Monday, 22 August 2011

Mammy No Mates

Monday, 22 August 2011
I don’t make friends easily. I never have, on reflection. At least with girls – I always had more boy friends than girl ones. I’m a weird uber-opinionated introvert – I have lots to say, but am only really comfortable doing so in trusted company. And then you can’t get me to shut up. I’m not shy, per se, but unless I can spot some obvious common ground in a room full of strangers (cool shoes and tour t-shirts are the best kinds of giveaways) the incline of my tendencies is most certainly more ‘wallflower’ than ‘social butterfly’. Sober, at least.

When I was pregnant with Ben (this was 2004) I felt more than usually isolated; I didn’t know anyone else in my immediate proximity that was also pregnant. I mean, I knew a few people… I was friendly with a few people, but my bestest best girl-friends were all an ocean away. Don’t get me wrong; they were great – they were all really excited, but I had no one to shop for tiny socks with. And I really, really wanted someone to shop for tiny socks with.

I decided that time was right for me to get some “Mum Friends”. For most of my life, I heard tell of friends that my own Mum made while she was pregnant with me – dynamic and affectionate women in baby clinics with whom she immediately bonded. And 30-something years later, she still counts them amongst her closest friends. So discomfort be damned: I was going to find some, too.

So, fuelled by occasionally distressing thoughts of a lonely winter maternity leave with no one to talk to while my husband was occupied with the business of being sole breadwinner, I went to a couple of baby-related workshops and mama-groups – well hello there, boundaries of my comfort zone – to see what, and more specifically who, was on offer. But soft – what hope through yonder stretch marks break? There was one girl at the breastfeeding workshop – for the purposes of this story I’ll call her Mary – who, to my surprise, I struck up a conversation with, and at the end of the session we exchanged numbers. We were due within weeks of one another with our first kids; as good a common ground to start from as any, I figured.

We did see each other once or twice – she had her daughter as scheduled a few weeks before I had Ben; I remember going round to her house to see the baby, and spent an hour or so catching up, getting to know one another. I went round again just before Ben was born, and recall a bit of an odd blip in the conversation in which she seemed really uncomfortable when I didn’t reply in the affirmative to her line of questioning surrounding our plans to have our baby christened. I wouldn’t say I felt ill at ease exactly, but it was a palpable bump, nonetheless. She plainly gave rise to her intentions and her faith and I thought it pointless and a little futile to get into “the whole thing” with her and I steered the conversation elsewhere.

I guess this would be a useful opportunity to state my case on the matter. No need to steel yourself for paragraph after paragraph of religious deliberation, please don’t click away. My spirituality and/or faith is a fairly basic premise: I feel very spiritual, but I’m not a Christian. I don’t worship anything (save chocolate and a wall of Marshall stacks) but I don’t ram this fact down everyone’s throat. Reciprocally, I don’t expect it to be rammed down mine. I don’t claim to be an expert in these things, but I’d say that’s a fair exchange by anyone’s measure. I can’t prove what I believe and neither can you, and neither of us is going to convince the other of anything different, so let us agree to talk about something else – in this instance there was indeed plenty going on; dilating cervixes, swollen ankles, Braxton Hickses, what have you.

So – back to Mary. I called her a few times in the subsequent months, but we never saw each other again.  I tried to initiate another connection with her, but nothing ever materialised.

I’m not completely ignorant of the fact that maybe we both realised that we didn’t really have a lot in common other than our swollen bellies. Maybe she took pity on me and my foreigner-in-England-with-no-mates sob story and thought she’d see if I had anything interesting to say. And maybe I didn’t. But, in earnest, there has always been a part of me that wondered if she took one look at my rusted, busted Christ-o-meter and thought better of striking a closer acquaintance, lest my long and distinguished vocation as a godless, practicing heathen taint her by association. Or maybe it was Christmas and she was busy and then lost my number, etc. etc. etc.

Who knows?

But I was reminded of it all this weekend, when I bumped into her - kind of.

I went for a swim at the local baths this Sunday morning, and walked into the leisure centre at the exact same time as her, her two absolutely adorable daughters, and her husband. I recognised her straight away – I am shit with names but I never forget a face – but if I was familiar to her she gave nothing away. We didn’t say a word to one another – I guess I wanted to spare her the embarrassment of not remembering me, if indeed that was the case.  

I never bothered with any of the “Mum Friends” when I was having Jude. I knew the drill; I didn’t feel the need. I had Jude in the summer – that meant lots of lovely weather to get out for walks in, etc. I kept this blog, I found pages upon pages of sisterly consolation in fellow bloggers, and I passed the ten months of my maternity leave very cheerfully indeed.

But as I was swimming on Sunday, I thought: isn’t it weird how no one is supposed to care what other people think of them, but actually, everybody secretly does? I mean, when I rewind through the poignant moments of the last 20 years or so, I’m not taken with hysterics at the giant gaping hole left by Mary McJudgey-Judger, the holy roller of a friend who never was. I’ve got more blessings than fingers and toes to count them with, and I know it. And I’m thankful and grateful every single day. But it really pisses me off that there is someone – and the laws of averages tell me that she’s likely not the only one – that has possibly made a judgement about me, and my personality, and my lifestyle, etc. based on what she perceived it was missing, rather than what was actually there. Shame.

Ah – it’s no matter; she probably liked shit music anyway.  :-)

12 people had something to say about this...:

syl said...

damn it, nic, this just makes me miss you more.

Mammy P said...


Jenn~* said...

Not all Christers are assholes. ;) I love you..and surely her self imposed superiority isn't very Christian, now is it? Her loss...cuz I couldn't be without you. xo

Lis said...

I will have to post a blog about the wonders of finding friends in strange places because rather than remind me of my own judgey-mcjudgernots (and i have a few too) your beautifully written blog reminded me that I am thankful for the surprising friends found in surprising places! ;)...m

Jenlen said...

You made friends with me and I'm a girl and i loved you straight away... Well almost (i was a bit scared of you in the interview ;oP

Who'd wanna be friends with anyone who makes judgements anyway.

Love it when you write so candidly about your thoughts. So talented xx

Mammy P said...

Jenn: you're right - they're not. But it always kind of takes me especially by surprise when they are, because isn't that like, "Rule #1: Be Nice to People"? Weird.

Lis: do you think we'd have become friends if Facebook wasn't invented? Like, if we met first in a bar, or a class? Actually, at first I thought not but YEAH WE SO WOULD. :-)

JenLen: ahhh, my JenniLenni. I clocked you straight away as My Kind of Girl - as determined a shameless flirt as I ever dared to be - and therefore a kindred spirit. :-)


Lis said...

See Mammy, you can't think that way. We would have been friends regardless because Facebook was invented... it is not the how that matters! If you ask yourself, would we be friends if we met in high school and you think no, then maybe that is why we met on Facebook in 2007! I must tell you, I think we would be friends regardless... friendships are about the heart and mine has always been this way! ;) And I think you have always had your heart too... big hugs from over here.

Fame Throwa said...

Hm, how, what?

If you don't make girlfriends easily, I must be the most awkward social hermit out there considering you have about 20 times the girlfriends I do. (Me having about 4 girlfriends. Seriously. Thank gawd for sisters, who have to love me.)

I always felt you were like my younger sister: people are dying to be picked as your friend, but not everyone is lucky enough to be.

I know I feel pretty damn special being amongst the few cool enough to qualify and am sometimes bewildered that I made the cut.

It's frustrating being an ocean apart from those who get you best, but I can say that it takes time and complete coincidence to build new friends, especially as we age, so I'm certain over the year your girlfriend list will grow over there.

Danielle said...

First, it has been established that you should back to Canada.

Second, I'm so with you. I've met few wonderful mum friends, and I count myself very lucky for it. The others have been a rough bunch. Lots of looking down noses, lots of pretending I don't exist. If I didn't already know you, I would have still fallen in love instantly and hoped that you would talk to me. Then I'd ask you to prom! Again!

Mammy P said...

Fame: you're lovely! :-) 20 times the girlfriends? Well, by my calculations you must have like, a third of a friend, then. I maybe have lots of people I know, but not very many I have a really tangible, strong connection with.

Danielle: I think the real rub here is the whole Canada vs. England and Younger Me vs. Mammy Me -- my Canadian friends who I got to know when I was younger are all cool and we all have tons in common, and I wouldn't be without them for anything... but trying to replicate that same thing over here as a mother and 15 years older is a tricky business!


Fame Throwa said...

Mammy P and Danielle:

Do you think some people change with motherhood? I mean, could it be these "down the nose lookers" were cool pre-motherhood and would have been our friends, but somehow by giving birth they became convinced they always know best, that their and their kids' needs come before all, that if you don't agree with them that you're not worth their time?

If that is true, it means the choice of friends is being greatly reduce as we go through our reproducing years, which could explain Mammy P's challenge. The odds are just lower!

Mammy P said...

I'm not sure... I think motherhood undoubtedly changes you, and it's certainly true that I put my kids needs before my own, but I try not to imply that they must be satisfied without due care and consideration to anyone else's. I think people that are idiots probably always were idiots, and people that are cool just wind up being the coolest mothers.

Maybe it's just circumstantial: when we were in school, we were just 'us', in the same boat as loads of other people like us, who were dealing with the same concerns and at the same point on our life's path as everyone else. Where else do you encounter those kind of prime friendship-striking conditions? I'm almost never on my own anymore. And if I am, I'm hardly ever in the company of other people in similar circumstances who are also on their own, who are looking for a kindred spirit.