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My husband and I have moved several times since getting engaged and married. The first few moves weren’t so bad. I found jobs and met cool people to hang out with. Then I became a mum and everything changed. In the three cities where we’ve lived since starting a family, I’ve been a stay-at-home mum and finding friends has been much harder.
Where we’ve lived for the past year and a half, it’s been even harder. In the suburbs, I’ve felt isolated. Getting out of the house with little kids involves car seats and actual plans. Wandering and window-shopping is a thing of the past. I’ve had nowhere to go, really, and grew to genuinely dislike our town.
Sure, we have playgrounds, but mostly I’ve found the mums there to be either smug or disengaged. In the preschool drop-off rush, I get lost in the crowd. My acute shyness comes out in those settings and I swallow any conversation-starters I can possibly think up.
Every time we’ve gone into the big city for a meal or an afternoon, or travelled to one of the other cities we love for a long weekend, the pangs of longing hit hard. Oh, how I miss heading out on foot, being a part of the action, having free-spirited and outgoing friends right in the apartment building. Frankly, I’ve been bored.
Unlike where we’ve lived before, finding ways to entertain myself and my young daughter has been a challenge. It’s felt like we’ve had three choices: expensive toddler classes, social clubs with membership fees and annoying paperwork, or doing nothing. I missed the ease and authenticity of city life with a baby in tow — maybe a barre class one day, but just as easily a mid-morning stroll for bubble tea and people-watching the next. Here, I’ve felt lost and alone.
It’s easy to come to loathe a place when you find the atmosphere uninspiring. But even worse, when you feel like you don’t fit in. For over a year, I longed for just one cool, local woman with young kids that I could hang out with. All I wanted to do was sit in someone’s living room with coffee and let our kids play while we chatted. Was this really so much to ask?
I withdrew and developed an attitude about our area. I dragged my daughter to play dates 45 minutes away or farther. A few times, we even left the state to hang out with long-distance friends. And while these adventures were worthwhile and fun, it was draining knowing that I always had to travel to socialise.
And then something amazing happened.
An old friend (from the city!) introduced me to a friend of hers who was moving to my town. On paper we had everything in common: 2-and-a-half-year-olds that were signed up for the same summer camp, second babies due within a month of each other, and husbands who work long hours. She wasn’t just moving to my town, either; she was moving in down my street! It seemed too good to be true, but we connected, had coffee, and finally things started to change for me.
Suddenly the preschool drop-off didn’t feel so daunting and stressful. Having one friend to chat with made me feel calmer and more outgoing around everyone. Standing on my lawn with our big bellies watching our toddlers soak up the last of the summer sunshine, we attracted other neighborhood mums to stop and say “hi.” I could feel my network growing.
And then like magic, another one moved in across the street. Also pregnant with her second at the same as me, she and I clicked instantly. Over coffee and laughter one morning, I realised my desperate hope had actualized. Just this morning we found ourselves at a local coffee shop, chatting as we cuddled our newborns on the first properly crisp fall day. What a symbol of change.
A change in my situation, but also in perspective. As the summer was nearing its end, no longer did I see the town pool as a chaotic waste of time. Instead, it was a place where I could sit in the shallow end and enjoy adult conversation while my toddler splashed around with her friends nearby. The lack of affordable things to do with children around here doesn’t stress me out anymore; play dates are free.
Meeting these mums has also connected me with other local parents who have ideas on how to entertain our kids (and ourselves!) in any season. Previously unheard of library classes a town over, lunch meet-ups, and postnatal Pilates you can bring your baby to (no need to pay a sitter!) have been unearthed. A group of us are even planning to meet monthly in a “no-book book club” where it’s all about drinking wine. What? I can hardly believe my luck.
The coming winter doesn’t have me in panic mode the way last year’s did. All I could think then was, there’s no escape. (At least in warm months, we can walk to the park or drive around and get some sun). A dark and dreary day with two little kids at home could mean constant whining, endless messes, and tears. Or, it could mean nipping across the street to enjoy a lazy day with great friends.
When we ditched the city for the ‘burbs in favour of more space, I didn’t take into account what we’d be giving up. Though I miss the general excitement of the day-to-day there, this new place is finally starting to feel more like home and less like a mistake. I still have moments when I feel insecure, but I wouldn’t trade all the bubble tea and people-watching in the world for the kind, generous new friends I’ve finally made in this town. If only I’d known ahead that they were coming my way, I would have loved this place a lot sooner.