Massage therapy, hot tea and homemade cookies attract 40-50 people on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (including about half “little people.”) Moms say there are other reasons to come to the Parenting Oasis at Calvary Lutheran Church on the corner of 39th Street and Chicago Avenue.
“It’s a place I can pee alone,” exclaimed one mom, enthusiastically seconded by others. “I can just ask one of the other moms to keep an eye on my kid for a minute. At home, there’s no way.” I’ve been there, too. Almost any mother of toddlers, past or present, knows that they follow you everywhere. You cannot leave them unsupervised. And, for a mom who is home raising children, time alone in the bathroom can seem like luxury.
The Parenting Oasis is the brainchild of Maureen Campion. Maureen’s second son was born five years ago. At that point, she says, “I found how much parenting had changed since my first was born, 17 years earlier. I felt isolated and lonely and torn between my expectations of myself as a mother and myself as a professional.” She found support on the internet, at sites like Mothering.com. By the time that third son Zach was born, in 2004, she had worked out a balance of work (as a psychologist with a private practice) and family.
“But I never forgot how hard that first year was,” she says. “I began to notice how many other new mothers struggled to build community and find their way.”
Meshing personal experience and professional insight, she began working on a way to make the first years easier for other moms. The Parenting Oasis opened in October, in space rented from a Calvary Lutheran Church at 39th and Chicago. On Tuesdays and Wednesday, from 10-3, it offers drop-in community space, coffee and tea, snacks, and a growing variety of group experiences. In January, the Oasis also began Saturday sessions from 10-2.
Tania Loustaunau, the volunteer chef, gets high praise from moms in the group. She is committed to serving home-made comfort foods. Every day a three dollar lunch includes a grilled sandwich and a soup. Moms rave about Tania’s soups, all made from scratch. Cookies are also home-made and low-cost and coffee is always on tap. Parents are welcome to bring their own lunch or snacks, but many love that they don’t have to worry about cooking and packing food for an outing.
Mothers and volunteers come from all over the Twin Cities area. Their children get to socialize without the hassle of scheduling individual play dates. Toddlers also get to enjoy the attention of adults other than mom, and moms can commiserate with one another about bad days and share the good times. “When you are having a really bad time,” says one, “another mom can say, ‘I know. I’ve been there.’ And you feel better, because you know you are not alone.”
Programs include a “rolling group” of speakers or classes. Some, like a knitting group and book groups, are free. Others, including massage and therapy groups, require payment of a fee. Dads, as well as moms, bring children to the Parenting Oasis. Campion said that dads tend to come to special events, such as the Halloween and New Year’s Day events. She expects more fathers to drop in on Saturdays.
The Parenting Oasis has non-profit status, and they are looking for foundation support. So far, support has come from volunteers, donations and social events.
“Every day we are open is a fundraiser,” says Maureen. “We keep putting on programs and groups, and trying to get in money to pay the bills. Everybody that does something at the Parenting Oasis – such as massage or therapy groups –contributes a percentage to help the Parenting Oasis.”
Mary Turck is the editor of the TC Daily Planet, and the mother of two former toddlers.