Both my kids started at their new school last week. Obviously they were nervous as neither of them has ever been to any other school than their previous one. We did our best to tell them that everybody finds going to a new place tricky, and that they will soon settle in and make new friends. I hope they believed us, as we knew this was mostly lies.
I gave my son a top tip. I told him that when he had spotted the person in his class with whom he wanted to be friends, he should simply approach him, give him a big hug and not let go while chanting: "I like you, you are my best friend now …."
I had to quickly let him know that I was only joking as I could see a rather worried look in his eyes as he tried to work out whether making friends in this world was really going to have to be like this? I imagined coming to pick-up to be approached by an irate mother demanding that my son release her child from his "friendship hug"... "It's been nine hours now and our Timothy is very upset."
I'm really not the one to be giving advice on how to make friends. From the age of about 16 until my 29th birthday I was a Goth and would sit in the corner at parties, hiding under my freshly crimped hair and hoping that somebody would say, "Who's that interesting guy in the corner? I should go and talk to him." Nobody ever did. On reflection, I think it's probably for the best if I let my kids make their own way through the social minefields of academia.
What nobody mentions, however, is that it's a bit intimidating for new parents as well. At our/their old school, we knew everybody and drop-off/pick-up was quite a fun, gossipy, social occasion that would break up the monotony of having a staring competition with a sheep out of my office window (I'm doing this right now as it happens. It's a huge sheep and he just eyeballs me as if he's some kind of evil sheep king). We would all gossip about the horrible pushy mother and tut-tut about the dad with his new trophy wife and mutter under our breath when somebody turned up in a horrible car with personalised number plates.
Now, we are the new kids, and Stacey and I wander around nervously, smiling at everybody and trying not to attract any unwanted attention. As we wait to pick up our kids we lean against a wall, deep in conversation with each other, hoping that someone from one of the cool parent gangs will come and ask us to play.
Occasionally, we'll move closer to a big group of chattering parents and slowly try to join the conversation. We'll laugh at jokes we don't understand and nod furiously at points we don't agree with. It's futile though – we are expected to pay our dues, serve our time as "newbies" before we can start to be included.
I thought that once you had left school all this social insecurity would be over. Far from it, however – it never leaves you. I'll probably still be suffering from it when they wheel me into an old folks' home.
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