Becoming a parent is like being hit by a freight train: it whisks you away from everything that is familiar- your work, friends, social life- and leaves you gasping and disorientated. Friendship is what gets you back in your feet again.
Since moving from a tight-knit community to a small market town, I have struggled to make friends. I think they can smell my desperation at the school gates so no one meets my rabid smile. The man in One Stop is nice to me and I chat with the postman but I would say the butcher is probably my main regular contact in the town and I don’t think he knows my name.
I saw a poster at the GP surgery (one of the loneliest places in the world for a new parent) advertising a Chat and Play session at our local Children’s Centre and something about the wording spoke to me.
I had a whacking long list of jobs to do but I have felt the low-level hum of loneliness for a while. I miss not having someone to text and say ‘I’m off to the park in five mins -fancy coming too?’ It feels like an age since someone knocked on my door because they were passing. I really miss knowing my neighbours’ names. I blame growing up in a small village of busy-bodies for my need for a network of people.
Anyway. It took a lot for me to go to this session. I felt deeply self-conscious and a bit tearful and silly.
I nearly bolted when I got there. I was the only one with a child over a year old. I even went to the sign-in sheet and said, with a watery lump of shame in my throat: ‘Sorry, I think I’ve misjudged this’.
Then more and more women came in. Some with babies. Some with older children. And I said, out loud, to a room full of women I didn’t know, ‘I feel really lonely at the moment. I feel like I’ve slipped through the cracks and I’m the only one’
I have a great network of friends. Loyal, clever, kind and hilarious women who would do, and have done, anything for me. I am utterly grateful for them. However, you need friends who’ve got children the same age as yours. It’s oddly vital to socialising on weekdays: my friend who doesn’t work on Fridays doesn’t want to come to soft play on her day off now her kids are at school. Who would?!
So today I said all this out loud to a room full of strangers and four of them looked right back at me and said ‘I understand’
The lovely staff there suggested a regular meet up. What about the local garden centre? They’re looking to reach out to the community, aren’t they? What about applying for a grant from the Council? That way you could make some fliers and spead the word, couldn’t you?
So that’s what we did. We murbled our way through a round of Wheels on the Bus, put our shoes back on, wrestled the kids in to their coats and bobble hats and, there and then, five of us went straight to the local garden centre cafe.
After a couple of rounds of coffee and cake and a meeting with the manager we set a regular time and date and founded ourselves a new group.
It felt really, really good and it wasn’t even midday yet!
So thank you, Jo Cox Foundation. Thank you for getting a room full of women together and allowing us to use the ‘L’ word without shame. Thank you for helping me find other people who get it: I already feel far less alone.
We are meeting at Wymondham Garden Nursery at 10am on Friday mornings. We will be there next week (1st December) and the cake portions are generous so why not come along?