A few tips on how not to make friends at baby groups:
- Project crippling insecurity. Yeah, stop the press — a real insider tip there. And yet so hard to avoid. I was sure with my first that everyone else could see my crashing incompetence that I sat in groups vibrating with angst so strong that I could feel others edging away from me. (Or was that my paranoia again? Vicious/ironic circle!) Of course I’m much more blasé this time around. Except that this week The Bee has had an ear infection and, at a baby group we’d not been to before, I became convinced that other mums were thinking “That baby has stinky ears. That is Stinky Ear Baby and his Stinky Ear Mum.” We were clearly going to get a reputation. I became so sure of this that when one kindly mum did strike up conversation I found myself, a propos of absolutely nothing that she had said, blurting “EAR INFECTION! He doesn’t usually smell like this, you know! I do wash him! But I’m sure he’s not contagious! Unless you rub your ears on him! Er! HA HA!” and thereby self-fulfilling the prophecy. If that woman recalls us as anything but Blameless Bewildered Baby and his Verbally Incontinent Mum, we’ll be bloody lucky.
- Conversely, come on too strong. Here’s a script:
Hi, fellow adult at baby group. I know that the interactions you and I can have are as subject to an unspoken protocol as any diplomatic entente. First we can smile at each other’s kids, then very briefly at each other. In time, with a fair wind, we can enquire as to those respective kids’ ages, and even names, and pronounce them gorgeous. In a few weeks we might lie them next to each other and pretend they are interacting. A few weeks after that we can officially complain to each other about how wretched our offspring are. Then we can admit we don’t actually know each other’s names, and if all goes well one of us may take the plunge and moot a playdate. We’ll get through a few of those before we can drop the Pinterest-mum façade and get down to eating biscuits, setting the world to rights, and arranging lifesaving cocktail nights. The thing is, I am very busy and very tired and very, very starved for adult company. This morning I attempted to banter with a self-checkout. I am on the verge of actually calling Call You and Yours. I need a friend now, not several months down the line, by which point you might have gone back to work and my toddler might have taken such an aversion to getting dressed that we can’t actually make it to group any more. So: I see you have a BABY there! Me too! IT’S LIKE WE’RE SOULMATES! What’s say we skip the 1950s chaperoned-dating routine and just swap numbers now? …You… seem to be backing rapidly away?
- Drop your baby. Yep. Did it with The Bird at our regular group, during circle time. She had better core strength than I realized, and pitched herself forward out of my arms, bonk onto the wooden floor head first. You can imagine the wailing that ensued (and the baby was pretty upset too). Another time (when she was much older) she was riding up on my shoulders and decided to practice her Olympic freestyle dive. I caught her by one leg. Carrying on like this doesn’t convince other parents that, given your cavalier approach to your own child’s safety, you’d be the ideal person to invite into their lives and homes. If you can fling your own kid merrily onto the floor, what might you do with theirs while they pop upstairs to the loo?
- Feed your baby beforehand. Of course you have to feed your baby. But your baby, once fed, will need to poo, and if yours is anything like mine it will sometimes time that activity such that you spend the entire baby group in the toilets, changing a succession of increasingly outrageous nappies, finishing only when the group itself is drawing to a close and leaving you with nothing to show for your house-leaving efforts but a nicely disgusting nappy bag with which to alienate your fellow passengers on the homebound bus.
Despite these pratfalls I’ve managed to be adopted by a group of friends without whom I would be completely and utterly buggered. If you can exceed my achievements, i.e. by having a modicum of social competence, pat yourself on the back. You’re going to be just fine.