In the playground, I say hello and smile but I confess these days I avoid the loitering group by the school gates and the coffee morning chats.
I have a sphere of lifelong friends, those I can and would call on in the darkest of hours, both metaphorically and literally and I feel secure with them. Some live hundreds of miles away, others just a couple of roads.
Friendships, when we are children, are often fluid. Judgement rarely exists and resentment over playground spats are short lived. However, even as grown ups we can confuse friendship with a desire to belong, to be liked, and for those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves, the stakes can be high.
More than once I have found myself emotionally winded by curve balls of disloyalty.
The result of being bitten by the playground, is that you become twice shy.
Last year, I began to retreat more and more, to sit on a wall at the back of the playground at pick up. Busying myself with my phone, reading phantom emails and searching, with fierce concentration for the non-existant anything in my bag.
I didn’t mean to be rude to the mums who hadn’t been unkind, when I walked out of the school gate, a quick smile and a hello but my beating heart would see me bustling straight to the safety of my car, as soon as I had small hands clamped in mine.
I had isolated myself in order to protect myself. However, the more I withdrew, the worse I felt. No man is an island but she can become an awkward mum.
It was a dear friend who finally lifted the rock under which I had crawled and demanded I came out and stood in the light of day.
My friend is older and a lot wiser than me. She said “Rose, you need to go into that playground your head held high. I want you to remember you deserve to stand there. I want you, at pick up, to find another mum, standing on her own and tell her, she looks nice.”
…and because I trust her, I did.
I made eye contact with a new mum and told her I liked her coat and just like that…the spell was broken.
In truth, I still don’t involve myself in gossip and avoid those who take pleasure in lifting the lid on other people’s confidences but I’m no longer afraid of these women. I’ll find the ones with a warm smile and pass the time day. I’ll ignore the sideways glances and silently repeat the following affirmation “I am a good person, I am a kind person, I deserve to stand in this space.”
I stood up from the wall.