I check my outfit one last time, hoping it will be appropriate for the event, and while feeling every last knot of nerves in my stomach, I grab my bag and buckle my 3 year old into his car seat.
The bright morning sunshine lifts my spirits. Although I’m an introvert, I really enjoy meeting new people. But today carries more pressure than usual. Today, I’m hoping to make a new friend.
While I already have a lot of very dear friends, since moving interstate to be closer to family, I no longer have friends I can drop by and visit or friends to invite over for a cuppa. All my good friends are now phone friends, Facebook friends, letterbox friends, and Skype friends.
We arrive at the venue, and, before unbuckling 3, I give a moment of serious thanks for still having these opportunities of using my young children to meet and make friends. Then we join the throng of mothers, prams, children, babies, toddlers, and one father, into the bustling playgroup.
Am I ready for this? I’m still so homesick for my old friends, it might be too soon. I might unwittingly set the bar too high as I size up each new person I meet, not prepared to settle for anyone less.
I’m on the rebound, for sure.
While all the kids happily free-play, I glance around as casually as I can manage. And in a moment, I spy her. She’s busy smocking up her two little girls near the painting easels at the far end of the room. I really like the top she’s wearing, and she’s only got the barest touch of makeup on, giving me hope that maybe we could be a good match.
But the other easels are already occupied by little budding artists, and I have almost no chance of tempting 3 away from the magnetic fishing game he’s absorbed in. I strike up a few brief conversations with the mothers who wander into our vicinity, but it just doesn’t feel right.
I guess I’m still hoping for sparks.
I’m not sure if should I angle these conversations towards our recent move to the area. Could that make me appear more desperate? All the other parents here surely have loads of friends already. They’re legitimately here for their children, I chide myself, not new recruits.
But then, as the kids are settled for their morning snack, an opportunity presents with the mother from the easels. Lacking any hint of nonchalance, I hurry 3 over to the last empty seat at the table next to her two daughters.
As we begin chatting, I wonder if she, too, is pretending not to subtlely compare the food we’ve each packed for our children. Are we fresh-and-wholegrain-and-home-baked-type mothers, or are we sweetened-and-coloured-and-processed-type mothers? Our entire future relationship might be hinged on these lunch boxes – it’s a make or break moment.
We cover the parenting basics: number of kids, kids’ ages, kids’ names, and our non-housework-non-child-rearing work. And incredibly, we discover that we both have a daughter in the same grade three class at school. My mind races ahead, organising oh-so-casual phone number exchanging via our girls and planning play dates for them. This connection feels promising.
The time slips away quickly. People around us are beginning to collect their bags, their children, and their artwork. It’s already time to leave, and I’m not sure if our conversation will be enough to leave a good lasting impression. Did I show enough interest in her kids and her life? Did I talk too much about myself? Was my child likeable enough?
As I gather my bag and bundle 3 back into his jacket, I turn to my potential friend ready to casually suggest that we might run into each other again at the playgroup next week. But I’ve lost her. She’s been swept away in the tide of mothers flowing out through the gate.
And it’s only then that I realise I don’t even know her name.
As I head home to make myself a cup of tea, I can’t help but wonder what my old friends are up to right now. And if they’re missing me as much as I’m missing them.
Although making new mum friends can take some time, and although it can be daunting and complex at times, I also know that the alternative is undoubtedly worse.
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