“Just be extroverted like mummy.” I said to my six-year old, Orlando. Sage advice for a child who probably thinks extroverted means extraterrestrial. Ironically the two can often seem comparative. “Just walk over to a group of kids, tell them your name and ask to play.” I said. “You are new today, but tomorrow you’ll be less new.” Why I was talking to him like he is an adult, rather than the kid going into grade one at a new school, in a new state, I’ll never know.
I left my son on the verandah outside his new classroom, confidant that by the end of the day he would have a bunch of new friends. Because why wouldn’t he? He is six. Six year olds just group together and become friends. Don’t they?
School pick up came around before I’d had the chance to consider that with every new child, comes a new parent. Then there I was, standing on the outskirts of already formed groups of parents. Parents that had been affiliated with the school for some time and had already built relationships with each other. And then there was me. I seemed to have left my neon flashing sign at home that reads I’m new here. My mouth was dry. I hadn’t dressed for the occasion. I was literally wearing my seven week old son, and underneath him, dried layers of spew that seemed to have stitched together to form what I had apparently considered appropriate enough attire to be seen in by large groups of people.
“Just be extroverted like mummy” I heard myself saying to Orlando that morning.
I was missing our last school. I was missing my mum group that culminated each morning and afternoon to debrief before witching hour. In that moment, on my first afternoon pick up at my son’s new school, I was missing my favourite characteristic, the extrovert.
I had come to rely on this trait so heavily over the last few years of moving across the country with my family. It was what got me to the events that I attended on my own. It was what got me to team sport try-outs, playgroups, and what motivated me to start book clubs. Now suddenly, I was the new girl at school, hoping someone else would make the first move.
That first day of school pick up, that experience, would be my last. It was time to dip into my toolkit.
The following day I collected my confidence, or you could call it desperation, and with my baby strapped to my chest I was lucky enough to spot a woman with a baby strapped to her chest also. Within seconds I had a pick up line ready and waiting. I walked over to the woman standing to the side of the schoolyard, rocking back and forth with what looked like a fresh baby just like mine. I flicked on my I’m new here flashing neon sign and said, “Is this where the mums with new babies stand?” Smooth, I know.
Within minutes of making friendly chitchat I manage to drop “I’m new here. I have no friends. I know nobody”. This cry for help seemed to work as next thing I knew the young woman was offering her phone number and telling me about a local playgroup she would be attending the following week, and asking if id like to come along.
There was no shame in my game. I laid my position out on the table, clear as day.
I am well versed to being the new person, but that doesn’t make me impervious to feeling the nervousness that comes with being the new person.
Here are my five go-to’s from my I’m new here toolkit:
- Be a walking talking flashing neon sign and let the world around you know that you are new.
- Attend groups or events that match your interests. Book clubs have always been my favourite place to meet people.
- Politely eaves drop on other peoples conversations and if appropriate, comment on what they are talking about. I do this all the time. It’s a great icebreaker, but it takes skill.
- Use buzzwords that best reflect your interests, to gauge the interest of others. This is a quick way to find out if these people are your people. My buzzwords include: wine, books, and saying Hashtag before things, to show how tech savvy and cool I am.
- Use props such as infants and sidle up next to other infant wearing parents, to discuss how annoying or lovely infants can be. Read the room.
When my son met me that afternoon, I asked him how his day was. I asked him if he met any new people today. “Yes”, he said. I made a new friend. His name is Ben.”
“I made a new friend too, I said.
“Now we both have friends.” Said Orlando.
And just like that, we were a little less new.