One evening in my third year of marriage, I called my mom to vent that I didn’t have any close friends to go out with. My husband and I had spent our first two years living three hours from both our families and had now moved back to Columbus for him to take a new teaching and coaching job.
I was a new mom, a full-time college student, and a full-time coach’s wife, which left me with no time to socialize. Since I was a mere three years older than the boys on his varsity basketball team, the parents didn’t see me as an adult, either.
I was trapped in that nebulous realm between no-longer-a-teenager and not-yet-grown-up.
“I just want to go out. I don’t have any friends, and no one likes me,” I wailed into the phone, as some say I’m prone to do when feeling melodramatic.
“Quit whining. Do something about it.”
Wait. Wasn’t a mom supposed to suffer along with her children? Pat me on the back to tell me how wonderful I was? Declare that anyone who wasn’t my friend wasn’t worth having as a friend?
Her exasperated sigh did nothing to increase my confidence. “You’ve always been this way. Ever since The Kindergarten Incident.”
“What way? And what incident?”
Kindergarten was a smattering of random memories: someone getting a bloody nose from falling off the merry-go-round; night terrors induced by a gang of Letter People, led by Mr. Toot-Toot-Toot-For-T; and thinking the blond boy with a cute smile could be my first boyfriend–until I discovered he was also my cousin.
I didn’t recall any “incidents”, with the exception of safety-scissoring my bangs into an obtuse triangle and eating paste with the little orange spatula once. Or maybe twice.
“What did I do in Kindergarten?”
“Cry?” That was it? “About what?”
“The same thing you’re crying about now. ‘Nobody likes me.’ ‘I don’t have any friends.’ ‘Nobody plays with me at recess.’ You really got on my nerves. Every day you’d sob about the girls in your class leaving you out of recess. So I called Mrs. Hanna.”
I hated when she did the mom-mock of my voice. I didn’t sound anything like that. Besides–surely my beloved first teacher had verified my tales of woe.
“She said you were lying.”
Betrayed by the woman who introduced me to the Letter People and napping on carpet squares? Who had taught me to print my name on fat-lined green paper with a fat pencil I’d used later as a weapon in second grade?
“Maybe lying is harsh,” Mom amended. “She said you were one of the most popular girls in the class. You loved playing with everyone, and they liked playing with you. You were never by yourself.”
Except when I was eating paste behind the bathroom door.
Mom continued: “After about two weeks of this, I arranged a visit. I watched you one afternoon during playtime to see what went on.”
“You spied on me? You actually spied on me?”
What other intel had she gathered about me over the years? I hoped that flimsy key from my fourth-grade diary held up or I’d have some explaining to do on what I really knew about the fire that had burned down the baseball field.
“Oh, shut up the drama. It wasn’t a Briscoe and Green stakeout.”
“Law and Order” did not make this better.
“So you found out that Darla, Kelly, and Christy didn’t like me as much as Mrs. Hanna said, right?”
“Why would a kindergarten teacher lie? Everything she said was true. You were flitting around like a little social butterfly, making eggs on that pretend stove. Darla was setting the table. Cathy was dressing dolls. All of you girls were happy as could be.”
“You came on a good day,” I groused.
I needed to salvage my lonely, friendless heart. This wasn’t a joke. I really didn’t have any friends to call. If I did, I definitely wouldn’t have the time to endure this character assassination.
“Mrs. Hanna probably told them to be nice to me and she’d buy the chocolate milk at snack time,” I reasoned.
“I went more than once.”
“So it WAS like Briscoe and Green,” I snapped, imagining my mother standing outside the triple-thick, wire-enforced, green-trimmed, metal kindergarten door, a Styrofoam cup to her ear and a battering ram ready to take out the glass and kick some five-year-old butt at the first sign of her baby being ignored.
“You tailed me to prove I didn’t have friends? What kind of teacher would let a parent do that? What kind of mother would do that?”
“One who was fed up with your whining. Like now.” I hated her serious tone.
“I still need some friends,” I reminded her. “I don’t have anyone to hang out with.”
“Then make some,” she argued, as if it were as easy as frying plastic eggs in a plastic skillet. “Stop being shy, because you’re as shy as Santa is skinny. Instead of complaining, give one of them a call and invite them out for coffee.”
I knew she was right but refused to admit it. “I suppose. I’ll try.”
“Good. Make one new friend this week and call me next week to tell me how it went,” she instructed.
It was so easy I couldn’t fail. And if I did, I could cry about it to her anyway. A win-win.
“Oh, and one more thing,” she added.
“Yes?” I paused, not wanting to miss any great motherly advice.
“Never cut your hair by yourself again. And stay out of the paste.”
Beth Morrow loves drama so much she became a middle school teacher and spends her summers as co-program director at Camp Hamwi, a residential camp for teenagers with diabetes. She has many great friends, loves making new ones, and misses Letter People videos. Reach her at email@example.com.