On self-care — and date night! — for Santa Cruz parents

self-care guru and author Jaime McFaden watches daughter Sofia in Capitola
Self-care coach Jaime McFaden watches daughter Sofia under the wharf in Capitola.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

More than ever, COVID-beleaguered parents need “Waves of Self Care: It Takes a Village,” the new book by Capitola’s Jaime McFaden. And Lookout parenting columnist Liza Monroy helps out with a half-dozen tips on how to arrange a date night around Santa Cruz County.

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“Self-care” has become such a ubiquitous term it can sound like a buzzword, devoid of any real meaning, something easy about which to make sarcastic quips or see as an excuse for laziness. Ditch work to go surfing? Self-care. Lie around binge watching this new season of “Better Call Saul”? Self-care. Second margarita? Self-care! So it’s easy to wonder: Does anything and everything we do for ourselves and our own pleasure now fall under this umbrella label?

parenting columnist Liza Monroy

On a recent sunny day, I sat down at the beach with Capitola “momtrepreneur” and self-care, health and wellness coach Jaime McFaden to find out. McFaden’s new book, “Waves of Self Care: It Takes a Village,” defines the concept as “Taking action to preserve or enhance one’s own well-being” and traces the history of self-care back to ancient Greece. McFaden understands self-care from a mom’s perspective since she’s a single parent to a 5-year-old, and works with clients on a six-step system she devised to ensure daily practice. She eradicates the “guilt and shame associated with self-care — with taking time and saying no,” she writes in her book.

As we gazed out over the placid ocean and the shouts of Junior Guards echoed all around, McFaden defined for me what self-care really means. “Self-care is something that’s a buzzword that gets thrown around all the time,” she says. “It can seem like, ‘treat yourself to whatever you need’ but it’s actually a preservation of our well-being.”

McFaden, who also hosts a weekly podcast, “What’s the Word,” makes sure to incorporate self-care activities into her and her daughter’s daily lives, and in Santa Cruz finds many nature-based outlets. “We see a sunrise or sunset every day,” she says. “We get outside whether it’s hot, cold, or rainy — there are so many beautiful places. We take walks on trails along the ocean, hike in the mountains, and go to the farmers markets. We’re lucky to live where we live. It’s the most charming place, and I’ve traveled all over.” (McFaden was formerly a flight attendant for Virgin Airlines, and gave talks alongside Richard Branson, as she details in her book.)

“The program I created with self-care is about taking responsibility for your wellness,” she says. “Mental, emotional, financial, spiritual, social … it can be overwhelming if you don’t break it down. My approach is based on baby steps: a walk, five deep breaths. Really small increments so over time it’s not a big deal anymore and cultivates new habits. I get stuck, too. That’s part of the human condition.”

For parents of young children, self-care takes on amplified meaning. We’re working double shifts — careers, driving kids to schools and activities, coming home to organize meal prep, cooking, homework supervision, screen-time management, baths, tooth-brushing, bedtime routines. “If we want to be quality, intentional parents who are conscious of our kids’ needs and our own,” McFaden says, “we have to consider where we are putting our energy, our attention. With busy moms, we’re not aware of where our time is going, it’s just gone. We’re always on, go-go-go, doing something for somebody.”

Squeezing in some self-care or even downtime for ourselves is a big challenge. It should also be a big priority. As a parent of two, I often struggle with a few prongs of self-care: carving out time for it and modeling it for my girls — as well as the ways self-care is inhibited (or made necessary in the first place) because our society isn’t welcoming toward families with the littlest ones. Our children are corralled into the adult world, for example, at restaurants, expected to behave in adultlike ways rather than having space to feel welcomed as they are. (Wild beast monsters, basically.)

Parents of young children need to center self-care in the first place because our society isn’t welcoming toward children. With a village, we don’t feel as much the need to carve out time to take care of ourselves, because our life is more naturally filled with that balance. This is one of the reasons why the pandemic was so hard on parents.

self-care guru and author Jaime McFaden in Capitola
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

I still remember fondly and hold close the memory of a trip we made to Brazil for the summer of 2019 when my older daughter, Olivia, was turning 4, and the younger, Shani, was almost 1. In Brazil, there were small kid tables and kid chairs at many restaurants and cafes. Even nice restaurants had play areas with toys and little climbing structures or light playground equipment like a trampoline or slide. Children were thoughtfully woven into the fabric of society. There wasn’t a need to placate them with screens if you went out to dinner, and — granted, this was pre-pandemic — they could mingle with other kids, run around, and entertain themselves.

Even kid-friendly Santa Cruz — which a visiting friend once assessed as “if you let a 12-year-old design their dream city” — is not up to that level. One of my dreams is to open a beachfront restaurant like Ideal Bar & Grill and create an espaço kids, as they’re known in Brazil, replete with a child minder (which a few restaurants we encountered there had — built-in babysitting!) and killer caipirinhas.

It was also culturally acceptable in Brazil for random people to not only coo over your baby, but to actually hold them and help you in any way. When my then-baby was having a bit of a hard time in a restaurant one night, staff and patrons wanted to take her from me and help soothe her. And I let them. And it worked! It was such a friendlier custom than getting a stink-eye and made me loathe American social mores around parenting.

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While the culture isn’t likely to change anytime soon, parents seeking more self-care can at least rest assured that Santa Cruz provides several different options. McFaden says that one important element most frequently omitted from self-care discussions is the fact that it takes a village. Sometimes we don’t have one, so we can rely on services such as date-night child care offerings from local gyms.

McFaden emphasizes that we should make efforts to create our own villages here at home.

“Getting involved in your community is a great way to participate in a bigger version of self-care,” McFaden says. “Defining what it means to have fun and making sure you do more of that is an important part.” Whether you join a meetup group for an activity you enjoy — hiking, surfing, running — or take a class in kelp pickling or Zumba, anything fun that puts you into contact with others is a good starting point for the village. And sometimes you just need a good date, whether with a partner, friend, or the whole family.

self-care guru and author Jaime McFaden with daughter Sofia under the Capitola wharf
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Here are my own top six ways to get some self-care QT as a Santa Cruz parent — whether a date night with my husband, morning surf session or a place to actually be able to chill with your village while the kids run around.

Toadal Fitness Parents Night Out

You don’t have to be a Toadal member to partake in the Parents Night Out, which happens three Saturdays a month, alternating among various locations: Scotts Valley, Live Oak and Westside Santa Cruz. Choose the most convenient one or do all three! For three hours, generally from 5 to 8 p.m., your kids are entertained with games, friends, and pizza while you get your date on. It’s friendly for most ages, including 9-months-and-up babies and toddlers who are not yet potty trained. Pricing, dates, and further info is on the Toadal Fitness website.

Junebugs Parents Night Out

Junebugs Gym happens to be so adjacent to the Eastside’s beloved Suda restaurant it could basically be considered an espaço kids. The staff supervises potty-trained kids ages 3-9 while parents go out, every second and fourth Saturday night from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Pricing, dates, and sign-up information is on Junebugs’ website.

Surfing Moms

Despite the title of this surf-and-child-care swap, it isn’t for just moms. It is for any parent or caregiver of children of any age who requires supervision — even the tiniest of babies is welcome. For a yearly membership fee of $52, families may attend the organized meetups for an hour of surf while the other group members watch kids, and then swap. I’ve seen surf couples struggle over who gets to go out when, much less all the organizing that has to go into getting to surf together, so this is a great way to get in a surf date together while the village watches your kids, or a solo session. You also don’t have to surf; you could walk down the beach, meditate, stand-up paddleboard, swim or just relax. surfingmoms.org

Abbott Square “family date”

Since my family has not returned to Brazil since the pandemic, we enjoy recreating what we call “The Summer of Cold Brazil.” The most Brazilian-style kids-running-around-while-parents-get-a-moment in Santa Cruz is to be found at Abbott Square. We get caipirinhas at Front & Cooper and macaxeira (cassava) fries from Veg on the Edge. While our kids run around the back patio closest to the Museum of Art & History, we pretend we are back at a beach town barraca. abbottsquaremarket.com

Lupulo Craft Beer House

When I met with anthropologist, professor, writer and mother Kristin Wilson at Lupulo to discuss her book “Others’ Milk,” we got to talking about the restaurant (which also has amazing and kid-friendly foods on offer), too. Wilson loves how “Lupulo and its patrons have always been friendly to families,” she says. “When it first opened and I saw couples with toddlers there, it reminded me of places like Spain where nobody bats an eye at kids, and pets, in pubs and cafes. Children are part of the community, and I think it’s weird that we have so much separation between adult spaces and kid spaces.”

She also points to Beer Thirty as a similar vibe, and reminiscences about bygone eateries like Mamma Lucia on the Westside. “They had play areas for small children.” Lupulo is similarly founded on the “convivial nature” of Spanish tapas bars and Belgian beer cafes, and with Mediterranean and Latin American roots — many places where you can find children being themselves while parents drink and dine. lupulosc.com

Babysitter + Well Within Spa

Booking a hot-tub-and-sauna room at Well Within is like a 50-minute staycation from which you emerge totally refreshed and relaxed. It’s one of our go-tos for evenings when we have a babysitter or grandparent visit. For parents of young children, having a quiet, Zenlike space where you can enjoy silence is tantamount to well-being. No matter what your self-care activity of choice, it means coming back as a better parent and person after you’re done. wellwithinspa.com

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