I want mom friends. I’m not the only one; it seems we’re all trolling the playgrounds and preschool pickups for mommies who won’t judge our messy houses or yoga pants. Ideally, our kids will be the same age—playdate as hangout time!—and don’t completely hate each other. She’s laid-back enough to talk about things beyond the usual mom subjects, like birth and poop and infant feeding. Maybe she’ll have a political opinion or two. Maybe she can laugh at a mutual fondness for ’90s music.
I want it. But I’m terrified.
It started in second grade. Everyone called me ugly; they made fun of my name. The other girls decided I couldn’t play with them anymore or even sit at their lunch table. I had to sit with the other social rejects, the kids who couldn’t or wouldn’t be accepted by the Rainbow Elementary queen bees.
It didn’t end. They’d pick me up and throw me in the cornfield during recess; they hid my coat before dismissal. I cried and cried to my mother. “Well,” she said, in a moment I’ll never forget, “you didn’t have any friends last year, and you don’t have any now. It’s your fault you don’t have any friends.” I stopped crying to her after that.
Middle school was worse. Middle school is worse for everyone, of course, but I suffered through a particular brand of hell as the new kid in a Catholic school. The players were different, but the song they sang was the same: They wouldn’t let me sit at the same lunch table. They made fun of my shoes. I didn’t shave my legs until an age old enough to provoke ridicule, because I had no girlfriends to clue me in. So I was “Ape Girl.” They threw my coat on the ground. They threatened to fight me. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
In high school, the queen bees convinced me I was dating the coolest boy in school, only to get told I was ugly and stupid. So they fixed me up with the biggest loser and laughed when they goaded me into kissing him. Answering a question in class risked a hissed “Shut up, you’re ugly!”
Unlike before, I had friends—of a sort, I suppose. I had sleepovers, and we watched MTV. But the friendships were based more on bands and TV shows than on, well, friendship. The relationships were brutally volatile. I never knew if I’d have friends come lunchtime or not. I seldom speak to any of them now.
So like so many other women, my experience with female relationships is fraught with bullying, with meanness, with she-said-that-she-said, with secrets spilled for the world to read. If you’ve ever been written about in a slam book, you think twice before seeking out girlfriends.
But you have to have mom friends. You crave someone to talk to about Moby Wraps and baby-led solids. You’ll go crazy if you don’t talk to someone larger than a hobbit. Human evolution pretty much dictates you reach out to your fellow females.
Yet, the stir of history and hormones can make it difficult. I find myself constantly suspicious: She doesn’t like me. She gave me a look that one time, and I bet she’s talking about me. It affects even my established friendships: Am I always the one to call? How long has it been since I’ve seen her? Is it because she doesn’t like me anymore? Or has that other girl taken my place?
And as much as we need mom friends, there’s a desire for them to be more than mom friends. Lots of women have kids the same age as mine and aren’t horribly objectionable. So many mom friends are like so-called friends from high school. They’re friendships based on one thing (in this case, children rather than the band Bush). I want mom friends who go beyond kids, who can move from poop to politics to sex in one conversation. I want women who will care for my kids when I’m sick and maybe even clean my bathroom. I’ll clean their bathrooms too. It’s just that I have to find them—and then trust them.
The whole shebang becomes even more fraught when children are involved. You want your kids to have friends and playdates. I worry my insecurities or social shortcomings are making my kids the social pariahs I once was. Bullied moms are super-sensitive about their children growing up to live through the same cycle they once did. We want, no, need them to see us in strong friendships. We need those mom friends.
I’ve seen moms’ groups implode in a storm of nastiness and recrimination. I’ve seen Facebook bullying, and lying, and women out to ruin someone else’s reputation. It scares me. I want good mom friends. I’m available to clean bathrooms. Despite my terror, I’m scouting playgrounds and moms’ groups, story time and baby-wearing groups. I’m trying to put the past behind me. I’m trying to start fresh with female friends.
I won’t let the queen bees win this one.