Palms sweating. Fingers tightly wrapped around my tray containing the daily special: broccoli and cheese dippers, a carton of slightly souring milk, a fruit cup, and my English notebook. The knot in my stomach tightening as I enter the cafeteria. Will there be a spot at an empty table? Will I strike up a conversation and sit with someone today?
High school. Freshman year. Life sucked.
Pimples. Puberty. Hormones. As a teen girl, I was a mess. I wasn’t overly good at sports. I was tall, so I was picked for teams, but easily fell over my own two feet which made it hard to hang with the jocks. I was book smart and made good grades, but not enough to be cool among the geeks. I was afraid of authority, I didn’t take many risks, and doing anything illegal upset me more than I cared to admit, so I didn’t fit into the alternative crowd. I slowly compiled a small group of friends, whom I grew to love dearly, as they loved me for who I was, whoever that was.
As I aged my group of friends grew slightly, but I learned that I always seemed better at keeping mainly to myself. My introverted nature thrived and I found myself most at ease when working on building my family. My relationship with my now-husband strengthened as we grew together, and the stress of maintaining outside relationships dwindled my group of girlfriends significantly. I was a working woman with a large family life to juggle – some great friends I made regular visits with, and the acquaintances I often caught up with for drinks, began to fade. Some friends were having children, which I found hard to relate to. Others, waiting like me, became more involved in their careers. We all became busy, and our friendships slowly became less intense. In my late 20s I admittedly became the most introverted in my life – and I was happy.
Then I had my first child. (Holy hell, how do people do this alone?! I give some serious props to you single parents out there.) Somehow, in the blur that had then become reality, I added a second babe, as if that was what I was supposed to do. Two kids in 17 months lead to a lot of staring in the mirror wondering what had become of me. Having my husband along for the ride kept me floating above water, but I was in desperate need of those friends I had let slip away.
The problem was, once you get your life to where you want it to be – totally comfortable in your reclusive reality of home life with your career on hold to raise your babes – there was just quiet. A deafening silence, only interrupted by the milk-driven screams of your new best friends.
Gone were the girls’ nights, the collective complaining as the wine poured. I needed someone with milk (hopefully) on their shirt, toys in their pockets, and bags under their eyes who would understand why I put my cold coffee in the microwave three times before ultimately forgetting where I put it. Where was the person in my life that could sing the Paw Patrol theme song and who knew Rubble and Rocky were not terrain terms? Why could no one else understand the bargaining power of some Goldfish crackers?
One thing became abundantly clear: my introverted lifestyle needed to be seriously made over, and my only chance at surviving these childhood years would come in the form of a cross-body-bag-wearing, sleep deprived, carrier of small humans: another mom.
Making new friends is not easy. It’s flashbacks of high school. It’s bringing your lunch to the table and hoping someone is willing to chat with you. A positive note is that most moms will chat to any adult that comes within earshot. However, commonalities often end after the small talk. You usually discuss kids, feeding styles, and sleep patterns … maybe toss in a question about the hubster or two, and then it’s the silence that sneaks back in. You struggle to remember the part of you that isn’t a mom or a wife, and you forget that there is more to you to discuss.
The attempts are difficult at first. Connecting with a woman like you is nearly impossible, especially since you aren’t sure who you is anymore. Does she wear yoga pants in public? Does she raise her voice too often, and feed her guilty feelings with candy bars? Will there be a woman at story-time today who also stepped on a Lego while getting her toddler wrangled and lost her mind waiting for him to dress himself for the fifth time … or will you see a gal with makeup on and her hair done and long to know how she does it? Could she be the one to help you find the you hiding inside?
The park days become auditions where you try to size up the other ladies to see who just might be a good fit. At play dates you overdress and pretend to have your shit together to see if she might be the one. As if struggling with your tiny humans wasn’t enough, now you need to slut yourself out to find the gal who’s going to make it somehow all seem okay.
You keep looking though. She’s out there. Just like that one true friend you had in high school. Just like a unicorn riding on a rainbow. That elusive four-leaf clover. If you kiss enough frogs you will be rewarded. And when it happens, it’s like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Time stops and a theme song begins to play in the background of your life. That’s when the wooing begins.
Ultimately, with a little pushing and a little convincing yourself that it’s worth it – that you are worth it – you will find that lady who will welcome you in and your whole life will be different. You won’t worry so much about the makeup you didn’t put on, or the beds that aren’t made, or the snot you can’t seem to keep off the sleeve of their shirts. No longer will you sit and cry in the bathroom quietly (well, maybe you still will when someone eats your last hidden cookie), but you’ll have a gal to call, and she’ll drown your mommy woes in a box of wine.
You’ll have a gaggle that will be knee-deep in crap with you, and if they aren’t suffering as you are at that moment in time, they have been or will be, and they know it. She will be an ear to listen, and a heart to heal. If for nothing else a true mom friend will tell you when to take the sweats off and paint the town red with your hubster – she’ll even throw in babysitting so you can.
It’s simple to get lost in the person you were and the dreams you had. To watch the worlds of others and wish you could just get yourself together. You can easily feel hostage to the tiny manipulators that slowly suck away parts of you. As a mom, I was forgetting that I was a wife, a sister, a friend. As a mom, I was at a loss to be anything else. And, that’s why a mom friend is critical. She is the woman who reminds you that there is someone inside that frazzled exterior who is so much more than what she sees.
If I am honest, I still prefer my nights quietly sitting on the couch, binge-watching TV or nose deep in a good fiction. Putting pants that button on to go out, even for a glass of wine with my friends, sometimes feels like too much. Ignoring invites and staying in our jammies is optimal. But then I remember how much better I feel as soon as I see her.
In High School, when I stood with my tray in hand scanning the cafeteria, there was always a feeling of comfort that would settle in when I spied my group of closest friends. The ones I didn’t need to pretend to feel a part of. The ones who loved me and encouraged me to be me – and when I wasn’t, they would remind me of who that was.
Although the road back to this same feeling can be long and bumpy, there is no greater comfort than that found in a mom friend. Making friends in any facet of life is a trialing experience. Putting yourself out there is terrifying. But for the sake of my sanity and for the pure enjoyment of learning that the woman in the mirror is more than what she has become, it is essential.
You can do it.