Momming In The 406
Recovering from a number of mid-summer thunderstorms and profusion of rain, Bozeman suburbia was greener than ever. I step inside, in complete awe of the family photos printed on canvas lining the foyer. After a brief hug and some mandatory catching up, mother of four, Steph, sat me down on her back patio as her vivacious daughter chased her younger brother in circles around the house. The echo of neighboring children moving driveway to driveway in their 12V battery-powered cars provided a sweet background noise; shadowed behind the sound of Steph’s other son filling up a water table with the hose. Combined with a soft breeze, the aroma of a barbecue brushed by every few minutes, reminding Steph we had to hurry our interview in order to begin dinner.
She reclined on the wicker couch and I point to her youngest daughter.
“I remember when she was this big!”
And halfway through my observation, I rolled my eyes and instantly regretted saying something that used to drive me nuts as a child to ever hear somebody say about me.
“Well at least, now, I’m better adjusted to the whole parenting concept. At least, more than I used to be!”
I smiled, crossed my legs like the serious writer I am and asked,
“What’s one of your earliest memories of being a new mom?”
It hardly took a second for her to begin her answer, “Terrified. The feeling of being absolutely terrified. I had a list of expectations in my head about what I needed to do. Pre-baby you think about scheduling your entire existence around the mommy and me classes, your workout, how to keep the house clean and most importantly, the need to maintain your Facebook. You know how it is; no matter where you become a parent these days, everything has to be Facebook worthy, except for now I suppose it would all be thrown onto Instagram. Post-baby you begin to get more realistic. After the second child, I remember it was during the same period in time that I was potty-training child number one. There I was, scrolling through Facebook reading all of their potty-training success stories, only to realize that it made me feel inferior and upset that my daughter wasn’t getting it as fast as these other children were. I was thinking too much about what everyone else’s opinion of parenting was and accept that I had to stop and get off social media and resort to thinking about what I need to be doing as a parent.”
Learning this from Steph, I was surprised to hear that she of all people, let the newsfeed of other moms bother her. By the look of how she carries herself and with the way that her husband and kids look to her, it’s clear that she has kept true to her decision by doing what she feels is best for her and her kids alone. “I want to parent well, to do the very best by my family and I didn’t know what that would look like at first. I learned that I had to decide what my kids needed from their mommy instead of following in the footsteps of what other mothers were making an example of.”
In Bozeman, as well as quite a lot of other small towns in Montana, it can be particularly difficult when everybody knows, or knows of, one another, and although Bozeman doesn’t have a big city feel, it’s composed of the many aspects of one.
“Bozeman is an educated town with a varying emotional landscape. You can walk into your child’s school and sometimes sense the comparison game. And it’s true, this happens everywhere whether you want it to or not, but it’s up to you to choose if you’ll ignore it. With that being said, finding women that will care for you and support you is pivotal. Find your tribe! In an area such as Bozeman, you’re given a huge array of people, ones that would rather prefer an outdoor activity like skiing over snowmobiling in the winter or fly-fishing over rock climbing in the summer. If you know where your interests fall, you’ll find your niche! Overall, if you have numerous interests, it’s not difficult to float around. For example, we are not a football family but we can go anywhere and fit in.”
Steph is one hundred percent correct- there are a couple different “mom clubs” in town. Many local magazines in Bozeman will also keep you updated on activities that you and your kids can get involved in. “Making it a priority to meet people and having them in your home should be at the top of your list, and having children shouldn’t inhibit you from this opportunity.” I asked Steph about what’s available in town more year-round, less temporary than an event posting. “Well, the children’s museum, the Museum of the Rockies is always an unbeatable choice, free activities at the library- for instance they offer Legos on Monday afternoons or the music classes offered by Kate Bryan aka “Music Kate.” As you know too, we are a church-going family, so our community there has been spectacular. MOSS camps have been fantastic for the kids on PIR days and the Bozeman’s park and recreation has a world language initiative. We had our two eldest get involved in Chinese and Spanish! Also, the YMCA offers programs for kids- a meet and greet per-say. And oh! I frequent the Ridge for my workout and the kids have always liked their childcare.” Once I had taken note of some of what Steph had said, a notification lit up on her phone from the YMCA for a new activity posting. “See! I told you! I am always notified about what goes on in this town!” she laughed.
“What outdoor pursuits does your family like to take on?” was my follow-up question.
For somebody like myself, a single man with a three-year-old husky, nothing really ever holds me back in this town. I wondered if that were a different story for a family with so many children running all over the place.
“The access in Bozeman is beyond compare. Now that our kids are 5, 6, 8 and 10, it’s even better to get outside without having to take a portable crib or a plethora of diapers. We enjoy the “M”, Pete’s Hill, even a long walk on the Gallagator Trail is exciting. Floating the Madison is an absolute must; everybody is there to relax, the water isn’t deep which helps put your mind at ease and it provides you with two and a half hours of (hopefully) uninterrupted bonding time. We love riding bikes downtown and having a meal at Jam and ice cream (ice cream is very acceptable in our family).”
Steph went on to explain how being a mother of an infant would create its own challenges; the boxes of diapers, a travel crib, a million outfits because everything gets dirty, a seemingly endless supply of baby food and pouches to put it in. Subtracting the hiking backpack for a baby will clearly allow you more wiggle room.
With the school year approaching rapidly, I had to have Steph cover the essentials. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, it’s been determined that Bozeman’s annual growth rate has reached 4.3 percent each year, significantly driving up the number of students both in our school district and college, Montana State University. “How do you prepare your kids for school?” I asked. “I can’t emphasize enough how superb the schools here are. Of course, I haven’t had any experience with the middle school or high school yet, but I have simply adored and loved every teacher that each of my children have had. They have been the most kind, interesting and creative people I’ve honestly had the chance to meet. Approaching the school year, we don’t do much because it’s rather pricey. We try to keep it simple with four kids; not a lot of outfits and minimal if possible. I believe that buying local is always best but, of course, Target and Costco are hard to resist.
To wrap up, I saved my favorite question for last, as we all typically do. “What have you learned the most about being a mother?”
“Wow. That’s quite a question! If anything, I have learned that I need to be gracious and humble when I have screwed up as a parent’ to go to my children and ask for their forgiveness, to explain that mommy is not perfect and I’m trying my very best. I’m very grateful for their kindness and graciousness toward me in those moments. I had an extraordinarily wonderful relationship with my parents. They were very intentional parents who did the absolute best with the skills that they had. Sure, there were things that could be hard, but there was always more than enough love and forgiveness between us which has definitely contributed to my approach as a mother.”
As the sun began to slowly descend further behind the trees, I knew it was time for me to go. The children were climbing onto Steph’s lap, simultaneously fidgeting with my car keys.
“When I look at my kiddos, I can barely contain the amount of love I have for them, Andrew. It’s how moms feel about their kids. Being a mother is a full-time job and while it’s not always easy, the people of Bozeman understand the importance and value of raising children. We make kids a priority here; they are always celebrated.
Momming in the 406 is so much more than what it could be anywhere else. Bozeman hits home for so many because of the active lifestyle; everything, honestly, makes momming more exciting and ever-changing.”
I closed my laptop, received the gift of a freezer popsicle,walked to the front door. Every moment I step into the family’s household, I feel as if I’ve just gotten home. A temporary stay, but one that always continues to be when I leave. I know that when I go back, I will be welcomed into the same loving arms as I had the time before.