A friend recently wrote to me about how old she feels each time she passes the primary school our children attended and sees all the young, hip mums hanging outside the school gates.
Being a mum in the playground is personally one of my least favourite periods of parenthood to reminisce about; post-traumatic memories of which I continue to dilute with wine on a nightly basis. Even now, when I’m old and ugly enough to look back on that period with fresher, more mature eyes, along with the rationality and wisdom I have acquired with age, it remains a testing time of my life.
In fact those days of being a young, unconfident mum, being judged by the successes and failures of my children, are more haunting than even my own school days as a teenager, trapped as I was in an all girls boarding school with painfully slowly developing boobs, late periods and no outside connection to interesting boys.
The playground highlights publicly your popularity and position (or lack thereof) in the mum group, a shame for those of us who are naturally shy, even if we have just as much to give as the more raucous ‘IT’ mums who dominate with their brash confidence and are loved by all, including the teachers.
Sour grapes? A little, perhaps. But they’re not directed at the other mums; rather at myself for not having confidence in myself and allowing that feeling of isolation to affect me so intensely.
I could blame my kids, of course, too. My kids were never the uber-sporty, theatrical or ridiculously popular kids who got invited to three parties each weekend. No, I was the mum forced to stand and watch the party invitations being handed out… knowing and dying a little inside as I tried to absorb their pain. In reality, it was MY pain. NC was always the kid with one special friend – usually, equally nerdy – and I was always far more affected than she was by the choosiness of her peer group. Kurt was the kid who charged around the playground like a puppy dog on Speed, in his own world, strangely oblivious to the looks and consequences his behavior encouraged.
And then there was the excited chit chat in the mums circle about whichever party or dinner party was happening that weekend – that I wasn’t invited to, leading to paranoia and a need to feign disinterest or lie about being busy.
Then I’d go home and finish a bottle of wine while the kids’ scoffed their afternoon tea.
I had different tactics to avoid standing alone in the playground and looking like the Mummy-No-Mates I was. Some days I’d arrive early and sit in the car until the last possible moment between the shame of isolation and my kids feeling abandoned. Other days I’d drive in conspicuously late and swoop the kids up from the concrete while the car was still in motion. Sometimes I would arrange to meet a friend beforehand and we’d go in together, armed with the false bravado of togetherness.
In the school playground you were initially judged by the success and popularity of your child, then forced to become friends with the parents of the kids your children connected with – no matter how wierd – rather than the ones you might have had more in common with.
What a relief to be judged on my own merits now.