Thursday, May 22, 2008

Get yourself a co-op group!

Several years ago, when my teenage daughters were toddlers, I was in need of time out with my husband, but didn't have much money for a babysitter. Some friends of mine formed a co-op babysitting group, which worked great. Three other couples joined with us to babysit once a month for everyone else's children. The plan was to bring your children to their home fed and dressed in pajamas at 6:30. We'd also bring a small blanket for each child. The children would play for an hour or more, then would lie down for movie on their blanket. Often the younger children would fall asleep -- the older ones would have fun watching the movie late together. The parents would come back by 10:00. This gave enough time for a nice date out on the town with free babysitting 3 times a month! Sometimes my husband and I would just drive somewhere and talk. It was nice to have some time together, but without the worry of finding a sitter or financial strain of paying one. And it was fun to get to know the other children better when it was their turn to come to our house. (The kids definitely enjoyed getting together as much as we did).

Time passed. We eventually move and were able to afford sitters from time to time. Then our girls were old enough to watch our younger ones. About 5 years ago, I found a new need -- help for projects that are too difficult to tackle alone or too time consuming to ever fit in. I was telling a good friend of mine about the babysitting co-op and mused about how nice it would be to form a work group of friends to take turns helping each other with huge projects. I left it at that, but her mind started to work.

A few days later, she called me and said, "Let's do it." Several of us had small children still at home during the day, so we figured if one person could watch all of the children one week, the others could get together and work. We'd rotated house to house for where the work was done and who would babysit. We started out with 6 women involved, but found that the one babysitting felt left out on all the fun -- not that watching the children wasn't fun, but being together with a bunch of friends is wonderful too. So we decided just to let the children join us. We'd just keep them occupied in a room or yard playing. The co-op work group was born!

You'd be amazed at all we've accomplished over the years. Three of us have been constant in the group while others have come and gone - - many left because they've moved and have formed their own work groups in their new towns. We get together every other Wednesday morning from 9:00 to noon. The only rules are that you can't worry about anyone seeing your house dirt or clutter and no one judges when they see what work is to be done. At times, we've taken detours on going to each other's homes and have helped out someone else in need -- whether it's someone in the midst of a move, has had something tragic happen in their lives and can't emotionally deal with the mess their left with. One of us usually just tells them we have a group of friends who love to do projects together and are willing to come in and help. Sometimes they let us do it and it's wonderful to see what we can accomplish is such a short time.

Today, my friends came to my house and helped me dig up some pampas grass (or as a gardening site says, is "a landscaping quick fix you'll live to regret.") It had just grown to monstrous proportions and was no longer pretty. We had two huge bundles of it and much of it had dried and looked just horrible. I knew I couldn't do it alone and wondered if we could even do it in a few hours together. What's wonderful about the work group is that everyone has different opinions, expertise, and hopes. What one person may deem impossible (me, thinking after seeing the HUGE pile of leaves, roots, dirt clods, etc. dug up that there was no way we could haul that back over and over with the wheel barrow to the back of the property) may seem totally doable to another ("No problem," said my friend, "I'll do the wheel barrow runs" as she made the pile somehow disappear). I can start a project thinking I know how to do part of it, but will run into a block, not knowing what to do next. When I have friends there to bounce off ideas and who may have had experience with this at their home, it's wonderful because it helps me know what to do next and gives me the motivation to continue -- not stop and go start something else.

Some of the projects we've done over the past few years have been:

Cleaning out & organizing cabinets, drawers, pantries, garages, CD & dvd collections, and books

Overhauling children's bedrooms & toy closets

Deep cleaning before relatives come to visit (such motivation!)

Washing all the windows in a house inside and out

Weeding (oh joy!), placing weed cloth, and planting bushes, flowers, and trees

Painting bedrooms, kitchens, cupboards, and even counter tops!

Sealing up grains for food storage in vacuum seal bags

Packing up friends when they move

Putting new shelf paper in all cupboards and drawers

Going through boxes from the attic from years back


Going through children's school work, papers, artwork, etc., and putting them into binders

Sewing & Mending (this is one I chose because I hate to sew, so they sewed for me!)

Taking old appliances to the scrap recycler (another one I chose because they have pick-ups and I don't)

Bringing in landscaping materials and spreading around the yard (again, no pick-up!)

Decorating Christmas trees

Taking down Christmas decorations

Wrapping Christmas gifts

Polishing woodwork

Chopping wood

Shoveling and preading gravel around a pond

Making crafts for gifts

Shopping (yes, believe it or not, one friend can't stand shopping, so we go pick out clothes for her -- another friend didn't know where to start in decorating her husband's new office, so we shopped for furniture and decorations -- very fun!)

We often have little celebrations together too. If it's someone's birthday, we'll often potluck after we finish and eat together (or just take off for lunch afterwards). At Christmas time, we each bring a small gift, some goods for brunch or lunch and do a little exchange at the end. Always fun.

I can't tell you how many times I've walk by a project that everyone's done for me and felt an overwhelming sense of joy, awe, and appreciation. It's so wonderful to see some monstrous, yet nagging and necessary task get done that I just couldn't do on my own. My friends have said the same over and over too.

Get yourself a group of friends to co-op with you. It's a wonderful thing.

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