Despite the fact that an infant (OH.EM.GEE. almost a toddler!) makes it extremely difficult to be anywhere on time, I’m still early. Even though I wrestled with her to get her diaper changed. Even though she crawled away from me as I tried to slip her pants on. Even though she screamed as I tried to bundle her into a hoodie – it was a little chilly this morning. Once we’re in the car, however, she babbles happily at her socked feet – no shoes today – and watches the world speed by. We pull up to the bookstore a full fifteen minutes before story time is set to begin and I park easily in a space right near the front door. I hoist my purple plaid bag – a change from the bulky brown diaper bag I usually carry – onto my shoulder and unbuckle Lorelei from her car seat. She rides in my arms, sitting easily on my hip. She turns her head excitedly and surveys the change in her surroundings while her hands are busily trying to pull my necklace off.
Even though I had promised myself I was not going to get a coffee – I’ve been trying to limit this treat – I make my way back to the cafe and order the usual. Iced caramel macchiato. Lorelei tries to pull the straw out but somehow I manage to hold the beverage out of her reach. I set her down in the kid’s area and wave hello to Franny*, a little girl of about 2 who adores Lorelei. The two girls greet one another. Well, Franny says “Hi, baby!” while Lorelei attempts to pull the decorations off of her shoes. Her mother is polite and mentions her daughter had been asking if the baby was going to be there today. Thus ends our exchange as I settle down on the floor to keep an eye on the ever-more-mobile baby girl.
Others filter in. Everyone seems to know everyone else and although they don’t ignore me, interaction is minimal. I feel uncomfortable. Lorelei is curious and social. She goes up to the other kids and although she will most frequently just touch them or point at them, at least she’s trying to say hello. I could try, too. But I don’t.
I feel like I did on the first day of high school. I didn’t go to the same middle school as everyone else. They all knew one another and everyone already had someone to share a locker with. I shared one with my older brother. Groups already had formed in the cafeteria while I – already the nerdy outsider – didn’t fit in anywhere. Again, I shared with my brother. His friends were my friends. I don’t know how many of them liked me for me or just because I was Clayton’s kid sister. Over time I made a few friends but I never really fit in.
I don’t want to get hurt again. I hold back from trying to form friendships with these other mothers because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that they might get to know me and not like me. Worse than that, I’m afraid that they won’t tell me that they’ve decided they don’t like me. One day, I will show up at story time and even though I thought these people were my friends they will all talk to each other and, despite my best efforts, will ignore me. Then what will I do? Lorelei has so much fun going to the bookstore, I couldn’t stop going just because I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I would have to keep going and fight the urge to cry because I was on the inside for a brief moment but now I’m on the outside again.
All of this rushed through my mind in those few brief minutes before story time began in earnest. Then we started singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus” and I saw Lorelei light up and laugh like crazy. She is so incredibly happy. She hasn’t yet learned what it’s like to be hurt by a friend. So, after story time, I made sure that I said goodbye to Franny and her mom. I’ll see them again next week and maybe we’ll talk a little more. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this mother is just as nervous and awkward as I am. Maybe I will make a new friend and I won’t go through day after day feeling all alone.
Eventually, I have to take a step inside.
*Name changed for privacy