The Over-Scheduled Lives of Manhattan Babies

My introduction to the busy lives of Manhattan babies began when my daughter was 3 months old. My friend Irit urged me to accompany her and her baby to a music class. “A music class? She’s much too young,” I protested.

“No, no” my friend explained. “These classes are for 3 months and up.” Off we went to the music class. As my daughter sat on my lap, unable to appreciate the music and story telling, I observed the scene: 20-some babies and their mothers or nannies, Chinese babies named Hardigan and Jewish babies named Caitlin, some swaying to the music and clapping, some playing with the musical toys on the ground, and some, like my daughter, just doing the baby thing, looking around, sometimes crying.

This was the privileged elite of the Upper West Side, I realized.

Baby classes are organized by semesters – yes, semesters that run September to December, and January to May, just like school. And the cost for music or movement classes can run as high as $500 a semester. My 18-month-old nephew is taking soccer classes (really, he’s just kicking around a ball, as he’s too young to learn drills) at a similar price tag.

As my daughter got older, I learned that many of my friends have daily schedules for their babies: music class on Mondays, Movement class on Tuesdays, the Children’s Museum (at a cost of $210 a year to join) on Wednesdays, Mommy and Me on Thursdays. I started questioning whether I was stimulating my child sufficiently. Perhaps it wasn’t enough to just do our thing and organize some play dates. At a recent Shabbat lunch, a mother seated next to me seemed incredulous that my daughter is neither in day care nor enrolled in a daily activity.

“What does she do all day?” she asked me. I was taken aback.

“She does what babies do,” I answered. “She eats, she plays, she sleeps.” Now, at age 14-months, my daughter thoroughly enjoys her music classes (I haven’t signed up for any semesters; I’m still going to drop-in classes); she is mesmerized by the guitar, she explores the musical toys with serious intensity and she sways her body to the music in an instinctive way, leading me to wonder where she got that rhythm. Yet, my husband and I still believe that we stimulate her in myriad ways that are not confined to a classroom.

A month-long trip to Israel last summer, where she attended three weddings and met untold number of relatives and friends, helped her social development in an exponential way. A visit to a petting farm led to squeals of delight; a trip to the grocery store or the hardware store, all of these challenge her in wonderful ways. If you find classes that work for you and your baby, wonderful. But if not, do not be swayed by the over-scheduled lives of Manhattan babies. There are multiple ways to expose your child to the wonders of the world.

Brigitte Dayan AfilaloBrigitte Dayan Afilalo was formerly at the Wexner Foundation and prior to that, at JUF News, Chicago's Jewish newspaper. She lives in Manhattan and can be reached at dahlia2@aol.com

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