Back in January 2012 (in what was probably a soul-searching, sleep-deprived 'motherhood moment') I hatched an idea to start a social group for new mums - in particular, new mums who were also in some capacity creative and/or crafty. And in the quiet lateness of that same evening, I popped open my laptop, jumped on to Meetup.com, and with eager excitement I listed a new Brisbane-based Meetup group called Creative & Crafty Mums.
A bit of back-story might be required here, in case you've not heard of it yet... Meetup.com is a website (and iPhone app) that helps people to organise to meet-up in real-time out in the real-world (what a unique concept in this day and age!). The Meetup site hosts gazillions of different groups across the globe, and you can join a group for every niche interest imaginable. Although it's not free (costs about $150/yr for Meetup to 'host' a group), anyone anywhere can start a group on Meetup. And, well, that's just what I did!
I've now been running the Creative & Crafty Mums group for almost 2 years. In that time, we have had hundreds of meet-ups, and generally always with our bubs and toddlers in tow. The group has grown steadily from its initial start-up handful of my immediate 'mothers group' circle of friends, to its current number of just over 200 members, and of the 255 events we've held so far, I've personally attended 202 (roughly 2-3 per week).
The sheer variety of events is fun and wonderfully astonishing - we've done everything from Crafternoons (including learn-to-crochet, making Jello-based playdough, soap crayons, cardboard playmats, wooden toys, painting stones, felt food/games, carving rubber stamps, and more...), to art gallery excursions, life drawing, photography adventures, musical meetups, puppet shows, playground/water-park visits, exploring nature, unique foodie events where we've made a variety of cuisines (from scratch), cafe catch-ups, and just about everything in between.
Aside from the obvious benefits of sanity-saving social connection with other mums (which truly is important), Creative & Crafty Mums has helped me in a way I guess I underestimated when I began the group - it has inspired and encouraged and compelled me to stay creatively pro-active. And the extra-special bonus plus is that I've been able to share it all with my son along the way. In short, the Meetup group has kept my creative life and my role as a full-time mother happily entwined together, at a time I thought they would be completely at odds.
When I was pregnant with Little D, I recall feeling very anxious that my ability and time to be creative would be cut short / limited / inhibited / sidetracked / or just generally wiped out by motherhood. During my pregnancy when I read the book 'The Divided Heart: art and motherhood' (see here for a terrific book review), I wondered if the vastly different roles of 'creative person' and 'mother' were pretty much incompatible, or at the very least damn difficult to balance. I was acutely aware that I had a challenge and a steep learning curve ahead of me.
Looking back on the journey through the past two years, when Little D has grown from a time-intensive (oh-my-God-what-the-hell-am-I-doing?) newborn to an active but fairly independent toddler, it's interesting to note how the "challenge" of balancing motherhood and creative projects has fluctuated and varied and evolved.
There were periods when it was practically impossible to get anything creative done, even in the piecemeal stops and starts I grew somewhat accustomed to. Gosh, some days I could barely feed and shower myself, let alone do anything else. Let alone anything productive.
And yet, there have been periods when I could easily negotiate between motherhood and creativity by simply separating them into completely different timeslots, i.e. work on creative projects once the boy is happily asleep in his cot, but when's he's awake and active, being solely dedicated to his timetable of entertainment.
Actually, looking back on it all now, I realise that Little D's age, his level of mobility, and his needs for sleep/attention/breastfeeding all pretty much dictated the ebbs and flows of my daily life AND my ability to stay actively creative. I learnt to work with what I had. Some days were more successfully productive than others, and if I truly wanted to do a certain project, I could always (eventually) find a way.
When my son grew into toddlerhood, I discovered something really wonderful, thanks to my Creative & Crafty Mums group. As Little D reached an age where he was confidently walking and happy to play independent of me, I realised that Meet-ups could give me a certain window of opportunity to be creative, with MUCH less interruption from the toddler. With a handful of other toddlers around to keep him happily pre-occupied, I had just a smidge more freedom to spend time with the other mums and 'make stuff'. Who would have guessed?! There's much to be said for the 'village' lifestyle when raising children. I swear to God, parenting alone (which is the Western way of doing families) is utterly ludicrous. If you want to make parenting easier, surround yourself with other parents and kids. People need to be around other people, especially the littlest of people. Starting out on this small journey together, he and I, that's what we've discovered anyway.
So yes, I'm really pleased that I started the Creative & Crafty Mums meetup group, because through it I have been lucky to meet dozens of really ace mums these last couple of years (and some will no doubt become my lifelong friends), and I have shared hundreds of fantastic experiences and adventures and creative pursuits, and undertaken some amazing craft projects. And because my son has also shared in these many experiences and adventures, he has witnessed his mum doing the things she loves best: exploring the city, being social, discovering new skills, and, you know, makin' stuff. It has strengthened our mother/child bond, and helped me to introduce him to the big, wide world in the nicest of ways - with fun and friends.
All the good stuff really :)
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Our Meetup group has many more creative and crafty events still to come, so if you (or someone you know) is a new mum, is in Brisbane, is somehow creative/crafty, and is keen to get out and meet some other mums, then please feel free to check out the Creative & Crafty Mums group on the Meetup website here:
The more the merrier, I say!
And if you are interested to see and hear about some of the group's recent creative projects/adventures, I plan to blog about a few of the best ones here on Shelbyville in the next little while.
When the two little men are tucked up in their beds fast asleep, of course ;)