Q&A: daily schedule for a 5-month-old

Anon writes:

"Your last post on the TV prompted me to write. I'm afraid I'm guilty of too much TV in our house. The baby (five months old) and I sit on the couch for extended periods some days and a few hours on others. (Ouch, I know...)

I want to be a better mother, but part of me is a bit clueless. I wondered if your readers might give input on a daily schedule for a good, productive day at home with baby. I am in desperate need of ideas.

We DO read together, practice different physical activies, sing songs, dance a bit and once the weather is warmer, we'll go out for walks. It's just that most days there's a whole lot of empty time. What can I do that will be good for baby and keep us away from the TV?"

The question "What do I do with a baby?" is one all of us hit right around 4-5 months. Before that, all your time is taken up with trying to feed and catch naps and do all those other things that suck up 24 hours but leave you with no memories and no accomplishments other than staying alive for another day. But then by around 5 months you start to get all of the basic survival skills down, so you have hours ahead of you each day with a little sidekick who is adorable, but frankly not all that great a conversationalist.

When my older one was an only (because this problem disappears with subsequent kids) at around this age, I made it a priority to go outside to run one errand a day. That meant that if I had to go to the drugstore and the drycleaners, I broke those two teeny errands up and did them on separate days, just to have something to do. I'd go out at the same time each day, so it felt like a real schedule that was time-dependent. Otherwise I'd be on the couch all day, singing endless rounds of "I've Been Working on the Railroad." (If you blow a raspberry after every time you sing "Dinah won't you blow" a baby will laugh reeeeeallly hard.)

So my daily schedule went something like this:

6:30-7: Struggle to awakeness, remember "Wait a minute! I'm someone's mother." Get up, feed cat, nurse baby, kiss husband goodbye and start the countdown until he came home from work.

7:15: Watch one of the morning shows on the pretense that I needed to be informed about daily events.

8:00: Sing, play games, roll around on floor with baby. Worry simultaneously that everything I was doing was extraneous and a middle-class woman's luxury and that I should just be strapping my baby on my back and going about my normal work, and that I wasn't doing enough to stimulate him so he'd never reach his full potential.

9:00: Baby goes down for a nap. I wonder what to do with the free time. Should I wash dishes or do laundry? Call my mother? Take a shower? By the time I figure out what to do the baby is waking up.

10:15: Strap baby into the stroller and roll him into the bathroom doorway so I could sing to him while I take a shower. He cries the entire time.

11:00: Think we were ready to get out the door to do the Important Errand of the Day. (Must go uptown to get the good Hungarian paprika! Very important.) Then baby poops, and I have to change him. Once he's changed, he wants to nurse.

11:45: Finally leave to go get the good paprika (sweet, not hot). Wonder the whole time if I've forgotten something I'll need. Don't need anything I've lugged along. Enjoy being out of the house with a Stated Purpose. Answer the same "He's a boy. 5 months. Once or twice a night. I think so, too, thank you" questions from kindhearted strangers on public transportation. Buy paprika.

1:00: Come home. Eat lunch (kind of).

2:00: Nurse baby down for second nap. While nursing, think about all the things I'm going to do while the baby is asleep. Wake up an hour later in a puddle of drool on the pillow. Baby wakes up 10 minutes later.

3:45: Play more games with the baby. Read to the baby. Sing to the baby. Get up and dance around with the baby. Play with baby while baby's doing Tummy Time. Give up and turn on the TV. Watch Michael, Giada, and Ina, then change channels when the blonde who desecrates store-bought muffins comes on. Start wondering if it's too early for my husband to have left work.

6:00: Husband walks in. Hand him the baby, then escape to the grocery store to shop for dinner items in peace.

Oh, yeah.

What really helped was when I started getting out and making some friends. I started going to a mothers' meeting, even when I wasn't that interested in the topic. I went with the specific goal of meeting one or two women I thought I could be friends with out of the whole group. (That way I didn't have to worry if I fit in with the group--I just had to find the one or two other women rolling their eyes at the same times I was.) After a few weeks of going, I tentatively asked one of the other women if she and her baby wanted to go get an iced coffee after the group. That's how it started. We started going for coffee after each group, and gradually started inviting another woman or two to go with us. Within a few months we had a group of about 6 of us that usually went to the meeting. We'd also try to get together for playgroup, all of us, once a week at someone's house. (We never even bothered with the pretense that our playgroup was for the babies.)

Having those two definite appointments with other moms with babies during the week helped with my daily flow immensely, because then I had a schedule for myself to work around. And it was so helpful to have friends that I could talk about adult things with, but who were also just as interested in the mundane baby stuff as I was.

So those are my two big tips: Go out once a day every day at around the same time, and find a group to go to (even if you don't love the whole group) and make your own regular subgroup of friends.

Readers? What does your schedule look like if you've got a younger baby? If your baby is older, what did you do and what would you recommend?