Trying to make new friends as a Mum of small children is all about eyes across a crowded room, chemistry, a stolen conversation, a lightning strike. It’s as hard as trying to find the love of your life and it’s almost as painful. No, that’s a lie; it’s nowhere near as painful. But it can smart.
I know I’ve got myself to blame for moving so often. This particular incident happened in my last hometown, where I went on to make a couple of good friends. And for a bit of context, life in the world of toddler groups can be excruciatingly lonely. Designed to put you in touch with people in the same boat, they can make you feel very much all at sea.
Having moved so much, I don’t have the benefit of a ready-made NCT Group, or friends I see regularly. So, aside from occasional catch-ups with old friends who live far and wide, my social interactions are mainly with complete strangers. In the daytime. Punctuated by vomiting and/or poo smells.
My days are spent saying things like “You definitely get the best-dressed award for her outfit” while pointing at a child in a red beret, red patent shoes and a red handbag, or “Mmm a cup of tea, isn’t it just nice to sit down?” or “My son has that coat!” …do friendships get built on such things? I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I won’t name real names, but let’s call her Caroline. We met at a stupendously awful Netmums gathering in a sweaty soft play centre café. Both realising we were at least a decade older than any of the other women (overheard: “I didn’t really get along with the other group I used to go to, they were all settled down and married.”), we gravitated towards each other.
Caroline was an absolute tonic. She physically looked like the love-child of two of my best friends, so when she sidled up to me and asked to swap numbers, I was hopeful that I would no longer have to sit at red plastic tables and feed my child uncooked jacket potato and hard grated cheese in order to be social.
I was about to have BUB.2 at the time so it was weeks before I got to see her but when I did she didn’t disappoint. This chuckling creature appeared at my front door with a huge bunch of flowers, some chocolate for BUB.1 and a gift for BUB.2. We sat on my sunlit terrace eating still-warm cookies, laughing like drains, swapping boob stories as if we’d known each other years. I felt pampered, wooed, almost cherished. As she wafted out of my front door, clutching a soiled nappy and a giggling baby, she invited me for lunch at hers the following week.
A second date! And to hers, where she had made a delicious but lightly-dressed salad in view of our post-baby bellies. She had me in stitches telling me about the swingers who used to live in her house and the strange late night phone calls they still received. We took an afternoon stroll around her neighbourhood, laughing about shared disasters, shared insecurities, past heartaches, matters not discussed at toddler group encounters. She offered to lend me her Bumbo.
I never saw her again.
She had told me she was returning to work and return she must have and with it, the world of soft play and Bumbos was left behind. We exchanged a few texts arranging to meet up on a Friday, the day she got to spend with her daughter and didn’t have to rush off to Watford Hospital to deal with managers and meetings and admin and real shit, but they petered out.
I imagine if I had one day a week with my one year old baby, I’d want to spend it with my baby and not with a stranger I had met just weeks ago too. And like every disappointment, it gives hope that there are others out there like you. You just have to keep looking.