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Diverse journeys unfold for families during ‘World's Greatest Baby Shower’ in Ocala

Norlyd Gonzalez and her family listen as they receive information about parenting. "I am here to learn and engage in the community," Gonzalez said. (Brandon Benitez/WUFT News)
Norlyd Gonzalez and her family listen as they receive information about parenting. "I am here to learn and engage in the community," Gonzalez said. (Brandon Benitez/WUFT News)

Norlyd Gonzalez, an expectant mother from Nicaragua, infused a global spirit into Friday's baby shower in Ocala.

Having recently relocated to the United States with a baby on the way and an 8-year-old daughter in tow, Gonzalez was in search of connections within her new community. Her journey to find her place took an unexpected turn when she stumbled upon a poster advertising the "World's Greatest Baby Shower" at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place in Ocala.

Intrigued and hopeful, Gonzalez felt a surge of excitement as she decided to attend the event. The vibrant celebration became more than a gathering; it was a canvas for her to paint new connections and gather valuable insights into American motherhood.

As laughter and joy echoed through the center, Gonzalez found not just a baby shower but a welcoming space where cultural borders blurred, and she felt a sense of belonging in her newfound community.

The Florida Department of Health in Marion County extended an invitation to new or soon-to-be parents for its annual "World's Greatest Baby Shower." The complimentary event featured two sessions, one from 2 to 4 p.m. and another from 5 to 7 p.m. Attendees, comprised of young families, were generously provided with goody bags brimming with informative resources covering community involvement and the journey into parenthood.

Throughout the day, various prizes were awarded via raffle, including cribs, umbrella strollers, baby bathtubs, and toys. The event not only served as a valuable resource for parental education but also fostered a sense of community and excitement among attendees.

Tracey Sapp, the health education program manager for the Marion County Department of Health, emphasized the collaborative nature of the event, stating, "The event is a partnership among various stakeholders, working together to provide resources and information to expectant mothers, guiding them towards healthy choices for their families."

This annual celebration held since 2017 made a noteworthy change this year by moving from Thursdays to Fridays. The shift aimed to accommodate parent's work schedules, allowing them to attend the event and kick off their weekends with valuable insights. The inclusive atmosphere encouraged expectant fathers to participate, with a highlight being the baby-changing diaper competition, in which the father who changed a diaper the fastest secured a fireproof safe.

Melissa O'Meara, a supervisor at the Healthy Families program in Marion County, shared her observations on the competition.

"I enjoyed witnessing a seasoned father energetically tackling the diaper change," she said, "while another father, only weeks into parenthood, approached the task with a gentle touch."

Expectant fathers compete to change diapers. The winner received a fireproof safe. (Brandon Benitez/WUFT News)
Expectant fathers compete to change diapers. The winner received a fireproof safe. (Brandon Benitez/WUFT News)

Mekhi Ewing, a 25-year-old father of four who works at Burger King, sported an Anthony Richardson Indianapolis Colts jersey as he attended the event. He shared that his wife stumbled upon an advertisement for the gathering, sparking their interest in dropping by.

Ewing has become familiar with the challenges of raising a newborn.

"It's truly about the time you invest,” he said. “The long hours without sleep and the stress can be overwhelming, but it's all worth it."

Danielle Phillips, 29, an insurance sales professional who recently moved to Marion County from Miami, shared that this was her first time attending the baby shower event, as she anticipates the arrival of her fourth child.

"I haven't had a baby in 8 years,” she said. “I wanted to refresh and catch up with information, learning about things that have changed, which has been an eye-opener since I've been here."

Phillips, who has experienced C-section deliveries for all her children, noted that her first child's birth was an emergency due to a halted heartbeat. Safety remains a primary concern for her in raising her children, especially considering recent scares involving firearms at their school since moving to the area.

During the session, the prevalent theme of screen time and technology emerged. Children ages 8 to 12 spend as much as six hours watching or using screens, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and teens spend up to nine hours. Amid the technological surge, parents have adopt diverse strategies for managing their children's screen time.

Phillips outlined her strategy: "Electronics use is contingent on learning something new."

Navigating parenthood comes with its share of challenges, and the introduction of technology adds an extra layer of complexity, especially when it comes to managing children's screen time.

Gonzalez said she tries to take a nuanced approach.

“I aim to avoid complete isolation, recognizing its impracticality,” she said. “Instead, I focus on controlling her viewing content and discovering alternative activities to replace screen time.”

Brandon is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing