I am at the park with my son. A woman wanders up to me – all smiles – toddler in tow, days-old newborn in a carrier. As is decreed in the New Mum Texts, I coo over both children, tell her she looks amazing and congratulate her for walking around so soon after the birth, and having all her clothes on so early in the afternoon etc. She responds with this:
“So is your bump so enormous because you’re so short, or were you always a big girl?”
It is 2015. I’ve only been a mother for a handful of months but, in the spirit of getting out of the house, I have met up with another mum from the baby group for a coffee. I suspect this won’t go well when, a few minutes into the chat, she proclaims that I am “adorable” and “a hippy”. Perhaps because of this, she decides to confide in me:
“I don’t really like babies. I mean, look at yours,” she gestures at my son – my beautiful, unique son, who I made with my body – asleep in his pram. Just sitting there, like a lump. BORING.” I murder the woman and leave. In that I don’t actually murder her and have another coffee before heading off so as not to appear rude.
I’ve always found it difficult to make mum friends. Largely due to lack of opportunity – I was new to the local area when I gave birth, and wasn’t part of an NCT group or anything, so to meet people in a similar situation I had to trek three miles with the buggy to the nearest children’s centre. And, inevitably, when I got there, most of the mums would already be entrenched in their own little worlds with their extended families, colleagues or neighbours. And those who weren’t were probably, in all honesty, put off by the intense social awkwardness that came leaping to the fore of my personality in such a pressurised situation.
I’d arrive at playgroup, sweaty and bothered from the journey, put on the back foot by the fact that my son would almost always want to breastfeed on arrival before doing a giant porridgey poo. It’s very hard to be all nonchalant and “Hey, guys!” with strangers when you’re shy, your baps are out and you smell like a public toilet.
The thing is, once your kids get to toddlerhood and start socialising, that’s precisely what you have to do – make small talk with idiots just because your kids get along
But still I’d try. I’d sidle up to a group of mums and grin goofily at them until they engaged. But either the chat would go nowhere, or we’d all have conflicting schedules, or parenting styles that were too different. Or I’d say something to make them all go away, such as – when I was complimented on my son’s curls – “And they said you shouldn’t perm a newborn!” then laugh a little too long.
Or, of course, they’d just be uppity, point-scoring arseholes, forever condemning your choices (“We thought about co-sleeping like you, but then we decided we were better than that”), or putting the fear of God into you because your kid hadn’t applied to Cambridge while still in the womb. In the end, I gave up, figuring that I already have enough friends without having to make small talk with idiots just because our kids get along.
The thing is, once your kids get to toddlerhood and start socialising, that’s precisely what you have to do – make small talk with idiots just because your kids get along. Basically, you have to kiss a lot of frogs.
My son and I are at a thing called “Tumble Time”, a weekly toddler assault course held in my local sports centre. It’s stiflingly hot and, rather gallingly, you’re not allowed to bring in the overpriced coffee they sold you just outside the door, but the kids go feral for it. They go feral and then they sleep for an hour, and that is why all of us parents are here, chasing our kids down as they clamber on to balance beams and bouncy castles, and topple joyfully on to gym mats. Or, in my son’s case, figure out how to – and then proceed to – unplug the bouncy castle, and attempt to bounce on the trampoline from underneath.
“Your son is so handsome!” says a woman beside me, as she herself is being treated as a maypole-cum-climbing-frame by her own mop-headed twins. Despite the fact that said son is now pretending his Fruit Shoot is his willy, and squeezing its contents in my direction, I thank her. “Your kids are very attractive, too,” I say, then hurriedly add: “Obviously, I mean that in a completely appropriate way.”
The woman looks at me, eyes narrowed. I gaze back at her, unwavering. Something seems to pass between us.
“Oh, thank fuck,” she breathes finally. “You’re normal.” Two seconds later, we’re exchanging numbers. “I’m so glad I met you,” she tells me. “Last week, I told a woman her kid was cute and she called me a paedophile.”
“Jesus Christ,” I reply and share the tale of were-you-a-big-girl-anyway woman.
“Fuckers,” proclaims the woman. “Let’s meet next week. At the pub.”
Pray for me, readers.