Babies on board


Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 8:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 at 8:22 p.m.

Seven-month-old Kei-ra Prosniewska squeals in delight as two children walk down the path to join her at Kanapaha Park.

The kids and their moms are getting together for a playdate organized by the Alachua County Mamas Meetup group, and if anyone can match Keira's enthusiasm over the event, it's the moms who look to the group as a lifeline.

Socialization for their kids is part of the appeal, but equally appealing is the opportunity for these mostly stay-at-home moms to spend time with other parents in a kid-friendly atmosphere. They trade war stories of potty training and pacifiers, share tips and sympathy, and provide the adult conversation that many of the moms say they missed desperately when they traded the working world to become stay-at-home parents.

Prosniewska found the group online and contacted organizer Daphne Kiernan to join. The Meetup.com group is open to anyone who applies and comes to an informal meet-and-greet playdate with the other members. The park playdate is Prosniewska's first gathering, and she's thrilled at the prospect of a calendar full of playdates with other moms and kids.

"Keira's a social butterfly. She wants to stop and play with every child we see in the store," she says. "I wanted to meet other moms and get out of the house instead of going stir crazy."

Play is a cornerstone of the group members have taken their mostly preschool-age children to Silver Springs and the Santa Fe Zoo, they host in-home playgroups and potluck dinners but the support of other moms is key, as well. When group leader Kiernan's husband was diagnosed with cancer last year, members took turns watching her two children, Madison, 3-1/2, and Camden, 2-1/2, so she could see him through his chemotherapy. They also brought her meals for the family, a boon they extend to members who have a new baby, as well.

"It's good for the kids, but it's good for the moms, too," Kiernan says.

The group averages three to five events a week, with each one attended by about 10 of the 72 members. That's a big job for Kiernan, who plans the group's crafts, playdates and outings and maintains the Web site. But it's a task she's happy to take on to offer a lifeline to local moms.

"When I had my first child, none of my friends had kids. I remember telling my husband how miserable I was being home alone and not knowing any other moms," she says.

Membership isn't limited to women: Two stay-at-home dads are part of the group, and Kiernan also schedules evening playdates for working parents.

At Kanapaha Park, Michelle Castronover's 2-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, gets a helping hand on the swings from Kiernan's daughter. The Castronovers have been part of the group since Kaitlyn was an infant.

"I've met so many friends through this group," Castronover says. "We've done things I wouldn't even know were going on in town if Daphne hadn't put them on the calendar."

Sometimes, just getting out the door is an accomplishment. Just ask Sharon Judge, who brought her children William, 2 , and Charlotte, 7 weeks. After a month of near-constant company since Charlotte's birth, this is Judge's first outing with both kids on her own.

"Getting out the door took an hour," she laughs. "She was crying, William was whining, and I was thinking, am I crazy to do this?"

"Mine are 12 months apart," Kiernan sympathizes. "I've been there."

For mom Karla Barnett, who came to the park with her 16-month-old son, Cole, the encouragement of other moms both in person and on the Meetup site's message board has helped her navigate life as a new parent and stay-at-home mom.

"The other moms have lots of great ideas," she says. "Finding this group was a great relief."

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