Never shy, I swam up to the semi-circle of pregnant ladies in my prenatal water aerobics class noting that while they were all a good deal older than me, they all looked reasonably friendly, and introduced myself. “Hi,” I said cheerfully. “My name is Becky, and I’m 6 months pregnant with my first son, Ben!” I don’t know if they spied my lack of wedding ring or were put off by my age, but not a single one responded to me. I might as well have spoken in tongues or have burped the alphabet.
While my situation wasn’t perhaps ideal, I wasn’t sorry and I wasn’t about to apologize to anyone for it. But just as soon as I joined the semicircle, I quickly found myself wedged out of it, treading water just outside of the group. It was the playground all over again. Looking back on it, I told myself that I must have imagined it.
Three years later, my new husband and I walked into a roomful of parents at back-to-school night for Ben’s new preschool and took our seats, smiling happily. We’d not had a lot of other chances to interact with large groups of other parents before this, and while we were nervous, we were both very excited. Oddly, as we sat there among them, we noticed that we were receiving a number of unfriendly stares.
Trying to shrug it off, we listened to the director of the Montessori school lecture us, before we broke off into our volunteer groups to discuss what we were going to do for class projects. My husband and I split up and I headed over to my group.
Happily, I introduced myself and tried to make small talk with the other members of the group. Slowly, I realized that as I stood there nodding and smiling with a big stupid grin on my face, no one was actually talking to me, and I was being edged out of the group.
The circle closed with me clearly on the outside and I stood there for a second, still nodding like a fool. I tried to edge my way back into the group to no avail, but eventually, I gave up. Thankfully, I wasn’t in a swimming suit this time but I wondered why no one wanted to be my friend.
Confounding matters was my son, who was autistic, which made playdates with the few friends that we had tricky. The snide comments about the things he’d eat, or the meltdowns he’d have or the way he’d behave broke my heart. Yes, he was in therapy and no, he wasn’t like their children, and while I tried to pretend it didn’t matter, it was hard and it was lonely for a long time.
So really, it’s no surprise that when I drop my son off at school, I’m always waiting for the crowd of pitchfork-wielding parents to emerge from the playground to yell “get back in the car, Infidel! You don’t belong here.” Much as I’ve shed the insecurities of feeling like I’m a stranger in a strange land, I have a terrible time feeling like I’m an impostor of a parent when I’m around other parents.
Three children later, I realize that it’s clearly time to get my act together. I cannot allow the past events dictate the way that I live my life as a mother because I’m not an insecure person and I’m not an insecure mother.
I’m putting on my battle armor and getting myself out there so that I can meet other parents in the flesh. Time for me to join The Mommy Club. I’ve done an amazing job doing it through my blog, so I know that I’m not that defective, but I’m just not quite sure where to meet other parents without looking like a freak. I can’t exactly size up a potential New Best Friend by staring at her for the whole hour at story hour without scaring her off and perhaps landing me a fancy restraining order.
Couldn’t really blame her there.
I wonder if it’s this hard for other parents to make friends. I don’t have leprosy or gaping pustules dripping from my face, and while I certainly do have faults, they’re not the sort that one would notice off the bat. But it’s time for me to face my fears and deal with them.
I’m sure I’ll be excluded from plenty more parental circles and that’s okay because I’ve learned to make sure that anyone who ever wants to join my group of friends is included. No matter what.
But, I guess I’ll make anyone with leprosy wear a mask.