When I had my first daughter, none of my close friends had kids yet, and I felt like it might be a good idea to meet some new parents to hang out with. But the thing is, making new friends as a grown-up can be pretty difficult. Finding other parents you click with that you don’t feel judged by is a process, especially, I think, for those of us who didn’t exactly enjoy Wakefield-twin-level popularity back in the day. (Shockingly, my stints in the yearbook committee and the school band did not earn me that many party invitations.) Much to my dismay, my grown-up friending efforts brought back all the anxiety and awkwardness I felt at my lowest levels of self-esteem (and my highest levels of orthodontia).
The first time my now dear friend and business partner Jenny came over to my house for coffee, I was nervous. I had invited her over ‘cause she seemed really cool but I was worried I’d do something stupid and miss out on this opportunity to make a mom friend.
About an hour before she was set to arrive I looked around and finally noticed how messy my place was. I scrambled to load the dishwasher, wipe down our downstairs powder room and pick up the toys the kids had left strewn all over the hallway. In my work as a postpartum doula, I take great pleasure in tidying up my clients’ spaces, but I have to admit that in my own house, I’m a bit of a slob. Nothing gets me cleaning like an impending visit, which is why I panic when people just “drop by.” (If I ever won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes, you better believe those cameras would be relegated to my front stoop as I accepted my giant novelty cheque – there’s no way the living room would be camera-ready with no warning.)
Once the house was looking semi-presentable, I opened my fridge only to find oldish-looking broccoli, some milk and a few leftovers I could no longer confidently identify. “O.K.,” I said, checking my watch. “I’ve still got half an hour to run to the store and get something decent to put out for her.” I ran out the door, jumped in my car and headed to the closest grocery store. The one I only shop at when I’m really desperate because it’s so damn expensive. I grabbed a nice loaf of bread, some pricey fruit and “fancy” cheese. I wanted to impress.
With minutes to spare, I got back home and put some coffee on. When Jenny rang my doorbell, I was ready. But as we walked into my kitchen, I froze. I don’t know how I’d missed them, but perched on the island were a pair of brightly-coloured, golden-arched, greasy cardboard pieces of evidence – exhibits A and B of my failure to prepare my children a healthy home-cooked meal: I had left out two Happy Meal boxes from the night before.
My face got hot like it did when I got embarrassed back in high school. This was a potential new grown-up friend. And we run in some pretty “crunchy” circles. I mean, we’re doulas, for god’s sake. We know people who drink kombucha for real. Would this shut the door on our impending friendship? Would she judge me for my less-than-organic choice? Would I miss my chance to sit at the cool grown-ups table? I usually cook really healthy meals, I swear, I almost said. We were just so tired last night and didn’t have the energy…
“Ooh, you got the ‘minions’ ones – my kids love those,” she said, without missing a beat. “We usually eat pretty well, but anytime we’ve got a drive longer than two hours ahead of us? McDonald’s it is.”
I was worried for nothing. Jenny didn’t judge me because she didn’t care. Just as I wouldn’t care if I came over to her house and there were socks on the stairs or dirty dishes in the sink. She wasn’t coming over to critique my home, she was was coming over to hang out with me. This wasn’t high school and grown-up people with good hearts and intentions (you know, the kind who make good friends) don’t walk into other people’s homes and make judgments about the food they eat or whether their kids’ toys are perfectly hidden in beautiful wicker baskets. Why drive myself nuts trying to impress? Being my regular old self was A-O.K.
I learned an important lesson that day: Cut yourself some slack and give other people a little credit. We all know there’s no such thing as perfect and every other parent is just getting by, too. Sometimes, our kids get healthy, delicious dinners with all the food groups represented. And sometimes, whether we’re clean freaks, slobs, “crunchy” or otherwise, McDonald’s happens. No big deal.
Good grown-up friends get it.