaces, and sponges or even small tree branches can be used to make marks with paint in lieu of expensive brushes. Want to learn more? Check out his website or excellent book Encouraging Creativity in Art Lessons.

Do you have an infant art making idea you'd like to share? Please post it in the comments section.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Arts in Infancy Part 1: Music

Other than the demoralizing year of sixth grade band (I was third clarinet, using an instrument I inherited from my older sister) and a brief stint learning to play the electronic keyboard during the 80's (when my romantic teenage fantasies included running away to London to start a New Wave group) I have little formal training in music. Unlike my husband who can pick out most anything on an acoustic guitar and who hears notes I never realized were in songs, I am a little tone deaf. But since our artful son (AS) was born, I sing more (albeit ballads for children) than I ever have in my life and I know what I like. It isn't the bubblegum melodies of Raffi and Barney.

In the beginning, I left it to my artful husband to search out baby-friendly tunes that aren't cringe-inducing for parents who smoothly transitioned from vinyl to CD to MP3. He discovered the web-based children's television program "Pancake Mountain" which features DC faves The Evens performing their very catchy original "Vowel Movement". You're bound to get the chorus of this hip song stuck in your head for days, and if your neighbors are likely to overhear you rocking out with your child at least you won't lose face here. The Buzzcocks, Shonen Knife, Steel Pulse, and The Flaming Lips have also appeared on PM.

Looking for something a little more mellow for nap time? Give a listen to one of the many recordings in the "Rockabye Baby!" series, including lullaby renditions by U2, The Beach Boys, No Doubt, Radiohead, even Metallica.

Of course there is plenty of music that wasn't written with children in mind that will still get baby jumpin' and give the somewhat discerning parent auditory relief. Among our family-friendly faves are oldies but goodies like "Rockin' Robin" by Bobby Day and "Alley-Oop" by The Hollywood Argyles and the retro-styling of The Puppini Sisters. But it was ska music that motivated AS to dance for the first time, starting with a bobbing of the head that worked its way down to his tapping toes as he heard the rock-steady beats of Madness, The English Beat and local idols The Pietasters. When The Pietasters play in town you can expect a full house at the 9:30 Club, "Washington's premiere live music venue", but their outdoor performances are just as energized and probably a more comfortable way to introduce ska music to its youngest fans. A MySpace Friend of The Pietasters once posted, "I've been listening to you since I was born."

One of the most memorable early experiences we had with AS was when he first joined in on an unplugged music session at home in our living room by shaking his rattle while his father strummed guitar and I tried my best to keep rhythm by clapping. We have since improvised various percussion instruments which AS especially likes, including cymbals out of pot lids and bongo drums out of recycled 32 ounce yogurt tubs. I also made shakers out of smaller plastic containers with something too large to choke on (like a wooden block) hidden inside that AS could not fit in his mouth when he inevitably discovered he could pry open the lid himself.

If you are looking for a good excuse to get out of the house with your little one, there are oodles of free or cheap live entertainment for families in Washington, DC. Sticky Fingers Bakery in Columbia Heights hosts a Kiddie Happy Hour on some Wednesday mornings. Toddlers can practice their new dancing moves while grownups enjoy discounts on cafe drinks. Become a Facebook Fan of Sticky Fingers to get more info about upcoming acts, dates and times.

Local singer and musician Liz DeRoche, aka "The Singing Lizard", gave a great solo performance on keyboards at Sticky Fingers recently but invited kids to accompany her on toy drums, rattles and microphones. She was very encouraging to the impressionable young musicians, "Good drumming!". Her website features the internet pre-release of her debut album "Alphabeat" (Hurray!). If you are pinching pennies and can't spring for the whole album all at once, download an individual track to play before bed time. Babies are comforted by repetitive sounds and routines. BTW, Liz will also personalize a song or album cover for your child. See her website for details and prices.

Rock-n-Romp! concert series came to our area in 2002 with great bands and inflatable guitars for your little burgeoning air guitarist. "Born in a DC Metro backyard to music-loving parents who wanted to share the live music experience with their kid, Rock-n-Romp continues to bring excellent local music to families in a kid-friendly setting." Thanks for your efforts, Debbie Lee!

There are also affordable music lessons to be had for the artful child. Sitar Arts Center in Adams Morgan has group Early Childhood Music classes available for children ages zero (yes, prenatal) to five and their caregivers. The multi-disciplinary center also offers classes in visual and digital arts, drama and dance, and creative writing for kids, teens and adults. Sitar largely relies on volunteer artists and arts organizations to provide art education to neighborhood children and adults at its state-of-the-art facility. Tuition is subsidized and based on a family's income, so no family is ever turned away due to inability to pay. AS attends classes at Sitar, so I can attest to how wonderful and affordable this place is!

Of course there are opportunities to catch free live music with your kids at local parks and museums, too. We occasionally check out the legendary drum circle at Meridian Hill Park after 3pm on Sunday afternoons in the upper park. There are also great impromptu people-watching opportunities to be had there on sunny days such as Tai Chi or yoga practitioners, dogs catching Frisbees, pick-up soccer games, fathers and sons tossing footballs, college students hula-hooping, and families picnicking on the grass.

Another artful parent recommended the free music classes for young children at First Baptist Church of Washington, DC on 16th Street, NW on Friday mornings. I haven't checked it out myself yet but would love to learn more. Please leave a comment below, if you know anything about this.

Once children are old enough to express a preference for a certain style of music I feel parents should just get out of their way -or join in- even if it is Raffi. Until then, we'll expose AS to a wide enough variety of kid and adult-friendly music that we won't feel remiss in our obligations as artful parents.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Walk, Don't Run

Affirmation that my husband and I had made the right choice to stay in the city came during the weeks immediately following our son's birth. During my six week recovery period, daily exercise was limited to short constitutionals in the neighborhood. I ventured out for 30 minutes to an hour with baby in stroller and found myself rediscovering our neighborhood anew from a Mom's point of view.

I set goals of finding parks, outdoor cafes, and other quiet resting places for a self-conscious first-time mother with a squawking infant and cumbersome stroller to sequester herself. But to my amazement, I had seemingly joined a new social club. Suddenly, complete strangers were stopping me on the street asking about the baby. Some of these folks, like the fellow often grabbing a smoke and exchanging barbs with fellow residents of a homeless shelter down the block, asks about our son regularly. "How's the little man doing today? How old is he now? Alright, alright." We were also befriended by other stay-at-home Moms and Dads, especially at the playground, as well as grandparents, nannies and other neighbors simply interested in the newest baby in their midst. I was perplexed by but immensely grateful for the generous morning commuters waiting at the Metro bus stop outside our apartment building who rushed to hold our front door as I fumbled to get the stroller inside. And I was taken aback and humbled again by the bagger at the grocery store who offered to carry my groceries. Who knew city people could be so nice? I resolved to pay it forward somehow.

On one particularly hectic but sunny day, I found myself desperate for a restorative dose of Vitamin D and fresh air. I knew we wouldn't get far by the time I changed another Huggies, organized the baby bag, and packed my son into his infant carrier. So instead, we left all the accouterments behind and went on a "nature walk" as I carried him down a tree-lined residential street adjacent to our building. I stopped to point out the first daffodils and to give him an opportunity to experience the feel of waxy leaves and grass through his fingertips. It was one of our shortest but most memorable walks to date.

Leisurely afternoons, I actually took time to stop and read the informative illustrated signs along one of the District's many wonderful Cultural Tourism DC Neighborhood Heritage Trails. The trails are a system of self-guided walking tours marked with signs that tell stories of Washington’s historic neighborhoods.

When I felt impatient to shed both the baby fat and the maternity clothes, a little retail therapy seemed like just the ticket until I reminded myself that I was not bringing in a paycheck while on family leave. Determined to stick to a budget, I found sidewalk window shopping and trips to the library squashed the pesty consumerism bug. A power walk up the steep incline of the National Zoological Park's Olmstead Walk increased my heart rate and provided our only child with more socialization opportunities. The sites and sounds of the wildlife and zoo visitors provide great topics for conversation, especially when the parent is the only one doing all the talking. And perhaps mostly importantly, entrance to the zoo is FREE!

Washington, DC is a pedestrian-friendly place to live, but soon-to-be parents often flee the city for the suburbs where commuting by cars is a must and sidewalks are few. Each time I take my son on another walk here, the challenges of raising a child in the city seem at least temporarily to fade.

Want to share your favorite place in Washington DC to walk with kids? Where do you go for a stroll on rainy or cold days? Let us know. Please submit a comment!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Living the Impossible Life

"To create, without sacrificing one's senses for it. To live, without renouncing the nobility of creating. Was that impossible?" -Herman Hesse

After 14 years of contentedly living child-free in Washington, DC, my husband and I decided to take the plunge into parenthood. He and I didn't earn much as English and Photography teachers, respectively, but we couldn't imagine being anywhere else doing anything else. We found some comfort in knowing that as creative people we could make it work. This blog journals our artful approach to city life with a kid on a shoestring budget.

Copyright 2009 Kristen Morse All Rights Reserved