It’s taken me a good two years to become halfway decent at playground chit-chat.
There is an unspoken etiquette to it, a finesse that takes a bit of time to master. First, you have to come to terms with the fact that your child will most definitely befriend (or bully) other children, you will be forced into close contact with those children’s parents, and it’s just weird if you say nothing. It takes a while to collect a working catalog of conversation starters and casual remarks. Common choices include, “How old is your son?” “The weather’s been so nice lately!” “He reeeeally likes to growl like a dinosaur because of this ridiculous Netflix show.”
Some parents return lively banter, some respond with one-word answers, and some just smile politely and gravitate away from you. You get used to feeling okay about that. Some days, talking is too much. I get it. There are days I choose to avoid the playground entirely for purely antisocial reasons. On those days, honestly the world is probably better for it. It may be selfish, but it’s the truth. If my kids are going to force me into awkward conversations with folks who don’t “get” my sense of humor, I can at least control whether or not I want to put myself in that situation.
There will surely be times when you are that oddball parent who talks too much and tries too hard. But then there will be times when you just click, when there’s a palpable zing in the air, when someone returns your witty banter and you think, “A-ha! A like-minded mom! This is awesome! Now what?”
Let’s get real here: Making friends post-children is hard — impossible, nearly. You don’t have the time nor the energy to hang out anywhere that might turn up decent female friends, your current friends with kids have schedules that directly conflict with yours, and your current friends without kids tend not to remember that you need more than 10 minutes’ notice to do a meet-up and don’t always “get” your newfound brand of crazy. It’s a good, old-fashioned catch-22, one that leaves you a bit socially estranged and largely socially strange.
If there’s one thing parenting has taught me it’s how to deal with constant feelings of embarrassment.
Use this to your advantage. Why should you feel afraid to approach a total stranger with an offer of friendship when you’ve faced down the demons of public diaper explosion, grocery store meltdowns, and the horrors of biting toddlers (whether yours or someone else’s)?
But where do you meet honest-to-goodness mothers with whom you are simpatico? As usual, the answer centers on your kids. School functions, day care meet-and-greets, mom groups — these make up your new social landscape. And of course, particularly with tots too young for school, there is always the playground. You reach a point in motherhood where you realize just how wonderfully precious are deep, meaningful female relationships. If you have them, they are never as close as you’d wish, and not having them leaves a blazing, painful void in your life.
So when you come upon an amazing mom with whom you could possibly build a meaningful relationship, sometimes you do some ridiculous shit. You follow them around the playground too closely. Your casual daytime conversation takes a dive into deeper, more cavernous subject matter — you’re not sure you want that third kid, you worry your son might be a serial killer, you don’t know if you’ll ever have real sexual intimacy again… Um, did I say that?
Or sometimes, you meet minds with a complete stranger in such a way that you feel like a human person again, with interesting things to say, capable of delivering whole sentences without using sing-song voice. You remember that building friendships takes work and courage, and you remind yourself that if you pushed a fucking baby out, you can definitely take a very public gamble on a seemingly awesome fellow mom. You make your approach — I don’t want to say “chase her down” because that’s too aggressive — and in a move that feels akin to a wobbly junior high school dating ritual, you ask to become Facebook friends.
From there, the next move is up to you. Maybe you message her for a playdate. Maybe you go whole-hog and ask her over for a barbecue at your place. Maybe you message her too soon, freak her out, and she never responds, politely unfriending you weeks later. Either way, you’re one step closer to finding your tribe, your crew, your mom squad, your “bosom friends,” as Anne Shirley would say. And that, my friend, is worth all the discomfort in the world.