“So how do you like it here?” she said pouring me more coffee.
I’d been here less than six months when I was invited for coffee by a mom I didn’t know. She was tall, blonde, and liked to talk about martinis and golf. Other than that, her invitation was as unfamiliar as she was.
Her house was pretty and decorated. There was homemade banana bread arranged on a white platter and coffee served in delicate mugs that burned my palms.
It felt like an audition. I’d heard she was part of a book club that might be accepting new members. I loved to read. I really needed this gig.
I chose my outfit carefully that morning. I was in JCrewville now – my black work clothes were useless here. I threw on a khaki skirt, red t-shirt and flip flops. It wasn’t Lily Pulitzer but then, neither was I.
Scootching forward on her toile couch, I tried to sound bright. How should I answer this?
“Well, to be honest,” I said swallowing the sticky bread, “I’ve sort of had a hard time adjusting. I, um —“
“I know it’s hard here” burst in the other guest. She was another blonde who had been here several years. Her husband was a native – born and raised here. She seemed eager to want to show me the ropes.
“Let me give you one piece of advice” the Native’s Wife said. “Too many people make the mistake of attaching themselves to a clique too quickly and then regretting it. Take your time. Get to know them. Then choose your clique.”
She was dead serious. I sank back into the couch.
“Hmmmm…” was all I could manage, remembering to blink.
I still think about that coffee date. It was one of those lacerating moments when I realized life here would not be what I expected. Something was definitely amuck. I was beginning to get the picture: go to high school, graduate, go to college, graduate, move to a big city, start a career, build a career, get married, get promoted, have a baby, get promoted, quit your job, leave the city, move to a small town, poof! You’re back in high school.
Choose your clique wisely? Hmmmm…
I’ll say this: when you’re a stay-at-home mom, friendships are everything. There’s a lot of mental monotony with ushering kids around and fixing meals. Housework is draining on the good days and degrading on the bad ones. So we SAHMmies really need friends to keep us going. Unfortunately with so many intelligent mommies running around with too much un-channeled mental energy, the making of friends can get shockingly competitive and grossly strategic.
Since moving here, I’ve been counseled on who to suck up to and who to avoid. I’ve been warned not to associate myself with a particular person because it could alienate me from others. I’ve been told which volunteer activities will make me the most “visible” — oh, and I’ve been scolded not to complain or people will think I hate it here (gasp).
I can’t say I’ve been entirely innocent either. Living in such a small town, I’m aware of the perceived social categories. To claim it hasn’t influenced me would be a lie.
Yet as a mother of two daughters, I am shocked at how often I need to sternly remind myself of this. I am the mom. We are the mothers. They learn it from us. We have to be strong and authentic, so they stand a chance.
After seven long years, I only have a few friends here. They are funny, interesting and kind. I’ve chosen them selectively because I enjoy them for who they are, not because of their perceived social standing.
Truly, I wish I had more — but I refuse to drink any Kool-aid, and I keep thinking we’ll be leaving here one day to move to a place where things are different. But is there really such a place? I refuse to give up hope.
I also have these great friends cherry-picked from other places in my life. They are scattered across the country but they are near to me in so many ways. Without them, I’d be certifiable…and an orphan.
I’ve also spent a lot of time alone — more than I ever did before. It’s not always by choice, but at least I know I can do it now and not get all wacky. I couldn’t have said that seven years ago. Plus, spending a fair amount of time by myself has forced me to think a little more for myself. And that’s not such a bad thing, either.
Choose a clique wisely? Hmmm….
I’ll wisely choose not to.