Playground Politics

School is back in session, the lines at the local, drive-thru caffeine hut are longer than ever and just in time for scarves, hats and other fashion accessories to hide behind, my social anxiety is back. I can always count on my best frenemy to knock on my brain door just as the back to school elated cartwheels, celebratory drinking and sheer joy rush wear off. Β Hi, you old bastard. Back so soon?

Summer’s insanity of having all of the children at home and our rough to non-existent scheduling dulls the white noise of this issue. I was simply too busy to really listen. Like a buzzing bee, easy to shoo away over the Popsicles, late bedtimes and sunny, backyard play. But, just like apples on the tree, it is there, growing and waiting for September when cooler weather makes it, and me, ripe for the picking.

I could conclude through thorough self diagnosis with entirely no expertise, that this is a product of being a child with a military upbringing. Move, new school, make new friends, pack, repeat. Up until our final move East, I continued to move every year of my adult life. Growing anxious and unsettled as books on shelves, patterns and I settled in. But, as parents do, the drive to provide a new and clean experience for our children insisted that we settle. In theory, this was an all consuming, background white-lit goal. In reality, I had no practice and, practice makes perfect.

We moved to my husband’s hometown. A small town with all the makings of the ideal childhood. A pedestrian friendly downtown, a strong art community, an amazing parks and recreation program, a beautiful, well loved and often used library, great schools and a focus on living life in concert with Nature. Sign me up, right? So, I did. I signed right the hell up.

At the post office, the staff blow bubbles from behind the counter, Mr. Hand comes through the mail door to eat the envelopes out of my children’s giggling hands and we’ve perfected the Teddy Bear turn around at the Children’s Room story-time, but, after four full years in this idyllic setting, I have made very few friends. I don’t mean, wave to each other in passing and make small talk friends. I mean, I had a shit day, I’m un-showered and hanging by a thread, please bring wine and pizza friends.

In a small town, friendships are developed over lifetimes. The amount of people who have known each other since birth is staggering to me, a gypsy. As a woman with only one lifelong friend, I’m unsure even how to forge this type of connection. Four years in, I am still the new kid. I struggle to make small talk at school pick-up. The words get jumbled from brain to mouth. Insecure in my ability to communicate like a boy fumbling with his first bra. It is often awkward, painful and unsuccessful.

If I meet a person I feel could be a good fit, I worry that I try to oversell. Do I come off as desperate? Did I mess up that play-date? Do I call? Do I wait for them to call? Are we dating? I forgot to get her a corsage!

Then there is the inevitable unfavorable interaction that will send me into a tailspin. Just like that, I am the 7th grader with the “wrong” shoes. I want to find a corner where I can regroup. Do I fake a trip to the bathroom? I repeat in my head: Stand tall. Walk away. Always smile.

Do the relationships I have feel forced, one sided or unsatisfying? Are you calling for a glass of wine or for childcare? I get anxious. I lose sight of what a friendship feels like.

Am I making enough of an effort? Is the anxiety viewed as “difficult to get to know”? Does my inability to form a coherent thought during conversation make me appear crazy? Disclaimer: I obviously am.

As all of this rages inside me, my desire to find a group and create fulfilling friendships is stronger than ever. Part of the successful child rearing experience is to remain connected. To remain open, engaged and to participate in community. I know that in order to be the best mother I can be, I need to find my peer group. I need to nourish new relationships with the care I tell my daughter to give her classmates every day. We are all building something new. Forging ahead in new waters. We are practicing and, practice makes perfect.

I imagine a day in the future surrounded by a handful of down to earth mamas that I click with, that get me and I get them; who maybe couldn’t afford that last ballet class so we are pot-lucking on a Tuesday. Feeding our families, drinking wine and yelling at our kids to stop climbing up the slide, in unison, with no judgment. I’m looking for you. Β  I am ready to do the work to make our friendship authentic. Now, to find you. Meet me at the monkey bars after 3rd period. I’ll be the one looking anxiously to the side and hiding behind an adorable baby.

I’m ready to try. Trying is practice and, practice makes perfect.





Comments

  1. I think we all feel the same way. And it will come. I just wish my Mom would call your Mom and see if you wanted to come over to play.

  2. Move to Texas. I’ll be your friend!!! We’ll hang out and drink lots of wine while our kids run around in circles and we hope no one breaks a bone on the monkey bars so we don’t have to go to the emergency room smelling like wine and poor parenting.

    • Leah, “smelling like wine and poor parenting” is brilliant. I’d love to be friends, but, I’m never moving again. Unless it’s to an open bed at the local psychiatric hospital. Every day, a little closer. Thank you for reading!

  3. I have those moments all the time, and I have been in my town 15 years. I am older than many of my peer moms, and I work a full time outside the home job, and they don’t. It’s sometimes hard to find a good time to just “be”.

    I recently read this in the NY Times and it really rang true for me, and made me realize that it is hard, and it takes lots more practice now.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/fashion/the-challenge-of-making-friends-as-an-adult.html?pagewanted=all

  4. This is another reason I like living in the city. People are always saying how it’s hard to make friends with your neighbors in the city because no one talks to each other, but, at least on a neighborhood basis, we get very friendly. We moved to a small MIdwestern town when I was 11, and I have more friends now than I did in high school. It’s hard to break into the social scene in a small town. People are closed off and suspicious of outsiders. It’s like you said: they’ve been friends since before they can remember, where does a new person fit in? And to be introverted and socially anxious too, yep I totally get it. Hang in there, and may you find that close friend. Hey, maybe another new mom will move to town.

    • Beth, this is so true. We lived in Los Angeles before moving and there is something comforting about the constant bustle and anonymity of big city living. Maybe if I stopped wearing legwarmers to school pick-up? πŸ˜‰ Thank you for reading and sharing here.

  5. i absolutely relate… i was in this situation when i joined the mom world… it didn’t help that i stopped working 8 hours a day and became a SAHM, i became lonelier than ever, and at the start i came across some unusually not very polite people who would schedule playdates, not show up and then never pick up the phone again… i would cry and feel lonely… but then after a whole lot of trying i met one other mom who i can call a friend… people are all lonelier than you think… it’s just hard to reach out sometimes… out of nowehere one day you will meet that one person who clicks xx

  6. I feel like this all the time. I, too, grew up in a military household and now reside in my husband’s hometown. It’s tough being the new kid. I’ve been here 6 years and made 1 friend. But, even that’s a struggle, because she’s childless and I’ve got 3 kids, so we’re on totally different wavelengths 99% of the time. I feel ya, girl! Come down to Philly and we can be awkward together. πŸ˜‰

  7. Awe! You sound like a perfect fit for me! I’m always hollering at my kids not to climb up the slide and I love wine! And I don’t give a shit what shoes you’re wearing or if you wanna call me to ask me on a date. I’m so easy and you sound just haphazard enough for me! (I cant stand too put-together). But alas I live in Nashville. So just move one last time and I got’cha girlfriend. πŸ™‚ Devan

  8. Are you my soul sister? 4 kids, constant moves, feeling anxiety to come up with something, anything to say to that group of women at the bus stop in the newest town we’ve settled iin for a couple of years…stand tall, keep that smile. Try not to cry and refrain from shouting obscenities as the church moms tell you “that seat is taken” at the moms group you forced yourself to go to instead of crying on the couch all day since kids are at school…I’ve been there (still there…will probably be doing it all over again in another few months). It gets better…we eventually do find that one mom who brings chips and margaritas for play dates. And chances are she’s the other mom on the playground hiding behind her kids too…feeling exactly the same. Thanks so much
    for sharing this…you put into words how I feel at the start of each school year as well.

    • Thank YOU for reading and sharing so openly. I wish virtual hugs were a real option because I would give you a HUGE one right now. Hang in there, my soul sister. At least we have each other online, right? xo

  9. That is Soooo how I feel right now. In a new town and when I pick up my kids I feel like I am the one who doesnt belong. I have not figured out how to wiggle into a conversation with the other moms yet. I think having kids sucked out my social skills with peers. I am waiting for one of them to let a fart rip so I know they aren’t one of the pod people. Lol

    • Your last sentence just made me snort my coffee. Thank you for that. I’m right there with you! At 3:00 p.m., when I’m standing in the back of the pick-up group, looking down at the ground, I’ll be thinking of you! Thank you for reading and sharing here.

  10. Story of my life! Wish you were in Virginia Beach, we could develop friend skills together πŸ™‚

  11. I totally get where you’re coming from. I’ve felt this way since my kids (now 7 and almost-9) were tiny. Eventually I found a circle of moms with whom I click, though by happenstance our kids don’t go to the same schools, so when we see each other, it’s specifically scheduled (though we do drink wine and holler at our kids on those occasions). Many of the moms at my kids’ school stay home (which I don’t), so they’re often at the school volunteering together, and they all know each other. Then that carries into kid activities – soccer, dance, the pool, etc., where they have a whole shorthand with each other, and I’m on the outside. If I try several times to get people to talk about things other than their kids, and if they don’t seem to get my sense of humor, I’ve learned to cut my losses. It’s not that they’re not perfectly nice people – they are – but sometimes they’re just not that into you, or you’re just not that into them. My main advice is what your mom would’ve said when you were a kid: be yourself. Because you’re obviously awesome and funny, and if we lived in the same town, I’d definitely invite you over for a playdate.

  12. Wow, different town and state but same shit here, been like this for 6 years. Like you I think maybe one day I’ll find real friendship and not the users… one can only hope until then I’ll be the misfit lmao.

  13. I know what you are saying. I really, really do. As the mom of a college age student all I can tell you is to keep trying. Organize play dates and invite the moms in for coffee or whatever. Eventually, you will find at least one that “clicks.” That’s how it worked for me back in the day. Making friends as adults is really hard work. Especially when you are an introvert. Good luck!

  14. Probably not a good time to leave a comment in a public forum as it’s been an emotional day, but part of the reason is exactly what you describe here. I swear I just had this conversation with my mom about five hours ago – wishing I was that one woman at every school function/playground/etc who makes it look so easy, to whom everyone gravitates. But also realizing that I’d be crippled by social anxiety if anyone actually gravitated toward me. :/ Wondering how many years I’ll live in this town (has it really already been 5 years??) before I’ll find my local homegirls. Like everyone else in this thread, I wish we lived closer. But I’m pouring a glass of wine, and – distance be damned – cheers, my friend. πŸ™‚

  15. I can totally relate! It’s too bad we don’t all live closer together. One of my own girlfriends introduced me to the group and even though we are good friends we live 3 hours apart. Starting to finally make a few friends but it’s just so dang hard working full time and then coming home to be mom. I try to have my daughter engaged in as much as possible and some days it feels impossible, but I know one day it will all work out πŸ™‚

  16. I’ve written about this very thing, social anxiety or not, it’s harder to make friends at our age. Suddenly, after 4 years of living in a new town, it started to happen. I made one friend via a Freecycle pick up, another through volunteering for a block party, and then I started meeting their friends, and then knowing how hard it had been for me, I started reaching out to new people in the hood pushing strollers. You’ll get there, and if you don’t, door’s open here.

  17. Enjoyed reading this post – so well said. We moved over a year ago and I feel the same way as you describe. I’m working on it, though. Don’t give up:)

    • Thank you, Kate. I appreciate the support and you taking the time to read and comment! I think the first year is the toughest…getting your bearings. Learning the “ropes” of a new place. Hang in there, Kate. Until then, virtual cheers! xo

  18. I so get this. I’ve kind of learned that in order to forge really good friendships? You have to try much harder than I will. Because I suck at trying hard to make and keep a connection. I feel like I’m trying too hard, or they don’t really want to hang out with me, or they pity me, and on and on and on. I don’t like this about myself, but…?

  19. Aw man, I didn’t do any moving as a kid and I’m still always the odd one out. No close friendships near me and I worry I’m gonna die a lonely old lady even though I have a man and a kid. It’s not like I smell or look funny and I’m not awkward with people, either. (Sheesh, looking back over that–well, what’s wrong with me?!) Everybody just feels like a stranger. I feel your pain & solitude. Maybe there is some consolation knowing that you crack us up pretty much constantly? Thanks for your blog & funnies xoxox

  20. I’ve had a very hard time fitting in with the soccer moms myself. Maybe b/c I didn’t give birth to my son but have raised him since he was a baby. And the other moms don’t see me as a real parent. Or possibly b/c his dad is super hot and the other moms like to blatantly ogle him. I swear the offered to share an umbrella with him once and didn’t even acknowledge me.
    My wine drinking friends are the ones who don’t have kids but will babysit for me anytime and think my sense of humor makes me a great
    Anyway, I can relate. I’ll have glass of wine for you tonight. Cheers.

  21. Maybe just me but I feel a lot of moms feel pressure because of all the high and mighty people who judge us. I left my out of the house job to stay home with my bio three to adopt three therapeutic kiddos. So I am now a SAHM of 6 and sometimes feel that talking to the Damn doctors is recreational fun (right up there with root canals and boots up our asses) anyways, I feel if we all stopped feeling like the worldwas judging our every move ~we would all have many more drunk friends to whisper under the playground equipment with……but wht at this point I would take anyone who understands why the backhoe is in my backyard digging up my septic while my 4 year old looks at the ground like he’s not the reason or I’m not the infamous mom as I walk in to introduce myself to teachers as “oh, I know you…..you are so and so’s mom” we are ‘ll in the same boat ladies and I raise my glass to each and every one of you all as my friends, but someone needs to bring the wine cause I drank all mine while waiting for the bus this morning. πŸ™‚ cheers!

  22. how timely is this post. Tomorrow is open house for my 4 almost 5 year olds 3rd year of preschool. I have maybe spoken to 3 of the moms out side the class room. Not because I don’t want to but because I work I don’t get to go every day, and no one will even look at me…. I am thinking, will this be the year that I actually am able to meet a mom that my son can play with, and that I will like??? Sigh, probably not. I was never good at the friend thing as a kid, and still am not as an adult. I always feel like I am an outsider standing there watching the cool kids. Although, I don’t drink wine, that’s a good thing because that means YOU get the whole bottle! πŸ™‚ Good luck

  23. Awww man! So many of us are in the same predicament! I hate chatting up the playground moms because it seems like I’m the only single mom in the area…and I know that can’t be!!!! As soon as mention of husbands comes up and I say ias lightheartedly as I can that I’m single, I get the head cocked oh poor you look and thus begins awkward chit chat until my 16 month old son saves me by attempting to climb up the slide and I can get away from the look that makes it seem as if I’m contagious. Don’t imagine the school years will be any better. I’ll be the old mom then having started this at 38! Ugh! I’ll move to your town, sounds great! And I love pizza, wine and yelling hysterically at my son when needed! Hang in there! We here in cyberspace adore you!!! ξ€’ξ€’

  24. I know how you feel, but in a different sort of way. I have 3 amazing close friends and I’m in NC. All were (keyword….were) right here in my town. 2 have same aged children and one has no kids (cause those friends are really good to have sometimes too). Then 3 years ago right in the middle of my separation, one up and moved to another part of the state on me (some friend she was). Then the next year one moved to Wisconsin on me. Wisconsin?!! That’s like 14 hours away (not to mention her daughter is my daughter’s best friend and she still cries about it) Then this summer the final blow happened when last and final close friend here in moved to Taiwan!!! Taiwan??!!! Yes Taiwan! She is thousands of dollars away and 12 hours ahead! Geez, I must be a really bad friend if all my friends have to move away from me and get further and and further away. I’ve decided I shouldn’t make any more close friends, because that one will probably have to move to the MOON! LOL. I am thankful for wonderful advances in technology like skype or facetime, because we can have a glass of wine together virtually, but I do miss having someone right here that I can share my crazy single mama life with! Someone that really knows me and that is not just a surface friendship. It is so important, so I feel you girl, deep down, I feel ya! P.S. I think you’re pretty freaking great and I would have a glass of wine or a margarita with you any day and every day! πŸ™‚

  25. Just found you via blog hop, and I could have written this! Well, not exactly, I am not a military brat, and we live closer to my hometown than my husband’s, and it isn’t a “small town” per say … well, other than some glaringly obvious situational differences, I can relate to the feeling completely! I have two close friends, one of whom moved very far away and the other is physically close but we have drifted apart. It makes me feel like a total failure, even though I am actually pretty outgoing. I can connect with people in a quick, small talky way, but actually commit to a real friendship … a whole different beast I have yet to master!

  26. Here from the hop and glad I found you. I am from New England and living in the Midwest and after many, many years still can’t adjust. As far as friends go, it’s kind of like dating: start a relationship, find common ground, stay together a while, break up, repeat. Some work out longer term, some not so much. What I find is that in some parts of the country people are more open to “outsiders” and in others not, but it isn’t you, it’s them. Keep dating, the right friend will come along!

  27. Sounds like you live in my town! Took me 4 years and a nervous breakdown to make any real friends. Take some ativan, chase it with wine and then tell folks you did. It will weed out the weak ones! XO

  28. Hi, it’s Keesha from Mom’s New Stage. What you are going through must be so hard! I don’t know how I’d do it without all the parallel parenting that goes on in my ‘hood. Have a hangover and taking your kids to the park? You’ll have people to commiserate with. Marital stuff? Same, and the list goes on. I do live in the city and I know almost everyone whose got kids my age in my little neighborhood. I hope you find what you’re looking for, and that your wit and overwhelming coolness are able to strike a chord with some like minded soul.

  29. I will be there to meet you by the monkey bars and have the wine ready to for our Tues. date while the kids tackle the slide πŸ˜‰ Ugh, acquaintances are different than true friends, and real friends aren’t always so easy to come by…thanks for the realism and the honesty. And looking forward to hanging out πŸ˜‰

  30. I found your blog today thanks to Pinterest and I swear it was perfect timing. 3 years ago I moved from Las Vegas (where I lived for 31 years) Central NY. I tell you what, starting over is freaking HARD! Just yesterday I was having a bottle of wine and a pity party over how much I missed my girlfriends from “home”. With them I am confident, sassy and smart. Glad to hear that I am in good company!

  31. From all the comments you’re getting it looks like this is a pretty common experience. I can definitely relate. Good girl friends are sooo hard to come by, and so so important to one’s happiness. I’m somewhat of a nomad myself, and making new friends is the hardest part. I also live in a town where everyone seems to have known everyone else for their whole lives (or be related to each other), and I’m totally the outsider. Luckily, I made some good friends who are also new to this place and it’s made everything so much better. Unfortunately, we’re going to be moving again. But, that’s the life of a nomad. Sigh.

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