As a mom, I am in little to no position to offer unsolicited advice to anyone about anything. It wouldn’t take more than a passing glance over my bloodshot, puffy eyes and Crisco-coated hair or my banshee children circling around this tired, heavily caffeinated mama to tell you as much. I simply do not have it all figured out, and I’m afraid it usually shows. I will be the first to regale you with stories of my innumerable failures and mishaps so cringe-worthy that you will go home and thank your lucky stars that you at least have it more together than that Elizabeth girl because she’s a hot mess. Or, perhaps more accurately, she’s just a mess.
So you can imagine my great surprise when, while walking with my daughter down the Kindergarten hallway on her first day of school, it dawned on me that I had actually done something right. I mean, as moms, we are so quick to remember and perhaps ruminate over the many, many things we have done wrong that it feels almost foreign and a bit unnatural to acknowledge that you actually did something right. But friends, I actually think I did (!), and I want to tell you how it came to pass.
Walking down that hallway, it struck me that I knew people. My daughter knew people. Together, we knew people. That’s right, sports fans—THIS was my big revelation. But the wonders don’t stop there: most of these people I recognized actually smiled at us as we crossed paths, and a few kindred spirits even stopped to talk with us. Now if this declaration seems beyond ridiculous to you, you won’t hurt my feelings if you stop reading right now because this post clearly wasn’t meant for you. You may have lived in the same area for years—maybe even since childhood—and over the years have amassed so many strong relationships that perhaps you sometimes wish you could actually make a few of your innumerable friends “disappear” to get the numbers down to a more manageable bunch. Or perhaps you are just socially gifted and people are drawn to you like a mom to the Dollar Spot at a Target store. Go on with your bad self, mama. You clearly don’t need my encouragement!
If, however, you wonder if you will ever know anyone on a first name basis other than your hairdresser and perhaps your friendly local pharmacist, then I invite you to keep reading, because this post is meant for you.
You see, I AM you. On second thought, I don’t want to get overly presumptuous or weird here, so maybe it’s safer to say that perhaps like you, I am an introvert at heart. I am really comfortable—blissfully content, even—when I’m by myself. Don’t get me wrong—I love friends once I make them, but the whole process of befriending someone has rarely come easily to me. As a result, my natural inclination is to opt out of social situations that will likely put me in arm’s length of people whom I don’t know expecting to make conversation with me on topics deeper than the weather. I dread embarking on the “getting to know you” process and, perhaps as a result of all that anxiety, usually fail pretty miserably at it.
And as comfortable as I am in my own skin—recognizing and accepting my weaknesses and liabilities in the social butterfly department—I have to confess that I want differently for my daughter. I hesitate to say “better,” because Lord knows I think the world needs introverts, but I would love it if she could approach a room full of strangers without the same dread and apprehension that I feel. I’m not saying I have visions of her working a room like a Rodan + Fields consultant during a school fundraiser, but I do hope that she will grow to feel at ease in unfamiliar social settings. And I want her to know kids her age so that she can get a head start on developing what I hope will be lifelong friendships with her future classmates.
So with these goals in mind, when my daughter was about six months old, I decided to gird up my loins and dive headfirst into a bevy of mother-and-child-centered social activity. I didn’t work outside the home, so finding the time to do this was not a concern. Finding the courage to do it, however, was another story. Eventually the courage was summoned, and we joined Gymboree. Then we started going to MOPS, and I was inspired to seek out a Bible study that offered free childcare. We were regular fixtures at our neighborhood playground. We went to tiny tumble at Alamo Gymnastics and listened to story time at our local library. Heck, I even attended a few Mommy and Me playgroups that I actually sought out using Meetup.com.
I can’t tell you that every single one of these activities was rewarding or fun (although many were), but what I can tell you is that as awkward and uncomfortable as I felt at probably the vast majority of these gatherings (at least initially), I don’t regret making the effort to go to even the most uninspiring among them. Not one bit.
What I sought was socialization for my daughter: exposure to the world outside the confines of our house. What I ended up getting was a well-adjusted toddler who was gregarious and not afraid of anything (until an irrational fear of the trolls in the movie Frozen developed, but that’s another story entirely). I got a daughter who was comfortable being left in a room without her mama and who seemed to understand the unspoken “rules” and play dynamic among kiddos. Maybe she would have developed these traits anyway and all the play had nothing to do with it. There’s no way for me to know.
What I do know, however, is that an unintended and unexpectedly fulfilling side effect of all of this structured activity was that I, too, developed friendships with other moms. Some of these relationships have proven to be more enduring and consistent than others, but all are friendships nonetheless and all really enriched my life during the isolating first few years of motherhood. Through these friendships I received a good deal of support, a great amount of information-sharing, and the incredible feeling of knowing that I was neither alone nor crazy. Or at least if I was crazy, there were a lot of other crazy women masquerading as normal moms right alongside me.
After a while, I started to enjoy the extracurricular events more than dread them. I recognized more faces (even if I couldn’t always remember names) and knew I’d find things to talk about because we moms have a LOT of war stories to share. I started getting invitations to get-togethers and parties and eventually started replying “yes” to invitations more than I’d say “no.” When we would get invited to a new friend’s party, rather than immediately sending our regrets as I was initially inclined to do, I would accept and resolve not to cancel at the last minute with a made-up, anxiety-fueled excuse.
And so to me it doesn’t matter if you’re convinced that you can operate in a vacuum and do life alone or if you dream about one day receiving so many text messages you are legitimately too overwhelmed to respond to them all: if you and/or your children are lacking in the friends department, put yourself out there. Find some activities in your neighborhood and go! Don’t let your insecurities hold you back, because believe it or not, you will not be the only one in any given room feeling the way you do. Put yourself out there. Get vulnerable and uncomfortable; it’s for a worthy cause.
You just might meet your neighbors, future room moms, or someday friends. You might have to dig your fingers deep into your palms the first few times to get through it, but if you stick with it, I swear that meeting new people will get easier. And then one day, you’ll be strolling through the halls of your child’s school and instead of avoiding eye contact with everyone, you’ll be waving and smiling like a Miss America contestant strutting across the stage during the bathing suit portion of the competition.
But, then again, this is all just a matter of opinion. And it’s coming from a mom whose shirt is visibly pilling, probably emanating that lovely “outdoor smell” because she’s worn it for three-ish days in a row, a mom who has bags under her eyes and hair weighed down with more grease than a double order of cheddar fries topped with bacon. So take it for what it’s worth, but do yourself a favor and take it…because this mom knows people!