How difficult can it be to make friends in the playground? The kids do it easily enough- it’s the mothers who flail helplessly!
During my teenage year in Mumbai, I was lucky enough to bypass the entire mean-girlish/cliquey phase of adolescence (in the Indian education system, the ability to complete your mathematics homework trumps looks, athletic prowess and the size of your daddy’s car. Nerds from world over are advised to move here!). So imagine my surprise when I was subjected to the same sense of crippling self doubt, whispered asides, and the visceral rage that symbolizes most high school experiences in- of all places- my toddlers’ playground.
Parenthood- and the etiquette involved in the navigation of play dates, nursery pick ups, and a hectic social calender filled with birthday and christmas parties – can be a minefield for someone as socially inept as yours truly. It is only after two whole years of turning up in my ‘lounging’ pants (so-called for their ample bottoms) and yogurt-crusted V-necks that I have finally (like a pre-cocaine Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls) understood the anthropological complexity of these cliques.
The Organic Brigade: You will spot them on the playground in flowing linens and windswept hair. Their sun-dappled, impossibly shiny little child will possibly be munching a kale leaf and mmmhing in delight even as her pallid playmates chomp on potato crisps. These are the same mothers you need to watch out for if you want to do something as simple as sending cupcakes for the classroom (their child doesn’t do wheat, and research has proven that ‘sugar’ in the first five years can lead to early onset diabetes at 40)
Do ask them: If they knitted their baby’s adorable cap themselves.
Don’t ask them: If they would like a slice of the pizza.
The Supermodels: also known as the ones with the miraculously elastic bodies that go right back into shape a few moments after the little one has been popped. Both the mothers and their poppets may have fancier hairstyles than you and will definitely have better shoes. While your little brat insists on dawdling along on the way to school- stooping to smell the doggie poop and to taste-test the Weetabix that someone threw in the bush a day ago- their princess will make her way in a jogging stroller, with the mother clocking a healthy 8 minute-mile behind her.
Do ask them: For the best place to get your child’s hair cut
Don’t ask them: If they would like a slice of pizza
The Grandparented: Parliamentary-style decision-making rules the upbringing of these kids- with every single question ranging from how their veggies should be cooked to how often their hair should be oiled, subjected to a nani-dadi vote. No wonder the poor dear runs around in circles like a headless chicken hoping that a last minute injunction will allow him to keep that piece of plastic wrapper in their mouth, while not one-but four disapproving pairs of eyes looking down in disapproval at you and your offspring.
Do Ask Them: How to celebrate your baby’s first Diwali
Don’t ask them: If they would like a slice of pizza. (They need the whole pie)
The Multiples: Like fighter pilots (presumably) over the rest of the armed forces, the mothers of twins (and occasionally triplets), or the two-under-twos, lord over all mommy discussions. They are the undisputed champions of the playground because for every story of your little one shrieking all night, they have one of two little ones shrieking all night and day for two nights in a row. (Times like this, you throw a silent thank you to the benevolent friend upstairs, and kiss your little one for being only half the trouble she could be if an errant zygote had chosen to split itself). And if their hair bun is straighter than yours and their manicure fresher, can you really blame them for casting a sorry glance at you?
Do ask then: How do you manage?
Don’t ask them: If they would like a slice of pizza. They don’t have the time.
The Planners: So which college have you filled out an application form for, one of these will ask you politely even as you scramble to decide why your monster’s two socks are not matching yet again. These are the mothers with ‘plans’. They quote articles from scientific studies on parenting and nutrition, they can recite the Babycenter milestones chart in their sleep, and they are adept at balancing the ballet with the soccer with the piano lessons.
Do ask them: When does term start again?
Don’t ask them: If they would like a slice of pizza. They’ve already ordered theirs.
The Socially Conscious: not to be confused with the organics (even if both their babies are in cotton diapers). These are the ones who are telling a confused Junior about the genocide in Rwanda and ensuring she has a friend of every race (as the token Indian in their playgroup, you feel obligated to give your child a bindi, a bangle, a … something!). Their children don’t do dolls (with their mixed body dysmorphic messages) or cars (gas guzzlers, by the time she grows up we would have exhausted all animal fuel anyway), but instead play with wooden totems and blocks which she is allowed to will into whatever she wants with her imagination.
Do ask them: how to keep your child away from the Barbies
Don’t ask them: if they would like a slice of pizza (if only you knew where the packaging was sourced from)
The Singles, or the Relationshipped Childless: They don’t want to be with you anyway because your bedtime is 8:00 and your hair smells of cereal.
Do ask them: Was that movie any good? Should I watch it 6 month later when it comes out on DVD?
Don’t ask them: If they would like a slice of pizza (unless you have beer to offer with it)
So where does that leave a working-from-home mother with part-time help, who refuses to give up altogether by adopting the creepy mommy cry of “my child is my best friend”. Well, just as term-end throws up options for the playground discard, she can always try to win over a;
Newbie: A new mother, or better still, the mother of a child who is new to this place. She hasn’t quite found her place in the cliques just as yet, so just as long as you can resist the urge to offer her a slice of pizza, and just as long as your mini-me can resist the urge to eat that interesting looking nose booger, you can slide up to her, exclaim how adorable her little tot is, and extend a warm welcome. She doesn’t know better- and may just agree to go out for a cup of coffee with you! Try not to act too excited by this development, and resist compulsively quoting from Seinfeld- and who knows! You may just have a new friend!