We recently moved into a house on a lovely street lined with pleasant people into which we are gradually settling.
Our first box hadn’t been unpacked before the little boy across the street came over to ask if Jack could come out and play. This thrilled me, as it did Jack. The kids had a wild rumpus outside, and we counted our blessings at having such great neighbors.
We live close enough to Jack’s school that we walk some mornings. The kid from across the street walks too, and his mom and I chat while the kids bumble down the sidewalk pointing out dogs and bikes and stale Halloween decorations to each other.
It’s charming in a way that begets thoughts of Norman Rockwell and cups of sugar passed over picket fences.
The other mom is so sweet. She’s also hugely popular. Before we even moved, when we told people the street we were moving to, they invariably said, “Oh! You’ll live on Martha’s street! She’s the best.”
I’m grateful for the warmth she has shown our family as we went through the adjustment of moving. She seems to know everyone on the playground, is very active in the PTA, and has energy for things like Pilates, baking, and book club.
In other words, she is very social and energetic.
Which is great.
But I’m sort of a socially-anxious introvert, and the whole dynamic has me feeling confused and insecure.
Questions rattle around like dry beans in the gourd of my skull– How often am I supposed to invite them over? Do we have to alternate and should I feel awful if she invites my kid over twice in a row? What if she doesn’t like me once she discovers I only vacuum once a week? How do I ask whether there are guns in her house before Jack goes over to play? What if she tells all the other moms not to like me? What am I supposed to do if she asks me to babysit her kids and I am just not up to it after a day in the social work sweat shop? How will I handle it if my kid acts up on a playdate? What if her son hurts my son’s feelings? What if I get the reputation as the mom who is weird or stressy at playdates?
In a way, it feels like the terror of middle school all over again, trying to figure out the social rules and expectations, and how do I define my individual role as a mom among this pack of my peers?
I was never the “popular” girl in school. I had a rag-tag group of friends, most of whom were exotic theater types or quiet dancers like me. My “best friend” was popular and spent most of middle and high school ignoring and bullying me, until I finally got a boyfriend and dumped her in tenth grade.
I’ve always been a bit mystified by and skeptical of popular people.
In another way, unlike middle school, I am more comfortable with myself, and don’t feel the need to know or talk with everyone on the playground. I’ve evolved into someone who is aware, strong willed and minded, with shades of that exotic and theatrical dancer. I consider myself to be a pretty cool person, and also a cool mom.
I’ve cultivated a group of friends who are caring, kind, open-minded, and accepting. The friends I’ve made as an adult are people who find me lovable, neurosis and all. My bestie thinks nothing of it if I text her in the middle of the night to report a recurring anxiety about polar bear attacks in my backyard, or if I forget her birthday.
But it is a cozy little microcosm, and in this new neighborhood, where I am formulating new relationships, I feel sort of out of my element. Will other moms be as forgiving if I forget to RSVP for their kid’s birthday bash, or if I don’t immediately reciprocate the cookie tin at Christmas?
There is this nagging fear that people will find out just how neurotic and weird I am.
Much like the dynamics we enact and reenact in families, I am finding that social roles also seem to be a perpetuating pattern. Of course, any pattern can be broken. So, I could get out there on the playground and be my healthy, brassy self, not really caring what the other moms think.
But it seems like the stakes are higher now because it is more than just my reputation and popularity at stake.
I am also a representative for my children.
While it seems unfair their popularity or desirability should be linked to my political views or prickliness around new people, it also seems somewhat inevitable. I mean, what kid is going to want to come over to play at the house where the mom is weird and stressy?
Maybe I am way overthinking things, but I know enough about the social pecking order to know people are judged. While I don’t really care how other moms judge me, I do very much care if they judge my kids.
Finally, since we do not plan on moving soon or ever, I need to figure out how to balance being a good neighbor and ambassador for my children, with being myself- quirks and all.
My advice to myself is to take it slow, take time to figure things out, and take one for the team. I will be gracious and keep my chin up for my kids, even when I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
One thing I know about being a mom is you occasionally have to do things you don’t relish. I despise legos, dread the playground, and think Hello Kitty’s voice is worse than nails on a chalkboard, but my children love them, so it is important for me to take an interest and be there with them.
If all else fails, I suppose I could bake some muffins for Jack to bring across the street.
Have you ever felt anxious about getting along with other moms/parents?