Monday 27 February 2012

Play Group Anxiety

I hate play groups.  I tried it with Frick and found it to be a boring waste of time that generally kicked my anxiety into overdrive because I was forced to make small talk with over-enthusiastic strange women, so I stopped going.  Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury with Frack.

Frack's speech therapist insists that the very best thing for him is to spend time interacting socially with his peers in a structured environment.  And since we can't afford pre-school that means the local, government-funded play group.

Today is play group day.

Today I am trying to be a good mom by getting dinner into the slow-cooker before we leave for the play group so I'll actually be free to spend some quality time this evening with the laundry that's been piling up.

We are having beef stew.  This is important.  Beef stew is going to ruin my life today.

While I am browning the beef and the onions for the stew I am barking orders at my kids.

"Eat your breakfast.  Take another bite.  Hey, are you eating your breakfast?  Why don't you pick up your spoon?  Okay, pick up your spoon and don't put it down until you're finished.  You can take another bite, now.  Okay, while you are eating that bite get the next bite ready."

Then it's time to get dressed.

"Okay go upstairs and get dressed now.  Are you going upstairs?  Hey, stop playing with the dog and go upstairs.  What are you guys doing up there?  Are you out of your pajamas yet?  Please take off your pajamas.  No you can't wear that t-shirt, it's winter.  Get a sweater.  What do you mean you have no underwear?  Where are your socks?"

By the time they were dressed I was tired of the constant orders so I half-assed it with the tooth brushing and face washing and just said "Get cleaned up in the bathroom."

Oh stupid, stupid.

We're running late, as usual.  Play group starts at 9 am and it is now just before 10 and I am only just finishing cooking the onions and getting everything into the slow-cooker.  I get the boys into their boots and coats and we are out the door.  At least it's just a drop-in thing, I tell myself.  Nobody cares if we're late.

We get to play group and there's a lot of people today.  They are right in the middle of having a discussion about what day would be best for everyone to do something called "Sous-chef" and I interrupt it with our late entrance.

They're all looking at me.

Probably they weren't.  Maybe only three people looked at me.  Doesn't matter, they may as well all be looking at me.  Looking and judging.

Stop thinking like that.  They don't care.

I smile nervously to let them know I am non-threatening as I take off Frack's coat and boots.  When I go to take off my coat it hits me.  The smell.

No.  The stank.

What I failed to think about before I left the house was the fact that I was cooking beef and onions.  Apparently my sweater had absorbed all of that cooking beef and onion smell in full force.  It was especially obvious in the considerate-for-pregnant-women-fragrance-free environment that was the play group.

Oh my God, I stink!  What do I do?  Do we leave?  No we just got here.  What if they smell it?  What will they think?  Maybe it doesn't matter.  Lots of moms don't have time to not smell like beef and onions because their kids come first.  Right?

I occupy myself with Frack.  Frack wants to be as far away from the other kids as possible and right now that suits me just fine.  I look at the other moms.

What is with these women?  Look at her.  She looks great.  Love her boots.  Holy shit is she wearing a white shirt?  She's got two kids under three, how come she gets to wear a white shirt?  Why is it so clean?

I look down at my comfortable, stank-sweater and jogging pants (because I only do loose clothes before noon) and see them as a badge of sloppiness.  These women look wide awake and happy and refreshed from good sleep.  Even their hair was perky.

I can't tell these women I was only cooking, they'd never believe it.  Why didn't I wear jeans instead?  They would have at least looked tidier.  Seriously, what time do you have to get up to be able to look like that this early?  At least I got the boys to clean themselves up.  As long as the children look good, it's probably okay for Mom to be a little sloppy.  Right?

Lyle, the play group leader, starts walking my way.

Ack!   He's coming over here to talk.  Sweet Jesus, I can smell myself!  Can I run away?  Nope, he made eye contact.  Alright, just be cool.

I make polite small talk with Lyle, asking about his wife and new baby but not really paying attention because I'm distracted with trying to calculate just the right distance from Lyle so that he can't smell me without being so far away that it's rude.  Also, I am feeling distinctly nauseous.

Frack, who is supposed to be reaping the benefits of social interaction with his peers, is hiding behind a book shelf while Frick tries to coax him out with a puppet.

How much longer is this thing?  Why don't they have a clock in here?   Can I look at my iPod to check the time without looking rude?  No he's talking at me right now, it will totally look rude.  Can he smell me?  Can he tell?  Are they going to call Children's Aid because I smell like this and home school my kids?

I start to sweat.  Suddenly my coffee is working too well and I have jitters.  I keep looking at the door contemplating escape.  Lyle, announces that it's Snack Time.  Yay!  This hell, is almost over.  Bribing Frack with offers of yogurt to sit at the table with the other kids helps take my mind off the situation.  After the kids eat, Lyle announces that it's Circle Time.

Circle Time and then Home Time and then out of this horrible, stanky sweater.  I swear to God, I'm going to burn it in the barbecue!  Ugh!  At least the kids are alright.  That's the important thing.

We go sit down in the circle and I am careful to place myself next to the Chinese Grandma whose English isn't very good.  I'm hoping that if she does smell me she will only be able to tell her family about it and I never see them nor do I understand Chinese, so that's okay somehow.  If she were to tell these other moms here I could never, ever come back.   And that's when I saw it.

My kids were not clean.

Frack had smudges on his face I never noticed before and I could see the insides of his ears.  Oh, the filth!  And the shirt he was wearing that had seemed perfectly fine because it was warm enough for winter (and that is basically my criteria when it comes to this kid who insists on wearing only pajamas and superhero costumes everywhere) had a stain and a hole in the cuff of the sleeve.  Frick grinned at me and revealed that, although he did wash his face, he had not brushed his teeth.   His hair was a mess from wearing a toque and because it is kind of long it looked messier than necessary.

I probably would have run at that point but I was glued to the floor, wishing like hell I could sink through it.  Instead, I smiled like an idiot through "If You're Happy and You Know It" until Frack got angry at me for clapping along and started crying.  That was just distracting enough to enable me to get my ill-kempt, hillbilly children out of there and head for the merciful sanctuary of home.

Next week I'll have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to be on time and impeccably dressed, thus preventing the imaginary gossip that probably doesn't happen because I'm pretty sure these women do not give a shit and most of this is in my head.  I hate it.  It's torture.  But all that quality social interaction Frack is getting makes it totally worthwhile.

At least the stew turned out great.


  1. If you started a play group, I would TOTALLY join. I am SO nervous about all of that. Ack! It's all in my head, too, I guess.

  2. I will call it the "Roll Out of Bed and Show Up Play Group" and we will serve coffee and talk about our shortcomings as mothers. It will be awesome.

  3. When I was in Arizona, I found playgroups on After 2 that were filled with rich women in stilettos (because why shouldn't you wear 5 inch heals to a playground?) I found one that was composed of a few older moms (in their 40s) and several moms like me who had NO IDEA what the hell they were doing either. The other thing was that the meetups were usually around 1pm so the kids could play for an hour or so and be tired out for an afternoon nap. Seriously, whoever is setting up a playgroup for small children at 9am is clearly not a stay-at-home mom.

    I am also seriously thrilled to find that I am not the only controlling mother that has to tell her kid over and over to take a bite. I envy moms whose children eat not only willingly but with enthusiasm.

    1. Nope. It was set up by the government of Ontario. We're kind of socialist like that.

  4. I usually throw myself into the sandbox and bury one of the kids. The kids love me, but the parents don't invite me back.

  5. I absolutely love this article. I have all of these paranoid thoughts as well. My son has his first playgroup tomorrow.