Jen Neales and Little Rebels

Finding Your Village

We were released from the NICU just before Christmas of 2012. My home underwent a major transformation starting on December 1st – just four days before my son unexpectedly arrived. Winter was upon us. It was cold, gloomy and the days quickly turned to night. My son and I were mostly alone in our new home. My now ex-husband traveled for work and returned only on Fridays to stay until Sundays. Other than that, it was just me and my new babe. The two of us, together, in our new home.

We spent most of our time in the main floor living room. Marilyn Denis and other morning talk show hosts kept us company most days. I’m not a fan of winter and we didn’t get out much. Instead, we cozied up, watched the snow fall from our large front window and kept each other company. My son was attached to me as if he were another limb. He woke from naps at the slightest movement that I made. Often, he fell asleep on top of me and I’d stay frozen for the duration of his slumber – sometimes, up to two hours. It was just as well because I was near constantly exhausted and I needed all the sleep I could get.

Most days I wished that I had some extra hands for help. My mom came by in the evenings after work so that I could take a quick shower, or to drop off food and fold laundry. I relished those moments when I could take a few extra deep breaths and get away, even if it was just upstairs to the warm shower.

But life as a new mom was mostly lonely. Tiring, unknown and lonely. I remember, at the time, reading the book Brain on Fire where the author recounts her horrendous journey of mental tantrums, leading to an ultimate diagnosis of a rare disease. Some days, as a new mom, I felt just like her – I didn’t know where or who to turn to, my anxiety was through the roof more than I even knew (hindsight is 20/20) and I kept it all to myself – I knew that I would be met with “well, this is how it is” and “get used to it” type of comments – none of which I really wanted, or needed, to hear.

The Visit that Saved Me

It was just before March Break when a friend visited me and my son at home one gloomy afternoon. A social worker by training, I think she could sense that I was in deeper than I could handle. By this time, I had been home from the hospital for 3 months and I had barely left the house. I didn’t know any other moms – literally, not one – so I couldn’t exactly pick up the phone or grab a coffee with someone else who was walking in the same shoes. My friend suggested that I join a music class for babies. It wasn’t a bad idea. She knew of a place not far from where I lived – it just so happened to be the place where I took prenatal yoga classes during my first pregnancy. That first pregnancy that ended in stillbirth. Maybe that was why I hadn’t mustered up the courage to go back there. In any case, my friend gave me the kick in my butt that I needed to liven up a bit and get outside. She left my house and I immediately signed up for a baby music class that was starting the following week.

The Change in Trajectory

I don’t know what I would have become had I continued to stay cooped up in my house with no other signs of life around me besides my son. But, I am sure glad that I never had to find out. The baby music class introduced me to immediate friends – other new moms, with kids exactly the same age as my own, that I instantly bonded with. By virtue of our new bundles of joy, we had everything in common and were living very similar stories at the same time. Not to mention, our children were mesmerized by their music teacher, Jen Neales, who now runs her own kick-ass children’s music and development program called Little Rebels. It’s so kick-ass that her program has exploded across Ontario since she went solo in 2016.

Little Rebels

Jen is a professional actor and singer who is so sincerely in awe of tiny humans. She’s been teaching to and singing with infants and toddlers for over 20 years. Her classes encourage cognitive learning, muscle development, and creative play through music and movement – it’s really not your average music class. Little Rebels music features songs right off of Broadway, it incorporates classic rock n’ roll, brings in new pop songs, and lets you jive to Motown along with a few kids classics. The classes integrate movement and props to make it fun and engaging for the tiniest of tots.

I really can’t say who benefits more from Little Rebels classes – moms or babes. The benefits of finding other moms and new friends, in the earliest days of motherhood, is crucial to improving mental health and knowing that you’re not alone in what can otherwise be a very isolating journey. My son is now 11 years old and I can confidently say that the moms I befriended 11 years ago are still very much in my inner circle – and it’s been so beautiful to watch our kids grow together for more than a decade. We were the moms who “got” each other. No judgements, no questions asked – just an overwhelming desire to “mom” together. None of us knew each other before Jen swept us into her musical world, but we came out with a strong understanding of one another and enduring friendships.

If there is one piece of advice I can give to a new mom, it’s this: find your village!

Jen’s music classes gave me my village. It gave my son friends and helped all of us new moms figure out the shit show of motherhood, together. 

If you’re a new mom, do yourself a favour and check out Little Rebels to find a class near you. If you’re a not so new mom, like me, help the new moms in your life by telling them about Little Rebels. Because trust me, all moms need some music and play – and to find their village.