I generally don’t like dolling out parenting advice. But if there was one piece of advice I would give all mothers, it’s this: if you can, volunteer to go on just one field trip with your kid’s class. I did recently, and it was a ‘Eureka!’ moment.
I’ve never been good at making friends with other mothers at my children’s school, mostly because I never really tried. I have mom friends at my daughter’s school, but we were friends before we were mothers. At my son’s school, I’d say that I’m ‘friendly’ with a couple of moms. And by friendly, I mean I can make small talk at birthday parties, but it’s not like we go out for drinks or meet up for coffee. I don’t even have their phone numbers.
I’m not oblivious to the fact that there are mother’s at my daughter’s school who are quite cliquey and often go out with each other and their kids in one big group. And, let’s be honest, there’s a point where it’s just too damn late to join in, or be welcomed in. That point happened about five years ago, when I gave up entirely on making new mom friends with the mothers in my daughter’s grade.
I didn’t think I cared that I didn’t become close friends with any of my daughter’s classmate’s mothers. But I think I care more than I care to admit. Because it bothers me…almost constantly.
At my daughter’s private school, most parents drive through the roundabout, drop their kid off at the school entrance, and leave. Repeat again in the afternoon. So I’ve never really made any new mom friends, because I never had to get out of the car. Sure there were many opportunities to volunteer, as class reps, or at their used clothing store in the school, but those volunteering opportunities are year-long commitments, and as a working mother, I couldn’t commit to the many hours they were asking for. Even when an e-mail went out, asking for volunteers to go on class field trips, I never went. Why? Because there is an entire contingent of mothers who jump at the chance to go on field trips, quicker than gossip spreads in high school. Before I could even finish reading an e-mail asking for volunteers, another e-mail would arrive in my inbox, telling me, ‘All volunteer spaces have been taken.’ Some mothers, apparently, have rapid-fire fingers, that’s for sure. So even when I tried to fit in, it just never happened.
So when an e-mail arrived, asking for volunteers to go on a field trip with my son’s JK/SK class, I signed up. First, they were going to the zoo, which I thought sounded fun. Second, I never actually thought I’d ‘get in.’ Turns out, in public school, or at least in my son’s class, the teachers are more than happy to take all the volunteers they can get. I was in. And when I told my son I was going on his field trip, he was ridiculously happy, which in itself, is reason to volunteer on a class field trip.
Yet, I was terrified to go on this field trip. First, I am far from confident when taking care of other people’s children. Even though it turned out I only had to take care of two kids, one of which was mine, I still worried. Second, since my son’s caregiver usually drops him off and picks him up at school, so I wasn’t even sure if the teachers knew that my son had a mother. I would, practically, be meeting his teachers for the first time, just as the school year is winding down. Lastly, and I feel silly about this in retrospect, I was nervous about hanging out with other parent volunteers. I worried that they all knew each other. I worried we wouldn’t have anything in common to talk about. I worried I’d feel left out and the day would be very long and lonely.
To be honest, I was dreading the field trip, asking myself why the hell didn’t I volunteer on a field trip that was just half a day, instead of this full day at the zoo. I thought of a million reasons to bail, but my son’s enthusiasm that I was coming along far outweighed my urge to bail. But something happened on this field trip. The parent volunteers were put in groups of four parents, each of us having to take care of two kids. My group of parent volunteers were the most friendly women I have met in a very long time, perhaps in my entire adult life.
Somehow, the stars aligned that day and I immediately bonded with the three other mothers also volunteering, so much so that we chatted the entire day and helped each other with all the children in our group. At one point, we were so involved in our conversation, we actually lost the kids in our group, but let’s not get stuck on that moot point. (They were all fine. But who knew that a pack of four- and five-year-olds could run like they are training for the Olympics?)
Mostly, as we watched the kids, we talked, and talked, and talked, as if we had known each other for years and not hours. The day flew by.
Sure, my kid was thrilled that I went along and he loved sitting on my lap on the bus ride home, but I suppose it has always weighed heavily on me that I didn’t make more of an effort to be friends with my daughters’s friend’s moms. On the ride back in the school bus, the mothers in my group and I exchanged phone numbers. A part of me thought, ‘They’re never going to call. But it was nice to meet them,’ in the same way I always see the same people at cocktail parties and we promise that we will get together…yet we never do.
But…they did call. And I picked up their calls. In fact, I’m meeting one of the mothers I met for dinner this week and I am ludicrously excited about this new blossoming friendship. So, yes, if you’re feeling like you’re not in the ‘Mom Club’ or have a hard time meeting other mothers, take just one day out of your life and volunteer on a class field trip. Don’t worry about missing work. Don’t worry that you won’t know anyone. Volunteer, not only for your child, but do it for yourself. Maybe it was because we went to the zoo, but I can now happily say I’ve found myself in a great pack, much like animals, but with mothers instead.