If you’d have told me this time last year that I’d be “A Playgroup Mum”, I’d never have believed you. I’m not a particularly sociable person, can just about manage family and friends most days, but making conversations and small talk with people I don’t know? Definitely not my idea of fun.
So when the babies came along and people told me, “Join a playgroup, it’ll be the best thing you ever did!” I quietly disagreed.
“Its good for them to mix with other children their age” my mum would constantly tell me.
“They have eachother!” I would argue.
“It’s a change of scenery!” well meaning friends would say, “Gets you out of the house!”.
“We’re never in!” I would tell them, thinking of our hectic days, our weekly trip to soft play, the park…to Tesco.
“You’ll make new friends!” the Health Visitor would tell me with a sympathetic smile on her face.
“I’ve got loads of friends!!” I would reply, “I don’t need anymore!”
And I was quite happy to carry on, Lewis in school and the three babies at home, plodding along in our own little routine of lazy days in the house, a rare sunny day in the garden, and those lovely occasions when we would meet a friend and their children at soft play. The children were happy enough, they played nicely alongside others and I certainly didn’t feel like they were missing out.
“You should come to playgroup” my friend Rosie persistently asked me for the hundredth time, “It’s great!”. “Hmm I’m not sure,” I said, “It sounds like hard work.” “There’s toast and biscuits!” she told me, appealing to my weakness. And just like that, with this new nugget of information, I began to wonder whether it could possibly be as bad as I imagined?
And so one morning I managed the unthinkable, all three babies up, dressed and out of the house for 10am, and off we went. On the drive there I imagined the scene that would greet me. A grotty church hall, the faint whiff of stale wee and dirty nappies and women sat chatting in their little cliques discussing how Charlie had walked at just 6 months old and Jessica had recited the entire alphabet by her first birthday. I imagined that the women would be immaculate, with a full head of highlights, perfectly behaved children and practically chomping at the bit to tell me that breast is best!!
So as I drove up to the admittedly, slightly grotty church hall and through the doors where there was indeed a faint smell of wee, I started to panic that I really didn’t belong here afterall. Holding on to the children’s hands for support, with a deep breath, in we went….
Toys, cars, dolls, play-dough….a slide!!! The girls were in their element!! And although I surgically attached myself to Rosie for support, the children were soon zooming around on plastic ride-ons and diving headfirst down the slide, and I realised I owed it to them to give it a go.
And it was actually all going quite well until the big announcement of “Singing time!!!”. I somehow found myself squeezed into a circle of mums and babies and sat waiting with baited breath. It was with a mixture of horror and amusement that I watched as they all began to sing at the top of their voices, their hands moving in synchrony, doing actions to songs that I had never even heard of. Given that the only time I have ever sang in public is with ten vodkas down my neck in The Market Tavern on a Saturday night, this was not my idea of fun. On realising that I didn’t even know all of the words to The Wheels On The Bus, it simply fuelled my opinion that playgroup just wasn’t for me. And where the hell were those biscuits????
And finally the singing stopped and there was the clatter of chairs and tables and the redeeming announcement, “Snack time!!!”. As I found myself separated from Rosie and sat beside two complete strangers I suddenly felt very alone. The girls swooped on the toast and biscuits as though they had never been fed and Harry sat and wrung every last drop of butter from the toast straight onto my lap. As Eva spilled her juice and Megan screamed for more Jaffa Cakes, I glanced around worrying that the other mums were judging me for my un-ruly children and their juice stained t-shirts. And it was only when I noticed that the lady to my left had a line of baby sick running down the front of her top, and the little boy to my right was sticking his fingers up his nose that I finally began to relax a little.
By the time we had finished eating I knew four of the women’s names, had joined in conversations about stain remover, TOWIE, sex and the best local takeaway and I realised that actually, this was way more fun than I had anticipated!!
And as the girls played and Harry rolled around on the floor in oblivion, I chatted to the other women, we mutually admired eachothers children, agreed that being a mummy was the hardest job in the world and I found myself saying that yes, I would most definitely be back next week.
So by the time the “Goodbye marching song” began to play and the children made a mad dash for a drum, the maracas or a triangle, I took my tambourine and not only did I join in, but I did it with a great big smile on my face. And as I marched, shaking my tambourine with wild abandon, a belly full of bourbon creams and the prospect of some lovely new friends, I realised that actually, playgroup really wasn’t all that bad!!!
And six months later we are a member of not just one, but TWO different playgroups. I meet The Playgroup Mums for play dates and girls nights out. We chat about anything and everything, laugh ourselves stupid during singing time and how our children share a mutual hatred for joining in. I lean on these ladies for advice, for support and most importantly for friendship. Because it’s very easy to feel isolated when the children are young, when you’re tired and fed up and leaving the house just seems impossible. So now, when I count my blessings and all that my children have brought me, I count these ladies and their beautiful children too.
And these days, when I’m asked what advice I would give to new mums, I tell them, “Join a playgroup, it’ll be the best thing you ever did.”