A list of activities that you and your baby can enjoy together before work beckons once again.
I have found myself, quite recently, in the most glum of situations. As emails from my manager once again find their way into my inbox and visions of pencil skirts and sensible heels pop into my head, my son is suddenly 21 very-mobile babbling pounds, and I am going to have to come to terms with the end of maternity leave.
This isn’t the guide to what you need to do in the swan song of your leave (find day care—the right one, any one; get work clothes that fit; take deep breaths). This, for all intents and purposes, is the maternity-leave (or paternity-leave—we’re not biased) bucket list. It’s the fun stuff that you dreamt of when still pregnant, all round, and excited—a whole year off? Think of the possibilities!
Explore outside: This may seem rather obvious but, beyond long strolls in the park, there are some great cram in-worthy outdoor venues to explore before your mat leave clock runs out—the Brick Works farmer’s market, the zoo for a cute fight, Riverdale Farm for some goat-milking, the beaches on a blue-flag day and Centre Island for a picnic.
Explore inside: Especially now, as the cold begins to creep, indoor excursions are all the more appealing. Possible climate-controlled adventures include the AGO, the ROM, the One of a Kind show (handy for holiday loot and rather leisurely on a weekday, when foot traffic is at a minimum), and, for a little movie merrymaking, try out some Stars and Strollers matinee screenings at your local Cineplex. (When I went, they played Magic Mike—an odd choice, but at least the selections aren’t only geared towards the kidlets.)
Weekday brunch: This is quite possibly the most civilized idea ever. No line-ups, fewer screaming children (of a certain age), and no pressure to leave for the sake of those eyeing your table from the doorway. Tastier options include Hey on Roncesvalles, School in Liberty Village and Bonjour Brioche on Queen East.
Kid cafés: Perhaps not quite as civilized as a proper brunch but, nonetheless, this is one of the most genius resto-genres to spring up in Toronto in recent years. (Take that, Snakes & Lattes!). Cafés like Playful Grounds in Little Italy, Smock on Roncesvalles and Lil’ Bean N’ Green in Leslieville are kid- (and parent-) friendly, and offer a whole lot of what you need on any given mat-leave day—coffee, food for all ages, activities for the beans, and respite for us in the form of workshops and even the occasional jar of sangria.
Day drinking: There are a few ways to do this, some more responsible than others. Get a group of mat-leavers together in a tight circle with babies and a “couple” bottles of wine in the middle and the likelihood of one of them crawling away while you cheers your third glass of pinot decreases greatly. Martinis at the Windsor Arms are better left sans stroller—perhaps your mother-in-law is free to babysit?
Be in the audience: Think what you will of Marilyn’s cheek bones or Tracy’s frighteningly toned arms, but attending a live taping is fun—you get sweet free stuff (usually), you can learn interesting things (raspberry salsa—who knew?), you get to see yourself on TV and, on Family Wednesdays, the lovely people at CityLine create a baby-destructo-zone for your bean to roam in while you enjoy the show.
Get away with baby: Play country mouse at a cottage for a weekend or hop on an airplane and go wherever the wind takes you. At two-ish months, we ventured south for a delightful time with our wee Nicholas—just park the stroller tableside and enjoy. (Even in the unlikely circumstance that he did wake up, the Jimmy Buffet cover band masked any cries lest we disturb the other revelers.)
Get away without baby: By the grace of two generous grandparents and a vow that our birthdays would be gift-free, we managed three nights in N.Y.C.—amazing for the closet, tummy, and marriage.
Do something for you: Enrol in a personal-interest course and learn to be one of those cheesemonger people, take a yoga class, or go to Body Blitz—whatever tickles your fancy. Especially towards the end, with daycare test runs, you’ll find yourself with mornings and afternoons you weren’t expecting. Take the opportunity to do something that you really couldn’t when accompanied by your bean.
Document it: Blurb, iPhoto, 35 mm—work with whatever you have handy because, once you’re back at work, it’s a lot less likely that you’ll take those few hours to get pictures done and you will always regret it. Besides, you must have all baby photos accessible and organized for future blackmailing purposes.
More than anything, as the end approaches (cue violins), I’m feeling this need to spend real time with my little fella. I find myself, in the middle of prepping dinner, on the floor of the kitchen with Nicholas curled up in a wee barefooted ball on my aproned lap, struggling to stay awake since dropping his morning nap. Not to be maudlin, but it was easily the best five minutes of my day, a moment that won’t be as easy to experience again once I’m back in work mode—which, right now, is one zoo trip, two nights in the country, three swimming lessons, and four short weeks to go.