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I’ve always been a bit shy, but people tend to warm to me quickly and I’ve never had a horrible time making new friends. But nothing prepared me for the isolated reality that is stay-at-home-momdom, especially in a brand-new town. So, when my husband and I enrolled our 2-year-old in preschool for the second term of this year, I was excited at the chance to make some friends.
When we moved to this town, we acted too fast. A few articles about its great commute and bustling yet intimate community sold us. Scores of young families were moving out from the city, and we figured we would fit in among them and would finally (after making two other big moves with our then-1-year-old) make friends.
After living down south for a couple years, my hubby and I grew accustomed to an addictive brand of friendliness and openness. Here, there’s a lot of attitude in the locals. An impenetrable elitism on display in the super markets and on the streets. It’s like the social Twilight Zone of suburban New Jersey.
I’m a bubbly person who loves to be around others, so I would take our daughter on errands and to the park every day in the warmer months. Despite repeated efforts to strike up conversation with the other moms I saw out and about, I was returned with coldness nine times out of ten. On the few occasions I had a nice conversation, I grew too nervous to ask for her contact details (good old shyness strikes again), and I never got lucky enough to find the same nice lady twice.
But preschool was going to be it. The first day, we walked toward the front door and I said “hi” to the first mom I saw entering. My greeting was returned with one of those strained-lipped almost-smiles that’s more like a grimace. I figured she was tired or distracted and wrote it off. Until we walked inside and she went scurrying over to a latte-toting trio to strike up conversation. As they giggled and swapped weekend stories, my face grew flushed. Okay, so this woman is capable of being friendly. Just not to me.
In the months we’ve had our daughter in school I have tried almost daily. One morning, a bunch of kids were crying on their way in. Once another mom and I had escaped, I mentioned sweet relief and made a little joke. She just stared at me before walking away. WTF?
Every morning it’s the same deal. Cliquey groups of moms gathering in the ante room after drop-off and before pick-up, with no interest in so much as shooting a smile my way. Even when I make an attempt at a hello or the start of a casual conversation. I don’t expect them to do the work — they’ve been there all year and have formed friendships which I get. But blatantly ignoring my attempts and being flat-out rude is just so hurtful.
Then there was the morning that did me in. It was freezing-cold and I’d just returned to my car from drop-off. Another mom whipped her minivan into the spot next to mine and proceeded to walk around the back of the car. I turned on my engine to warm up the car, watching her in my rearview mirror.
Moments later came a harsh rapping on my window. I rolled it down. “What are you doing?” she shouted in at me, “You’re going to run us over!” I was stunned. “I– I’m cold. I was just turning my car on,” I replied. “Yeah, well you could have run us over!” Um, what?? “No, ma’am,” I said. “I was watching you the whole time. My car is in park and I was waiting for you.” She huffed away angrily, leaving me speechless. I cried the whole way home.
All of this would make perfect sense if I was some kind of a monster. I guess I could even understand it if I showed up at the preschool in stiletto heels and a leather pencil skirt like some of the Manhattan mommies I know feel pressured to do. This is more of an Old Navy town. But even though I always wear a little makeup and dress my 2-year-old on the trendier side, we don’t stick out like sore thumbs. What am I missing here?
I’m growing weary of the coldness and lack of kindness. I see the other preschool moms just like I did the middle school girls when my parents dropped me off on the first day of transferring into a new district and no one would even look at me. I got through those hellish years by telling myself that I would never have to do this again. That one day, I would be an adult and making friends would be easier. There would be no cliques and people would just accept you for who you are and be kind. Well, it turns out I was wrong.
I assumed that this next chapter for us would bring some solid women into my life, the kind who come over for coffee, swapping recipes and husband-gripes while the kids play dress-up in the next room. I thought for sure that I could go into the halls of preschool and say “hi”, to set up some fun play dates that would lead to more. I was naive and I feel a little embarrassed about that, but my daughter is thriving and so I persevere.
My only hope now is that once my daughter is a little older and picks out her own favorite kids at school, I’ll be emboldened by those friendships to book some plans. In the meantime, my long-distance friends are my salvation. Always there when I call them to whine about the icy reception at school. They can’t come over for coffee, but they can at least listen to me while I sniffle into mine.