I have tried to write this post three times in the past six months. I’ve also tried to write it three different times this evening, each time getting frustrated and reverting back to the wine I am definitely not drinking out of a Buzz Lightyear glass and the popcorn I definitely did not steal from the Rocket’s stash of snacks. It seems like it should be simple, because really what I’m always trying to write when I strangle myself with a thousand words of nonsense is this stupidly obvious statement: I like friends. I never really expected that I would have a baby and that act alone would give me so many new friends that I feel like a YouTube video of someone happily being smothered by puppies, but there you are.
In school you make friends by fossicking out the most cheerfully compatible ones out of the classrooms you spend hours inside. After school, you go to work, and the dynamics can make things harder: you are no longer equals in a room, no longer students all muddling about trying to figure out why Pythagoras even bothered having a theorem when he could have spent his time much more constructively pashing behind the bike sheds. Instead, you are being bossed around, or perhaps trying to keep everyone in line, or too busy to even exchange pleasantries, or you just don’t click with anyone in your workplace. About seven years ago I went through a phase where I had a core group of friends that I adored and a partner who loved me, but I had this real visceral worry that I had reached the part of life where I wouldn’t make any new friends ever again. I thought maybe you hit a point in life where no new friendship experiences happened to you and you just never met anyone nice again unless you had already planned to go out with them for dinner. The world became very small. Eventually, in an uncharacteristic display of bravery, I decided to do something about it.
It started by going on the internet and joining a community of vegans and then hanging out with them. I know that anyone reading this who is not also of the tofu-eating persuasion has just panicked at the thought of this, imagining (as I probably used to) that we sat around gnashing our teeth about the other 99.97% of the world’s population and eating lettuce while looking pasty, but actually, it was just like hanging around with everyone else, except that they didn’t sigh dramatically and roll their eyes when you tried to figure out where to go for dinner. Reaching out for new friends altered something for me—this worry that there would be no one else vanished, and I started to be braver about making pals. A couple of years later I got a new job at a different bookshop, and the sheer amount of amazing new people I met still makes me grin when I drive to work (most days—I’m not that cherubic.) By the time I was pregnant, there were boundless plains of people who were giving me congratulatory hugs and high fives and trying really hard not to ask to touch my enormous belly (even though I didn’t mind.) These people were essentially limited to three groups where I shared a common interest: school buds, literary types, and people who used the word “facon” instead of “bacon” on Instagram.
Then I had a baby and my common interest became the same as billions of people in the world and millions in Melbourne alone. And, unexpectedly, my interests and the interests of those other millions of people do not always align. And—here’s the part I’ve always struggled to admit—I was worried about them. My world was full of lefty atheists who did collage on the weekends and smoked cigarillos at rooftop bars (not me, obviously—I have literally never smoked in my life and am incapable of finding a good bar on my own.) No one voted for Tony Abbott and they were fierce feminists who didn’t own property and who respected video games and comics and children’s books as art. It was a world I felt comfortable in, and I did not feel comfortable in those other worlds, worlds of religion and girls who wear princess dresses and toy swords.
Here is something I think that I just did not know: there are parents/guardians out there who are different from me, and they are amazing.
They own their own homes, and live in beautiful houses that are always clean, and have children with perfect clothes, and post-child bodies better than I ever thought my pre-child body was, and they believe in God and go to church, and they are much older or younger than me, and they buy pink for their daughters and blue for their sons, and they wear clothes I don’t like, and they don’t read books much, and they don’t know the difference between Marvel and DC, and they listen to Fox FM, and it does not matter. They are there to play with and lament to, they are there to ask and give advice, they are there to share jokes and snotty noses. And they are just among the most incredible people I have ever had the good fortune to have in my life, to the point where thinking about it right now has made it rain on my face.
It started with my mother’s group—I’ve mentioned my nerves before about meeting them, dressing up in clothes uncomfortable for my tired post-birth body just so they thought I was cool. I must have convinced them because we are still friends to this day, and we’re about to have a Christmas party this weekend together and I am super excited about it. These women were all successful, smart, funny, understanding and kind and they were all so different from me and each other that I almost thought we could be a sitcom. I don’t know where I’d be now without them, a sounding board for all things that fall apart when you have a baby. When the Rocket sputters, it’s usually them I call, because inevitably when something goes wrong, I am not the only one who’s gone through it. And when something goes right, it usually just has for them too.
When the Rocket was about nine months old we moved out of our cold and tiny cave into a temperature-controlled cave with bigger windows and another bedroom and the need for a zone 2 train ticket. Previously I’d lived within walking distance of two of my mother’s group pals, but otherwise I wasn’t too involved in my community—my neighbours liked us but not each other—and I didn’t really expect much. Then we took up Gymbaroo, and suddenly I had all these friends in my phone with the surname “Gymbaroo” because one thing you never know as a parent/guardian is other parent/guardian’s surnames. We had coffee after class and played in the park and went to each other’s parties and caught up in the park and went on train adventures together. Later, the Rocket started swimming lessons, and then we had to stay extra late so she could hang out with the new friends she and I made from the other classes, and then extra late to hang out with the friends we made from the classes after that, and then we had to come early as well to spend time with the friends we made who just came along for a splash every week earlier than our class. And I did not put their names in my phone because it is too awkward to exchange numbers while in your underpants in a change room, but I still look forward to seeing them every week. Despite the fact that this is a place where I can’t hide that I don’t like how I look behind billowing t-shirts, distracting accessories and blow-dried hair, these people are my friends too. Along with these activities, on an almost daily basis I would take the Rocket to get a babycino at the same cafe at our local strip of shops, and we made friends with the women who worked there, and some days I would go there just to see the faces of people who beamed when we walked in the door and didn’t even care about that time when the Rocket offered her drink to her bear and smashed the cup on the ground.
Today, I joined a secret neighbourhood facebook group, curated by a mother I met at the park about a week ago. We got along well straight away, as did our kids, flying around the park doing laps and yelling at each other about going on the swings. Like teenagers who’d just gone on a date, both the Rocket and I couldn’t stop talking about it when we got home; I could not believe that there were still new friends to be made out there in my neighbourhood. Recently we had a landlord scare and I thought I might have to move; I spent the night wailing about it in Teach’s arms, as if we would have to move to Albuquerque instead of three streets away. Unexpectedly, the community I have developed here has made me feel that I have finally moved into the right place, my family place. Within my block alone live three other families with both kids and parents I love; I never expected I would be so lucky that I could have friends over the back fence or who were free on Tuesdays like we were or who walked past our house with their kids who shout the Rocket’s name from our driveway so we can come outside and run in circles around the bird bath. I never thought there would be these people in my life, floods of them, and then new ones every day who live only one corner away and who I never even met until this week.
In accordance with my current mood, this is all beautiful and soft-focus; I know that there are jerks out there—I’ve met them, too, and scissored them out of my life—and that some people have so many experiences with jerks in a row that the safest thing to do is to stop meeting anyone, especially when there’s a kid involved. I wish I could say “just open up to meeting new people, it’ll be fine!” when no, it’s not, not always. I put myself out there and I lucked out. All I can say it that I hope you luck out too, kids or not, internet or not, nearby friendly cafe or not, local sports team or not. And if you ever need a fist bump, I’ve got my knuckles against the screen right now.