The least threatening person in the room

The girls and I have a play date tonight with a woman I met at the library last weekend. Her kids are the exact same age as mine, and she was wearing leggings as pants, too, so I know there’s major friendship potential here. So of course, this means I will probably definitely do something stupid to ruin it.

Remember when you were in elementary school, and making friends was as easy as walking up to someone and asking them if they wanted to play John F. Kennedy Assassination? (This was a legit game that my friends and I played in the third grade. You can pretend to be freaked out by it, or you can admire our love of American history from such a young age.) Even in graduate school, my approach to making new friends was to stride up to my chosen target and blurt out “You seem like the least threatening person here, would you please be friends with me?” Amazingly, this worked—looking back, this could have really backfired and I could have gone through graduate school as The Girl Who Drastically Misread Someone’s Body Language and Is Now Their Bitch.

Now that I’m out in the real world, though, making friends is much more difficult. Most of my best friends live in other cities or even other states, and I don’t see the ones who live nearby as much as I would like. Sure, I have my work friends—it’s not really difficult to make friends when you spend 40 hours a week together and free coffee is provided—but work friends have their own lives on the weekends, and suddenly someone you’re fairly chummy with at work becomes an embarrassed teenager when you try to wave them down in the razor aisle at Target on a Sunday afternoon.

So that leaves only one option: making new mommy friends.

One would think that this would be fairly easy—“You’ve got kids? I’VE got kids! What a zany coincidence, let’s drink wine while our kids destroy the basement!” But befriending other moms is a minefield that must be navigated carefully. It turns out, for instance, that some moms insist on feeding their children actual food, and not chicken puree molded into the shape of a dinosaur, and they will judge you harshly for your non-organic choices. They will also judge you for breastfeeding too long, or for not long enough, or for breastfeeding with a cover on, because dammit, it is your constitutional right to have your boob just OUT THERE, and you should definitely take advantage, even if having strangers see your boob is at the top of your list of nightmares.

So you must navigate these initial meetings as carefully as Nixon brokering détente with China. You want to appear organic, but not too organic. Your kids eat Stonyfield Farm yogurt, but you don’t feed them muesli, because you’re not an animal. You’re involved, but not too involved, because helicopter parents, amirite? You buy your children’s clothes at Children’s Place, because Walmart is too cheap and Janie and Jack is too excessive. It’s a very complicated dance, until one of you blurts out that you really just buy most of your kids’ clothes off Ebay because they’re just going to destroy them all anyway and they only eat Easy Mac and Gogurt and you have definitely allowed them to be babysat by the TV a few times in the last week and you haven’t shaved your legs in a month because every time you try, the baby waddles in and rips her diaper off and looks you right in the eye and then drops the whole diaper in the toilet and tries to flush it, so you have to get out of the shower naked and dripping and screaming and scrabbling at the septic bomb as it swirls to oblivion.

Then there will be an excruciating silence. The whole friendship is determined in this silence.

Sometimes, the other mom grabs her children against her bosom while backing slowly from the room, maintaining eye contact with you the entire time to make sure that you don’t lunge at them with your substandard parenting. Most often, the date just peters out, and you promise to call each other again, but then never do, and you’re both fine with it. But every once in a while, that silence is broken by two simple words—ME, TOO—and that’s how you know you’ve found the least threatening person in the room.

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