We are sitting together at a birthday party, one to which I am supremely grateful that my son has been invited, given that we’ve been in town for all of two months.  The only thing worse than attending a birthday party with Zachary would be the anguish he would feel if he weren’t invited.  Zachary has not yet spontaneously combusted, which he will undoubtedly do, due to the amorphous activity of the party and the social anxiety that attends trying to ingratiate himself into this group of children.  He is clearly trying to strategize how to insert himself into the little social groups forming within the play space, and I can see the tension rising.  While I wait for him to fall apart, I have a little time to talk with some of the mothers.

One of the women I have taken a liking to.  There’s something about her that runs on the right speed for me.  I’d like to call her to go out for coffee, but I have been spending every spare moment working and haven’t had time to sneeze let alone make plans with people. “There are Alpha families here,” she tells me.  “The parents are all friends, and the kids are all ‘popular.’”

I hear what she is saying.  In fact, I have heard what she is saying many times before, in many places before.  Hell, I’ve been the one saying it before.  Maryland.  Virginia.  North Carolina.  Massachusetts.  London.  Los Angeles.  It’s the same everywhere, even Philadelphia.  Cliques are nothing new to me.  I wince when I see them.  And then I remind myself to relax.  We are not in high school anymore, and I don’t have to worry about whether the popular kids like me.  Some will and some won’t.

We chat some more, and then Zachary has his meltdown, whereupon I do my thing and talk him off the ledge.  He calms down, has some cake, comes back with me to get his coat on.  “I hate birthday parties,” I whisper to her.

She is sympathetic.  One of her children has similar issues getting overstimulated.  She even knows terms like “sensory integration” and “highly sensitive.”  I am grateful to have another adult take a tiny portion of my worry and share it simply by acknowledging its presence.  “I can’t talk about it much, though,” she says.  “I’ve found people don’t want to hear about it.  They don’t want to be my friends if I talk about serious issues with my kids.  Like it’s contagious.”

“I don’t really care if people want to be my friend,” I tell her, clearly astonishing her.  But it’s true.  I try to be nice to people out of respect for their feelings and enjoy getting to know people.  But I am not staying up nights worrying about whether this or that mom at drop-off wants to hang out with me while I darn my socks.  I figure I’ll find people I like who like me.  Some of them may even surprise me and be in the popular clique.  Or they may be thirty years older than I am.  Who the hell knows?

I am as nice as I can be and I reach out to some people and I try to make the playdates my kids want me to make.  Yet I’ve lived too many places and seen too many things to think that social politics amounts to much more than so much rye bread.  It’s just what people do to entertain themselves on long winter evenings.

I didn’t always feel this way.  I once wrung my hands over fitting in and making friends.  It took me thirty-six years to come to realize that friendship needs to be organic, not strategized.  I hope it doesn’t take Zach that long.

Zachary has returned to a semblance of a child, and we prepare to leave.  I squeeze her on the arm and thank her for listening.  I like her.  I resolve to try to find some time for that cup of coffee.

13 responses to “Alpha

  1. Do it, coffee yes! I need to make more of an effort. Like you I don’t care if people like me. Ok, a little lie — I am hurt if someone I like doesn’t seem to like me. But I am quite capable of existing without a cadre of friends. Although perhaps it isn’t quite so healthy … hmm.

  2. Certain behaviors are understandable if you’re talking about children or adolescents. But some of the things I’ve seen or heard about among adults is jaw dropping. The level of immaturity, shallowness and just plain stupidity is sad for any adult, but downright tragic when these people are parents.

    I’m fortunate that the community I have around me is more open-minded and caring than some of the ones I grew up in, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I open up about things that they will open up as well. I understand why people aren’t inclined to- sometimes there is nothing you can do. But sharing and communication, I believe, is ultimately better than quiet.

  3. Finding that first someone to share coffee with is always really, really nice.

  4. Wish we could go for coffee, or lunch again. 🙂

  5. Being the mother that gets on the train and goes to work every day means that I never get any of the cliquey gossipy stuff – which could be why I have few friends in town. When would I have coffee anyway?

    Glad you found someone to call for coffee. Call now.

  6. sounds like an organic friendship growing there. hooray.

    i don’t have any of those here. it doesn’t kill me, but i do miss it. but I think you’re right. I’m trying to not worry about it, and just let it be. I have friends, sure, but none of those good,close, organic kinds.

  7. In Los Angeles, I was too un commercialized (is the best way I can explain it) or something to fit in. In Denver, I’m too commercialized to fit in. Whatever.

    I don’t get asked out for coffee or any of those things. Most, if not all of my friends, live elsewhere. Heck, my true friends, I’ve met through blogging. I don’t know though, somehow I stopped caring at some point. I used to care, in LA I cared a ton. But I’m older, have less time and really just am over it.

    My girls are very popular. They have a ton of friends. The mom’s adore them. That is all well and good. Because hey they get invited to playdates…something that I’m horrible at setting up. Horrible. Like if it were up to me, it’d NEVER happen.

  8. I do need friends to talk to and be with to feel content. I’m not shy, and I don’t care about stupid social strata stuff, but that doesn’t really make it easier to find people with whom I am compatible, though I’m more flexible on some things. This is my major worry about our upcoming move–friends.

  9. On Sunday, after doing various errands by bike with our kids & running into friends/folks we know & like all along the way, both my husband & I came home & remarked to each other in a sort of surprised manner, “Wow, we really are a part of a community!” We moved here 2 1/2 years ago & while we wanted ‘instant community,’ it didn’t happen that way. Instead, it was a slow seeping of meeting one person here & there whom we liked & grooved with. And now we have discovered that we really landed in the right place– a small city that has good city things, with a university so some good cultural things (& some really interesting, smart people), but small enough that there are some positive ‘neighborhoody” type things as well. I’ve never had the personality that thrived on drama so I avoid cliquey stuff & we chose a school for the boys where parents seemed less interested in status than another in town…

    I echo others– give the call for coffee. And yes, I, too hate birthday parties. At least now I feel like I know some other parents at such parties who know my fellas, who ‘get’ my guys, who would step in appropriately if I/my husband couldn’t, and who my fellows trust. It took 2 1/2 years, but it feels good.

  10. And, of course, being the grammar nerd, I just cringed when I reread my penultimate line. That would clearly be “…and WHOM my fellows trust.” 🙂

  11. I am, to date, unaware of any parenting cliques. Which either means that I’m totally out of the loop, or I’m at the centre of the group and oblivious to it. Or maybe they really don’t exist here, but I doubt that.

    I will admit that I still have a strong desire for others to like me, but I wish I didn’t. It’s a constant wrestling match inside my head, between the pleaser and the one who doesn’t really want to care about such things, because external validation isn’t good for anything anyways.

  12. I hope that you do have coffee together and enjoy it.

  13. So much chemistry involved in friendships. Chemistry and time.

    Coffee’s a good start.