A few weeks ago, I met up with some friends who have pre-schoolers and younger children for a Friday afternoon out. I pulled Theo out of nursery early, certain it would be a Grand Adventure, and schlepped one three-year-old and two twinfants to the Botanic Gardens.
Things immediately began to go awry. Moments inside the Gardens, Theo began nagging me to play video games on my phone. Then he asked to go to a different park. Then he licked the snacks the other parents had brought and put them back, declaring them ‘disGUZting!’ (but he ate all the raspberries, because of course he did). Then both girls started screaming and I had to tandem-feed them while yelling at my child not to trample all the rosemary varietals.
The whole event came to a head when the other two boys fell/jumped in the fountain. We ended up with two naked three-year-olds running laps around the centre of the gardens, with one ripping off his Pull-Up and waving it around his head like a helicopter and wiggling his hips at the spectators in the Victorian greenhouse. At that moment, with two sleeping babies and one fully clothed, dry child, I said ‘So I’m gonna go.’ I swooped up my spawn and headed for the door, feeling smug about the fact that I had somehow come out ahead despite the inauspicious beginning and – oh yeah – that whole two babies thing. But I was exhausted, and we had been there barely 90 minutes.
At that point, I realised I needed to make some new friends. I had an incredible baby group the first time around (which is how I have a posse of pre-school parents to hang out with now), but I don’t actually feel the need to take three kids on superfluous excursions far away from home, even if I get to hang out with the women who were so critical to my maternal homeostasis last time.
Thankfully there are tools available to me that didn’t exist three years ago. I downloaded two apps, Mush and Peanut, intended to help new mums connect (either for adult or child friendship — the apps are pretty agnostic as to their purpose). I never used dating apps, but Mush has what I imagine is a pretty standard format for traditional sites. Women (its all women) enter their age, location, age, basic info on their children, and a small bio. They choose from a selection of really cringey hashtags about you as a human and you as a parent, and you’re matched up with other people who live near you, have kids your age or, presumably (based on your hashtags) share your values as a parent. It is mesmerising.
You can filter for people near you, people with kids your age, etc., and then you can add friends and chat (or group chat) within the app. I live in a very fertile neighbourhood, but after about an hour, I had exhausted the possibilities. I added about 8 women as friends and called it a night.
That was about two weeks ago. Since then, I have gone on two friend dates through Mush. One women is an American expat (like I am) and lives just down the street from me. Her son is about a week older than my daughters, and they were in the same room of the NICU at the same time (though he was a NICU tourist – only there for a day). Its not clear to me that we will be besties, but she seemed cool, and we have a follow-up outing planned for later this week. The other date was similar – I liked her; we might hang out again; it wasn’t a total love connection. In both cases, the women lived in my neighbourhood and are people on whome I could presumably, at some point down the line, have a more casual relationship with – someone who could watch the girls in an emergency, or who might be available for spur-of-the-moment coffee.
Peanut, unfortunately, was a total bust. It is like Tinder in that it involves swiping, but I got way less visceral pleasure from it than I expected. I’ve barely opened it since my first foray.
As a friend said, one of the hard parts about mum-friending is that its like an awkward, alcohol-free cocktail party – at which you’re trying to figure out who you’d want to drink with if you had the opportunity. Mush doesn’t make the initial conversations any less awkward but, when I’m meeting up with other parents of infants, we are both clear on what we’re looking for: we want a village. I don’t think anyone is looking for their new bestie, but they want to feel like they’re part of a community, and a village that originates online is still a village.