“I hope I didn’t offend you when…” is a phrase I’ve heard quite a few times over the past three weeks, and it’s not a coincidence.
My daughter has just started kindergarten, so a whole bunch of new parents I’m mingling with are also feeling like they’ve just started school for the first time all over again. Lucky for me, I’m a veteran, my little girl is my third and last child to start school, so I’m shielded somewhat from the daunting stuff that most new parents are going through, having gone through it the first time seven years ago, and having had those years to learn the ropes.
You know what I mean: that first meeting with your child’s teacher (or worse, the principal), where you sit in that vinyl chair outside the office, sweating bullets, feeling as though you’ve done something wrong and are waiting to learn your punishment. (“I didn’t mean it, Miss, I tried to raise her right, I didn’t know she’d grow up to bite/not read/not make friends/bully her classmates”). Or the dreaded drop-off and pick-up, seeing those groups of parents who’ve magically all made friends already and not knowing who to talk to. You recognise someone in a group – does that give you licence to approach the group and try to join in the conversation? Or will you be scorned for doing so? Or if you tactfully avoid the pre-formed group will you be thought of as snobbish and miss your final chance to make a new parent friend? Then there’s learning where everything is, remembering to check the bag for notes every day, remembering to put the gold coin day on the family calendar, noting mufti days and parent information evenings and P&C and what’s the protocol? And how much will I be expected to do? And what if my child doesn’t make friends or worse – what if I don’t make friends?
But I’ve been through those meetings, I’ve learnt where the toilets are, I’ve joined the P&C and I’ve made some wonderful friends, so I’m feeling a little more okay about the whole thing than I’m sure some of my new friends are. Still, I’ve had a lot of this “I hope I didn’t offend you when I held your child’s hand/joined in that conversation you were having/ didn’t talk to you yesterday/walked off while you were telling me about my renovations because my kid was crying in the middle of the playground” going through my head and I’ve also heard it a few times. I think it’s a natural way to feel when you’re thrust in a new situation, trying to meet people and praying that someone (anyone!) will like you. It’s so uncertain and terrifying and on top of it all we’re letting go of our little darlings for the first time.
But let me take this opportunity to write an open letter to all my new friends: I’m not easily offended. Unless you’ve poisoned my dog or propositioned my husband I’m not likely to give you the silent treatment. You can take me off your list of worries, talk to me if you see me, avoid me if you can’t face another session of small-talk. We’ll be fine. We’ll be grand.
And hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, so will our sons and daughters.