Before I realised just how difficult it was for me to make friends, I imagined that once I had children and once they started school, I’d have a steady supply of them in the form of the parents of my children’s friends. It has taken four years but I have finally admitted to myself that that’s not going to happen. And I’m reminded of that each and every day, as I wait at the school gates to pick my kids up after school.
I can hear the chatter as I approach, and I make my way to my usual spot. Everywhere around me are other parents, mostly moms but a few dads and grandparents scattered around. They hang around in twos and threes. I hear laughter and ‘we must have coffees’ and play date arrangements being made. I stare straight ahead.
I try to avoid eye contact, but sometimes I fail, as one or two moms catch my eye and say hi. I usually mumble a hi back, but often all I can manage is a nod and some attempt at a smile. Once or twice a week, one of the friendlier souls will attempt to engage me further. I try my best. We talk about the weather, the weekend, how our kids are ‘getting on’ in school. But after just a few minutes, I notice their gaze drifting off, and eventually their feet follow as they find someone they’d prefer to talk to. I usually don’t mind, but sometimes I’m in the middle of a sentence when this happens and my words are left hanging.
It used to be worse. When the kids were younger, the protocol was for the parents to line up outside the classroom to collect them. So I was in closer proximity to the other parents and it was harder to avoid their eye. A line of chirpy smiling parents all turning to look when I arrived. My phone has been a godsend in those circumstances. But sometimes I’d forget to charge my phone before leaving the house and the battery would die and I’d be caught out. So, again, the scripted small talk would come out. But I never got the hang of the rhythm and timing of it, so there were always awkward silences. The worst was when I would be standing at the end of the line, and another mom would come after me and stand beside me. They’d spot their friend on my other side, and the two would start to chat straight through me. As if I wasn’t there. I never knew what to do in that situation. Thank god I’m now allowed to wait outside.
Another thing that has made my life so much easier is getting a dog. Our dog is the friendliest, most sociable dog I’ve ever met. He’s still a bit of a puppy, and is incredibly cute. All the kids at the school adore him, and it’s like a petting zoo when I am waiting for my kids. He’s a wonderful distraction, and I’ve learnt a whole pile of new scripts involving dog small talk. He takes all the attention off me.