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. 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. 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.