It’s a weird kind of time for me. I’m currently in the process of moving to our fifth location inside four years. For the duration of our marriage, my husband’s work has led to us repeatedly moving around. This time, I’m told, should be the last move for a while. but I’m not as scared as I used to be, and this move doesn’t fill me with the same trepidation as in the past.
For most people, you reach adulthood with a nice little collection of friends that you’ve collected over time. You don’t ever recall actively getting those friends, but accumulated a random bunch of people that in some way or another have something in common with you. This may be the same school, children of the same age or a mutual love of Noel Edmunds (note to self: no-one shares that with you). At least, this was how my life was by the time I reached my twenties. There was no point in any of the relationships with any of my friends that I could remember asking ‘will you be my friend?’ in the manner of a five year old on holiday to another five year old. I couldn’t recall at what point our friendship status had been confirmed, only that at some point they had not been in my life but that now they were. Because like most people, some of my chums had been gained through school; others through various work places; and some- because I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of leaving my home town for university- from Uni. When I had my first daughter, I made a few more friends through various baby centres. But effectively, my circe of lunatic peers had been gathered organically. And I was very happy with that arrangement.
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, we moved for the first time. It was only a fairly tame move: about an hour away from where I had always been, and I loved the location. It was the small town with a tiny village school and big rural scenery that I had always wanted for my family. It was perfect. Except for one thing: I didn’t know anyone. My husband worked long hours, and I was about to be on my own with a newborn and our then three year old for the duration of the day. Every. Bloody. Day. When Sprog Two was eventually born, I suddenly felt very daunted by the realisation that I now had two children, five days a week with them, and no family or friends in close proximity. I was buggered.
Initially I really was. Every day would be a slow blur of getting up, staying in my pyjamas, washing and feeding the children, watching CBeebies, and doing some form of activity that filled the criteria of doing ‘something for the kids’: sticking many old leaves on paper or making buns that were at least 20% snot. When the eldest was in pre-school, that’s when things really got dull. I would spend hours watching Jeremy Kyle and Bargain Hunt and buying pointless things online (what do you mean the baby doesn’t need another hat that makes her look like wildlife? Screw you!). I would start projects that I was never going to finish (remind me to show you my range of half upcycled second hand furniture one day. Believe me, they were better before) and sit there thinking about depressed I was. What was worse, was that rather than all of this making me happier when my husband was home, I was angry at him for daring to abandon me. He would get home from to be presented with one of the children and then questioned on why he was ten minutes late.
Something needed to change. I needed to get a life.
My health visitor suggested I went to a local group that she ran. She didn’t tell me much about the group, other than the time and where it was. I turned up to find that it was a breastfeeding class. Women sitting in a circle and breastfeeding whilst discussing their nipples and the colour of baby’s poos. I was in hell. I’m sure you all know breastfeeding groups that are not at all like this, and are full of cool groovy mums that have no interest in discussing their discoloured nipples. But unfortunately, that was exactly the situation I had found myself in. I made a feeble excuse after fifteen minutes and left resigned to the fact I would never have friends again. I would eventually only know the company of children and hence would start talking in that weird ‘talking to young children’ voice like you’ve been possessed, and having sex fantasies of Mr Tumble.
That very same afternoon, I decided to take my sorry ass and my daughters to a cafe. I convince myself that my children and I love cafes. In reality, I spend an hour asking them to sit down and behave while they open twenty sugar sachets and smoosh cheese sandwiches in the chairs. There was another woman on her own across the room from me, with a little boy. She smiled at me as I pleaded with the three year old to stop ripping up napkins into tiny pieces and putting the bits into my tea. I smiled back at her after I noticed that her two year old had put all of the cutlery he could find in her handbag. Worried about coming across as a bit weird, but more worried about drowning myself in the bath, alone and friendless, I invited her to come and sit with me. And she did! We got chatting: she told me that she had always worked full time and how none of her friends had kids so she didn’t know what to do with herself. I talked about my own move and how I was getting really bored. I told her about the breastfeeding class, and heard how she had been tricked in to going there too. She then told me about a different toddler group one that was full of normal people who wouldn’t dare to talk about their nipples. I liked the sound of it and agreed to go the following day. We exchanged numbers. It was official: I had pulled my first fellow mum.
I did go to that toddler group, and met another similarly bedraggled mum like me, who had gorgeous eight week old twin girls and a four year old boy, and admitted she was knackered and sometimes missed being at work so that she could go to the toilet without interruptions. I liked her a lot.
With my newfound confidence, I took another big step at the nursery playground. There was a group of mums who I had always seen talking to one another at the end of the day, but I had always stayed away. But today, I was going to be brave. I was going to take on multiple mums at once. I walked straight up and told them who’s mum I was, that I was new in town and asked them if there was any good places to take kids. They not only suggested a local play centre, two of them invited me with them to it the following day! I was getting good at this. Within a few weeks I was being invited to their houses for coffee, where I found that they too often wondered if their children were clinically insane and found the park mind-numbingly dull. They too worried about whether over-watching CBeebies was taking away their brain cells and wondered whether in a years time if they would be incapable of formulating a full sentence that didn’t rhyme.
Over those first few months, I played the field a little more, and most of the time it totally paid off. It turns out, there are loads of us. There are loads of other mums who are slowly going mad from the lack of adult company. I adore my kids, I really do, and I don’t want you for one second to think I appreciate their company. I love spending time with them, and lots of it. But sometimes, only spending time with them would be enough to drive you to gin (well more gin).
From nervous introductions and tentative playdates came genuine, meaningful conversations and hilarious coffee mornings. Polite texts soon became picture messages of my dog dressed up in ballet shoes with the caption ‘IS IT TOO EARLY FOR GIN?”. When my baby daughter had to have an operation my new friends were on hand to help with my eldest and bring me shopping. when she didn’t sleep for two weeks from teething, none of them judged me for going to school in yesterday’s clothes with sick in my hair. They assured me I did not like a swamp monster and was in fact hugely attractive.
Three years on, and all of the women I chatted up remain my close friends. One of my conquests was a fellow photographer who was on a photography forum with me, and mentioned on there that she lived close by. I could see from her picture that she also had a daughter, so I sent her a message and said that if she ever fancied going for a coffee with her daughter to chat about camera lenses and toddler tantrums then let me know. She did, and now she is one of my very best friends who sends me messages like this:
Putting yourself out there with people is terrifying, particularly when you’re the new girl, but I would urge you to DO IT. There will of course be people who won’t be in the slightest bit interested in your friendship, but screw them! They’ll never know what they were missing. But like me, you may well find some awesome people who are feeling just as daunted and just as lonely, and may well change your life.
PS. After posting this entry, I received a recommendation to check out the website Mummy Social, and oh my god it’s AWESOME!! It’s a new ‘dating site’ for mums, where you can sign up to find other parents in your area. Please check it out, you may find your new chums for life.
PPS…. if you like any of my blog entries, please click on the ‘share’ buttons below. It means others may actually read it, and you may win a new car!*