Dear Stupid Parent,
Ask yourself this: ‘When is the last time I chatted openly and without suspicion with someone I’ve never met before?’
If you’re anything like me, it’s been a while. In fact, until today, I’m thinking maybe even a decade or so. Apart from the odd reserved and brief conversation at a bus stop about the weather or something equally as banal, it really has been years since I really tried to engage with and get to know someone I’ve never met before. Often, I’ll see someone on a train or in a queue who’s wearing shoes I like the look of or reading a book I’ve read and it’ll cross my mind to start a conversation but most times, I don’t. I worry they’ll think I’m a weirdo or that they’ve had a stressful day and won’t appreciate my encroaching on their wind-down time, or they won’t understand my accent and I’ll end up stuck starting at a blank face until they eventually turn around and walk away leaving me wilted and embarrassed.
My Toddler Boy on the otherhand, has none of these concerns, ever. Like most young children, when he sees someone he likes the look of, he walks right up to them, waves in their face and says “hewow.” It doesn’t for a second enter his head that his gorgeous little attempt at friendship might be rejected and even when it is (which happens more often than it doesn’t) he carries on about his business, unscathed, unharmed and as determined as ever to make a new friend. It’s not that he’s confident exactly, more that he’s innocent to the feelings of hurt and rejection that can take hold when we make ourselves vulnerable in any relationship – even those only a few seconds old.
Recently, we went to our local park on a weekday afternoon where dozens of primary school children were playing . There was a small group of 3 or 4 little girls playing hide and seek and for some reason, they caught Toddler Boy’s eye. After standing on the sidelines watching them for a while, he obviously decided that he’d be their friend; he walked up to the girl counting at the tree before starting the hunt for her pals, and stood uncomfortably close, staring at her, smiling. Unsurprisingly, as soon as she spotted him, she ran – like, not in the ‘ready or not, here I come’ kind of way, more in a ‘holy crap, why’s this creep standing so close he could smell me?’ kind of way. Toddler Boy obviously thought this was part of their game so when she legged it, he legged it after her squealing – literally, squealing – with pure glee! And when she reached her mum shouting “Mummyyyyyy! This baby’s following meeeeee!” and hiding behind her legs, I couldn’t help but admire the way my little chap figuratively shrugged his teeny tiny shoulders, turned around, picked up a big stick and started whacking the life out of the leaves on the ground; no new friend but happy nonetheless.
Six months ago, just before I started my second maternity leave, I downloaded an app called Mush and joined its online community. It’s aimed at parents who are interested in meeting other parents in their local area. Great in theory but pretty terrifying in practice. I’ve got a profile with a photo, a description and everything but I’ve been too scared to actually use it. So imagine my panic when I got a message from a woman telling me she lived nearby, was also on maternity leave and would love to meet up. It took me 3 days to reply. When I did, I typed my response with shaking fingers and edited it a ridiculous number of times before clicking send. I mean, what was I so worried about? She’d made the first step, surely that made her the vulnerable one – the worst that could happen would be that we wouldn’t get on and then we’d never have to meet again. No biggie.
Anyway, fast forward a week and we’ve met – she was awful, I hated her and will have to eliminate her immediately. JOKES! She was lovely, easy to talk to and we got on really well. Which is lucky considering she lives roughly 10 doors away. Seriously.
Yes, I was as nervous as I would be if I were to strike up a conversation with someone on the train, yes I worried she’d think me annoying or stupid or not cool enough, yes, yes, yes, I walked to our agreed meeting place feeling a bit like the new kid on the first day at school but I did it anyway and I really feel like I’ve achieved something. I even think Toddler Boy would be proud of me if he had any clue about the self-doubt that often cripples seemingly logical, fully-grown humans. Hopefully he forever stays as willing to instigate new friendships as he is now. I can’t promise that when I see the opportunity for a new mini-friendship I’ll always take it – or even that I’ll want to but I learned a lesson today so every now and again I’m going to try my best to be more kid; or at least, be more like my kid.