We moved from the city to our suburban home 11 years ago this October. Our son Daniel was about to turn one. My husband had just started a new job and, as luck would have it, he needed to fly to Arizona for a week of training the day after we moved. I took a week off from my job to stay home, unpack boxes, and find and hire a sitter for the baby. In the space of a weekend, I was transformed from a urban working mother, taking the subway to my magazine job in high-heeled boots, to a suburban short-term-single mom with a car and more than one bathroom to clean.
It felt weird.
In the middle of that strange week, Halloween arrived. I hadn’t thought much about it, but the baby did have a costume — a little cowboy hat and a cow-print vest — and I’d remembered to buy candy. Not sure what the trick-or-treat protocol was in my new neighborhood, I peered out the window. Sure enough, late in the afternoon the streets started to fill up with packs of kids and parents. I grabbed the baby, plopped his cowboy hat on, and went out on the front steps with the stroller and a bowl of candy.
People will talk to me! I thought. I have a cute baby and I’m new here!
This did not happen. People were nice, of course, but if I was expecting the Welcome Wagon and the start of many beautiful lifelong friendships, I was wrong.
I wanted to make friends. But who was I kidding? Certainly not myself — making friends has never been my strong suit. Over the length of my life so far, I’ve made plenty of acquaintances, but only a small handful of what I’d call close or dear friends. Even now, 11 years into my suburban existence, though I’ve continued to gather acquaintances (at the bus stop at first, but then at school, at the gym, on the soccer sidelines and so on) those acquaintances haven’t coalesced into a group. You know, the kind that email each other for big group playdates when the kids are toddlers, and moms’ nights out when they’re older.
And that’s fine with me, and for me. I know who I am and what serves me and feeds me, and that thing is not a big group. I know, by now, what my introverted self needs, and that’s my own company, punctuated by connection with my closest few friends. (If you’re an introvert, too — not to be confused with being shy, which I am not — read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.)
But it’s harder now — as I’m a parent of tweens whose peers seem to have those packs of pals they’ve hung out with since preschool, to witness the parent-and-kid groups all around us that my sons and I remain on the edge of, but not quite in. The fact that we most often do things just us together during school breaks (the three of us at the beach, the three of us at the movies, the three of us grabbing lunch at Wendy’s or Panera) — punctuated by outings with just a few friends — makes me wonder if it’s my fault my kids, particularly my older son, don’t have their own group.
I’ve been thinking of the friend thing as the new school year begins. James, entering fifth grade, was excited to find out that three or four of his friends from past classes and soccer teams are in his class. Watching him flit around his new classroom on a pre-first-day visit and see the names posted on the desks was a revelation for me. It’s adorable. But even this guy, who can rattle off a birthday-party-invitee list in no time flat, doesn’t have a committed group of friends. He’s mostly, like me, here at home — his social outings few and far between. My older guy, Daniel? My soon to be seventh grader who lurks on the edge of the school halls and wonders how to fit in? Well, that’s another story.
And so I wonder: If I’d tried harder, from that first “please come say hi to the cute baby and new neighbor” Halloween, would my kid be in better friend-shape? He thinks no one is interested in being his friend. We’re working on it, and he is, too: working on his social interactions and trying to understand how one goes about making a friend, which for his brother comes as naturally as sitting next to a kid in daycare.
The other day, in the car, Daniel said to me, “See, the thing is, I’m pretty sure there are kids who like me. But I always wonder, why aren’t they making the first move?”
Isn’t that an excellent question? We had a good chat about how someone has to make the first move. About how maybe that could be him, at least sometimes.
You don’t need a lot of friends. You don’t need — like some parents I’m both baffled by and jealous of — an email list and a permanent pizza-Friday group and a wing-mom and a crowd.
But you do need a friend. Any advice for my kid — or me?