Tuesday, 19 November 2013

I Meant to Make a Friend at Mothers' Group

If one more well-meaning friend or acquaintance asks me if I made a friend at mothers' group, I swear to God I will throw a tantrum fit to rival even the most talented two-year old.

Just to make sure you don't accidentally make the same mistake yourself and inadvertently put my tantrum-chucking skills to the test, I will tell you the answer to that question: No, I did not.

I had wholeheartedly intended to find myself a nice new friend at mothers' group, really I had. I had stuck the reminder notice with the date of the first meeting on the fridge and had waited expectantly for the first of the six planned mummy meetings. I didn't realise at the time that two trips to the airport (one to pick-up and one to deposit my mother-in-law), two wretched days spent fighting a fever and one primary school choir eisteddfod would actually mean that that first meeting would also be my last and therefore my one and only chance to make a good first impression and hopefully a lifelong friend (actually never mind lifelong - a friend of any description would suffice).

On the morning of that first-and-last meeting, I even made an extra-special effort in the wardrobe department, casting aside my dearly beloved tracky pants and singlet top and donning a brand new skirt. It was a recent purchase from e-bay (even just the thought of going clothes shopping post-partum was unfathomable at the time). When I tried it on, I realised it was a bit too long for me, meaning that it was quite hard not to stand on the hem unless I lifted my feet off the ground in a rather exaggerated fashion. I decided that wasn't really a problem though and besides, it was a 'one-size-fits-all', and any item of clothing that doesn't discriminate on the basis of size (especially when I 'still look pregnant' as my son so flatteringly put it) is a winner in my book.

I also went to great lengths to ensure my notoriously unpunctual Other Half was ready on time to drop us off at the Community Centre. When I say 'on time', I mean we pulled up in the car park without a minute to spare, but that in itself was a colossal achievement on his part.

He helped us unload everything from the car, then drove off to work. I rushed into the Community Centre, only to discover it empty. I asked the receptionist where the Mothers' Group was and she looked at me blankly.

"Maybe they're meeting at the Community Centre in Kent Street", she suggested.

"Isn't this Kent Street?" I asked bewildered. I had had the reminder notice on the fridge for weeks and had assumed all the time that this street must have been Kent Street. I thought I lived in a small town. I thought small towns only had one Community Centre. I thought I had been super organised. Wrong, it turned out, to all of the above.

I frantically called my Other Half who luckily answered the phone. He turned the car around, came and picked us up and together we found the real meeting place of the newest mothers in Busselton.

By the time we pulled up in the car park, we were twenty minutes late.

I walked up to a door with 'Mothers' Group in Progress' sign on it, knocked and let myself in. The room was absolutely jam packed with mums and bubs and the conversation suddenly came to an abrupt halt as I entered the room.

"Hello!" said the leader, in a friendly but somewhat surprised tone, almost as if I turned up to a party I hadn't actually been invited to.

"I'm so sorry I'm late", I mumbled.

"Not a problem at all", she said kindly, "I'll just go and find you a seat".

I had been hoping to be able to slip quietly into the room and slide onto a free chair, but no such luck.She put down the whiteboard marker she'd been using to create some sort of brainstorm and left the room. An awkward silence descended upon the group in her absence and I stood there waiting around like a loose part. A few of the woman started to talk quietly among themselves, but nobody looked at me. Five minutes (which felt like fifty) later, she came back into the room. She was carrying a tiny little kindergarten chair under her arm.

"Sorry", she said, "This was all I could find."

I sat myself down on my little seat with my knees bunched up around my chin and my baby on my lap.

"So, where were we?" asked the leader brightly, taking a deep breath.

Everyone refocused their attention on her expectantly. Then she looked at me again.

"Oh that's right", she said, "You need a name tag".

I could feel the room let out a collective sigh of exasperation.

She handed me a sheet of sticky-back labels and a permanent marker.

With all eyes upon me, I uncapped the pen but I cracked under the pressure of performing this routine task for an audience, and dropped the lid on the ground. As I leaned over to pick it up, my baby girl squirmed in the opposite direction. The women on either side of me gasped.

"Are you okay?" The woman to my left asked with her eyes bulging in concern. In my flustered state, it appeared that I had almost dropped the baby. In front of a room full of strangers, I had almost let my precious little angel, who I had hardly ever let out of my sight since the day she was born, fall out of my arms. I was mortified.

"Yes. Thank you. I'm fine", I answered, my face burning red.

"Are you sure?" she asked me again.

To my right, I heard the woman next to me whisper "Oh my God", to the mother sitting on the other side of her. They had clearly never seen anything quite so irresponsible before in their lives.

I quickly grabbed the pen and scribbled my name down. It crossed my mind that a pseudonym might have been a good idea so that word about town could not get out that I was a baby-dropper. But then again, if anyone picked up on it somehow, word might get out that I was a pathological liar as well as a baby-dropper, so I opted for my real name.

"Now", said the leader again, "For most of you, this is probably your first experience of motherhood. Could I just have a show of hands though to see which of you have any other children?"

I assumed that several of the other mothers in the room would have other children at kindy or at school and so I shot my hand up without thinking that this would draw much attention to myself. Not so. I felt a shift in the room as all eyes, once again, turned towards me. In a room of what must have been at least twenty mothers, I was the only one with my hand in the air. I suddenly wished that I had raised it more inconspicuously; you know, a little half hand raise, or a slight raise of an index finger. Not the whole arm flung up in the air for all to see. Luckily, I was able to keep my baby steady with the other arm this time round. I could almost hear their collective thoughts as they stared at me: YOU have another child? Are you sure? How, exactly, did it survive its infancy?? 

I went through the motions of explaining the age of gender of this miraculously surviving offspring and then did my best to sink into my toddler-sized chair and slip under the radar.

Sometimes that's so much easier said than done though, isn't it?

After she had produced a symphony of flatulence of such volume that it halted the group discussion on more than one occasion and produced several nervous titters from the room at large, I decided I really had to leave the room and change my daughter's nappy in the adjoining room where a change mat was provided.

I had planned on doing this as discreetly as possible, but as I stood up to walk through the circle of chairs and cross the room, I trod on the back of my extra-long, elastic-waisted skirt, dragging it down from around my hips to reveal a good 10 cm of underpants. I may have made an effort in the clothing department that morning, but I had really not spared a thought for the quality of my undergarments, suffice to say that they were ancient, probably once white but now turned battleship-grey and probably not even worth keeping as a rag for scrubbing the floor. As I quickly yanked up my skirt, I did stop to count my blessings though. It could have been worse. At least I wasn't wearing one of those dental-floss-for-your-derrière numbers that I used to sport pre-motherhood.

By the time I got back from the nappy-change, I was really quite exhausted and all I wanted to do was sit down, relax and have a nice little chat to another nice new mother and find myself a nice new friend. A quick look at the clock told me I only had five minutes to do so though because I had to leave early to pick up Ben from school.

I turned to the lady on my left, who was nursing a gorgeous little bub in a green jumpsuit.

I decided I would be the one to break the ice. There are several ways I could have done this, I suppose, but there are some standard ways to pluck up an easy conversation with a new mum.

I took a deep breath, grinned at her and said: "He's gorgeous. What's his name?"

And just as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wished I could sink into my toddler chair and never be seen again.

"Her name", she smiled back at me through clenched teeth, "is Jessica".

So what about you? Did you manage to make a friend at mother's group? Say no, or I might just have to have that tantrum after all. 

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