I’ve never had trouble making friends. In high school, I was that kid who bopped from group to group, never settling with any one posse, happily getting along with people from all different social circles.
And then I got older. And then I became a mom.
Our friends and colleagues were split… They were either single and childless, or had kids that were older. Having a little one meant trying to stick to a schedule, making plans around naptimes because the kid never slept in his car seat or stroller, or honestly, just being too tired to bother making plans anyway. Thankfully, our friends stuck around, simply accepting that things would be different for a while.
In the very early years, I was fine with that. I liked being in our little bubble – my husband, our son, and me. We have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who love the three of us like family. People had no problem coming to us when our son was a baby because it was just easier that way. My husband and I have always been homebodies, so we always seemed to have friends over for dinner, or drinks, or parties. We eventually found babysitters that we trusted and managed to hit the town every now and then, whether it was for a just-the-two-of-us date night, or getting a group of friends together for a concert.
But I realized that, even though we had plenty of friends, and several of those friends had been there for things like our son’s earliest steps or his first trip to the ER, I didn’t really have anybody who was experiencing the same sorts of things that I was, when I was. I had mom friends, but none of those moms had a baby when I did.
I was an older first-time mom, which put me in a weird place. I was 36 when my son was born. Some of my friends with more than one kid in school hadn’t even turned thirty yet. Friends who were closer to my age had kids already in middle and high school.
I had the same out-of-place feeling when our son started nursery school. Some of the moms dropping off and picking up were clearly younger than me, some looked much older. Some showed up in sundresses, floppy hats, platform wedges, and a full face of makeup. Others, wearing business attire, dropped their kids off, but a nanny picked them up. The moms that looked like me, in baggy t-shirts, worn yoga pants, and beat-up sneakers, didn’t talk much. I didn’t either. We chit-chatted, said hello and goodbye, but that was about it. We never discussed having playdates because at two years old, the kids barely played together anyway. I told myself I’d be better about making mom friends and scheduling playdates when my son got to preschool.
Except in preschool, I felt like the odd one out again. A lot of the moms there seemed to know each other already, because they had older kids who had also been in the school together. Or they lived on the same street, or they went to the same church. Their kids’ friendships had already been established and cemented, thanks to past experiences and neighborhood proximity to each other.
Not that my son minded, or was even aware. At preschool, he seemed to play with different classmates all the time, not really attaching himself to anybody. The teachers told me that he was well-liked by all the kids and was a good helper and friend. We managed a few playdates with different kids here and there – we had a friend over or met up at the playground. We went to lots of 4th birthday parties and a bunch of kids showed up to his. The moms were all nice, but after two years of preschool, I just never seemed to connect with anybody. I thought for sure that once he settled into kindergarten and he got close with somebody, I’d eventually find a mom friend that I had something in common with.
I pictured our two kids, chasing each other on the playground while we stood by, chugging our coffee and chatting. I imagined finding a mom friend that my kid loved, who loved my kid right back. I imagined having someone who I could ask for advice, someone I could complain to, someone who’d been there, who was right there in the middle of all the same mom stuff as I was.
And then the pandemic hit. My son finished preschool online via structured Zoom sessions twice a week. A parent set up a weekly free-for-all social Zoom session for the kids to keep in touch with each other, but my son and I only logged on once. There was so much screaming and noise that he looked at me, his eyes filling with tears, and said with frustration, “Everybody’s talking, but nobody’s listening.” When the day of the next call rolled around, he didn’t even want to bother and I didn’t push it.
His class had a socially distanced graduation in the school parking lot. For his birthday, we arranged a drive-by celebration, with his teachers and classmates riding around the block and waving from their cars. It was a strange and sad way to start the summer, but given the situation, I was okay closing our little bubble around us once again.
Still, I was concerned about what all of the isolation would do to our only child. Would he start to act out? Would my confident, independent child become fearful and clingy? After online preschool and me also “mom-schooling” him, would he get bored and hate the idea of school? Would he be socially awkward after not having any play time with kids his age?
On top of all that worry, I also felt a ton of guilt. Maybe if I’d actually made some friends, he’d be more connected to his classmates. Maybe I’d be able to at least FaceTime a mom so that he could see one of his buddies outside of Zoom preschool. My husband tried to reassure me that our son wouldn’t be the only kid in the same boat. I told myself that I’d definitely be better about being more social once kindergarten started.
And then our school district decided that all learning would take place online, filling me with all the mixed feelings. I hate that my kid didn’t get to ride the bus to school – something he’s been waiting years for! – and that he doesn’t get to experience a busy day of learning and playing in the classroom. But I also know that even if he did get to go to school, his kindergarten experience wouldn’t look anything like it normally would. I’m fine with keeping him home, because he doesn’t know what he’s missing; he hasn’t had a taste of real school yet. I would hate for him to start at school, only to have school shut down again in a few weeks, like what’s already happening at colleges around the country. I would also really hate to have to explain to him that one of his friends or teachers is sick, or that someone’s mom or dad got sick.
I was dreading the start of school, imagining his disappointment at having to greet his teacher and classmates on a screen every day, instead of seeing them in the classroom. I tried to steel myself for his frustration at being stuck with me once again, still, day in and day out.
I was not prepared for what happened instead. That first morning, he hopped out of bed and gobbled up his breakfast. When it was time to get ready, he went to the bathroom, washed his hands, and brushed his teeth the first time I asked. He attempted to make his bed and started getting dressed, just like we talked about. Then he climbed up into his desk chair and together we navigated our way to his online classroom. Even though the pictures of his teacher and classmates were small and grainy, he introduced himself, loud and proud, the way we talked about. I tried to stay out of the way and let him do his thing. He raised his hand again and again, eager to participate. When his main class was done for the morning, we explored the online assignments for PE, music, math, art, Spanish and STEAM.
Every day that first week (and so far into the second), my son has made sure to have his supplies ready and his homework done. He has logged on, paid attention, and followed directions. On the days where he has had a recorded art or STEAM lesson, he busied himself trying out all of the extra activities the teachers offered. Miraculously, I have even managed to get some of my own work done while he’s been busy with schoolwork.
Kindergarten might not look the way we thought it would, but it’s easy to see that he’s excited about what he’s doing. He hangs on the teacher’s every word, he’s on the edge of his seat for every story. He is happy to show his dad the song he learned in music or the exercises he did in PE. He does his homework without complaint. I know this won’t always be the case, so I’ll take it.
There have been some technological bumps along the way, which was to be expected. I checked with our local Facebook parents’ group and learned that we’re not the only ones who’ve had issues. Thankfully, experienced parents have shared helpful tips and workarounds. As some of us first-time-kindergarten parents in the group have tried to find our way around virtual school, we’ve discovered other parents whose kids are in the same class. On the first day, a mom messaged me to ask me a question about our kids’ schedule. The next day, I had to ask her for help with a tech issue. We’ve never met each other in person, but we both agreed that it was comforting to know we had someone to go to if we had a question.
My son has asked if he’ll get to go to school “when the virus is over,” but he doesn’t seem bothered in the least about not getting to see his teachers and classmates face to face. Somehow, his five-year-old brain seems to understand that school is for learning, and that is what he is most focused on right now, so I’ve started to relax a little. All I can do is take things one day at a time.
Someday, hopefully soon, he’ll get to go to his school. Someday, he’ll get to meet his classmates and play with his friends and give his teachers high-fives and big hugs. Someday, I’ll find myself standing next to another mom at the bus stop and we’ll smile at each other and introduce ourselves. And whether she’s older or younger than me, the mom of an only child or multiple, there’s no denying we’ll have something in common. We’ll have mommed through this. And hopefully, we can be friends.