I suspect that I may have misled you a little with my recent post about struggling with feelings of loneliness, now that we have moved 4,000 miles from our friends and family.
Yes, I’m often lonely, but I’m rarely actually alone.
I have met some really wonderful people since arriving in the Land of Opportunity, and many of them will, I’m sure, become firm friends in due course (if they haven’t already). I’m rarely at a loss when it comes to finding things to do, or people to see on a day-to-day basis – the days where I’m sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, are usually the days where I’m being lazy, over-tired or just a bit rubbish. But, and this is where the “two year rule” comes in, it takes time and work to forge friendships. You might meet someone at a playdate, get on like a house on fire, chat for 2 hours while your kids play, and then head home at the end of the morning, and never see that person again. Or, if you’re lucky, see them at another playdate 3 months later, where you rack your brains, trying desperately to remember the names of their precious offspring.
It takes a real effort to get to really know people under those circumstances. It might be quite a few playdates before you even establish whether you have anything in common, beyond your children, with these women. And it takes longer still before you would consider calling your fellow moms “just for a chat”. Those phone-calls are, I think, the sign of a true friendship. I’m bored, the kids are driving me up the wall, it’s raining and we have no plans for the day – but, did you see The Biggest Loser last night?
So yes, I’ve met some terrifically supportive “moms” in the past 12 months. Some of them came to my rescue when I was looking for breastfeeding support (specifically, advice on US-centric nipple balms or remedies, if you must know), some of them popped round with gifts and post-birth-recovery sympathy after Henry was born, and some of them have been generous enough to pass on toys, clothes, highchairs, baby swings, car seats and advice in the past few months. It’s just…many of them are still “some lovely people I know”, and only time (and many more playdates / “moms night out”s / birthday parties) will help true friendships form. So when I said I was bloody lonely? It wasn’t necessarily for company, but more for those easy friendships that you take so much for granted until they are no longer there.
As this blog was really meant to be a record of our experiences as a family relocating to the US, I thought I would take this opportunity to share the various avenues I’ve explored in the quest to reestablish a social life for both myself, and my children. I’m putting them in the order in which I found them!
1. Stroller Strides – Very soon after arriving in Bellevue, I went on a Google hunt, searching for “mommy boot camps”. I came across the local Stroller Strides class, which just happened to meet directly across the street from our apartment complex, in Bellevue Park.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t really meant to be for me. Morning sickness and general early pregnancy fatigue stopped me from going for the first few weeks, and then Evie developed a keen aversion to her pram – so the idea of trying to get her to sit in the iCandy for an hour at a time, while I squatted, lunged and jogged my way through a workout seemed too far fetched to contemplate.
But…I did touch base with Erin, the super friendly & welcoming local Franchisee, and she invited me to come along to the moms’ social activities anyway (including a night out at a local restaurant, ice-skating with strollers at the outdoor ice rink, and putting together freezer fillers at Dream Dinners!). So, despite the fact that Stroller Strides itself didn’t work out for us (yet – I still hope to make a class….one day!!), it was a great first introduction to some very supportive and like-minded moms. If your baby is a little younger than Evie (and you are not completely floored by early pregnancy symptoms, as I was!), then I know that Stroller Strides is a really fabulous way to meet new friends…with the added bonus of banishing the baby belly at the same time, hurah!
2. Meetup dot com. Register your details on this website before you even leave the UK (or Spain, France, Australia – wherever you’re relocating from). Just check a few boxes according to your interests and hobbies, link to your new home town, and you will get emails on an almost daily basis, informing you of new social groups you might want to join.
This is the method by which I have met most of my mommy friends – by joining groups full of women with children roughly the same age as Evie (thus ensuring that playdates would be fun for both of us), and who live locally to me (meaning that I’m much more likely to actually go to all the Meetups, and be able to see members outside of planned playdates at short notice). Groups I’ve joined have included Toddler Playgroups, Active Mom groups, Eastside Running clubs and Seattle Brits, to name a few!
The more groups you join, the more likely you are to be able to keep your diary full. But be careful of spreading yourself too thin – you don’t want to join so many random groups that you end up struggling to remember who is who, and where you might have met them. Remember that you’re looking for friends as well as entertainment, and that commitment to any particular group swings both ways. The more you invest in any one group, the more you will get back. It’s not rocket science, it’s just human nature…
3. The “Business Card”
It may seem cheesier than the town of Cheddar, but I made up this “business card” (using inverted commas because obviously I’m not in business. But if I say “personal card”, it sounds like my motives are altogether more questionable!):
I’m quite embarrassed to hand it over, but it definitely solves a problem. You’ve spent a couple of hours watching your children play together, while chatting about your shared experiences in relocating to the Pacific Northwest, and then one of the kids gets angsty and it’s time to leave. Do you accept that it’s been fun, but you’ll just have to hope you come across each other again, as randomly as you met in the first place? Do you stammer and stumble, while searching frantically for an elusive pen, before deciding that it’s just too awkward and letting the moment pass? Or do you hand over your card, apologising for the naffness, of course, and say “Hey, if you’re ever at a loose end and fancy a coffee, drop me a mail”.
Yep, it’s embarrassing, but it’s effective. I met a fantastic new friend this way – we (and our children) have caught up at least once a week ever since, and she has been the most incredible support following Henry’s birth, answering all my questions, from “Argh, what’s the local alternative to Ashton & Parsons?” to “Do Americans really say “mult-eye vite-amin?”, and being generous enough to loan me a humidifier, infant car seat and jumperoo, amongst other things!
She is the friend I’ll call on when I feel the need to escape the mundane reality of life as a SAHM, and go ogle semi-naked men instead…
4. Neighbours. Everybody needs good neighbours. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go on, but I just wanted to reiterate the importance of looking closer to home. Never underestimate the social network that the families living in your own street can provide. Not only are they potential friends and dinner guests, but if they’ve lived there any longer than you, your neighbours can be a mine of information – they’ve already scoped out the local pre-schools, vetted the teenage babysitters, and tried and tested the doggy daycares. Knock on doors, bake cupcakes if you like, but through whatever means necessary, do get to know your new neighbours – you won’t regret it. One of them might turn out to be Santa, after all!
5. Get out. I couldn’t think of a better description than that. But what I’m trying to say is just….leave the house. Seattle is full of child friendly places to while away a few hours – Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Aquarium, the Children’s Museum, Idylwood Park (and about 200 other kids playgrounds!), L’il Diggers Playtime at the giant indoor sandbox….the list is endless – and no matter how tired you feel, or how heavy the rain shower, you won’t regret escaping the four walls and letting the little darlings run off some of that destructive energy. Meanwhile, you can sit back and simply keep watch, skinny latte in hand – it beats doing the laundry and listening to the bloody Octonauts theme for the millionth time!
I am sure that I have missed many other possibilities for networking, and seeking kindred spirits in this beautiful little corner of the world. Please do post your own ideas, suggestions and experiences in the comments, and I’ll be sure to update this post as your recommendations come in.
In the meantime, I’m off to bake more cupcakes, tuck more “business cards” into my wallet, and make a rainy day to-do list, now that autumn seems to have finally rolled in. I suspect it’s going to be a long winter, but let’s make it a fun one!