As a military spouse, we know what it’s like to arrive to a new town and have to make new friends-again. It is among the many talents that we acquire moving from base to base. Yet some posts prove more difficult than others for me, and while this current PCS (Permanent Change of Station) brought me back to the basics of “friend-making”, it also reminded me of the immeasurable strength we possess as military spouses.
On our first trip to the playground after our most recent PCS, I noticed a familiar, uneasy feeling in my stomach as I surveyed the sandbox scene in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I looked around at the other mothers huddled together sharing warm mugs of máte* and stories and bringing snacks for each other’s kids, and I longed to break into the circle, to share in the “can-you-believe-the-day-I-had?!” stories. But there didn’t seem to be an opening for me. Eyes that met mine darted away quickly, and no one even so much as offered a smile in greeting. So I resumed my motherly playground duty in solitude and pretended to be too busy to even notice the camaraderie shared by this group of mothers. Then I remembered where I’d felt this feeling before-my first day of school, desperately seeking friends.
I made a promise to myself that, within the month, I would break into the mother’s circle at the playground. I would have friends, and so would my kids. It wouldn’t be that hard, after all, I’d done this before, lots of times. I just had to be persistent, and not take no for an answer. We’ve moved before, and I had made friends at each post, so I was just going to apply the same techniques and hope that they’d work in a different country.
So I visited the playground the next day with renewed faith in myself. And yet I found myself walking the kids home, an hour later, having made little to no progress on the friend front. After a week or so of this, I started to have doubts. Maybe we were too different. Maybe the mommy máte circle didn’t want any more friends. They probably weren’t all that nice anyway.
But I needed to at least approach them, anyway, for my sons’ sake. They needed someone other than mommy and Bubble Guppies to entertain them on rainy days, and I was desperate. So, I dug deep, I went back to basics, and I started a “make friends fast” boot camp-and here’s what happened…
1) Say “yes”
My first rule of making friends is to be open and say yes. When one of our neighbors, whom we had never met, knocked on our door out of the blue and invited my son to her daughter’s birthday party, I happily accepted and put it on the calendar. But as the date drew nearer and I realized that I wouldn’t know anyone and neither would my son (and, do they get birthday presents for Argentine birthday parties? And what do they get? And how much? And what should I wear?), I have to admit that I was a little hesitant to go. But my husband gently reminded me that this was a good opportunity for me to meet other moms and for my son to make some friends, and so, we went. I bought a suitable present for a child I didn’t know, I taught my son how to introduce himself, and I made sure we were at least 45 minutes late since nothing in Argentina starts on time. Which leads me to..
2) Get uncomfortable
We were the first ones to arrive at the party! We were 45 minutes late and still there even before the birthday girl was up from her nap. I was mortified, and there was no one to chat with because the parents were still getting the party set up. I wanted to head for the door, but, being the only ones there, I was pretty sure they’d know we had bolted. So, my 2 year old and I just sat there…waiting…munching on birthday snacks…and…waiting…. But eventually (an hour or so later) the birthday girl got up, and the guests arrived. I was fortunate enough to meet another foreign mother who immediately asked me to join their formal playgroup (complete with a teacher) and that they’d get in touch with me soon regarding the details. I left the party with new contacts in my phone and feeling like I’d won the lottery! They weren’t friends yet, but it was a step in the right direction. My momentary discomfort led to a playgroup for my son and a mommy group for me.
3) Say “hello”
With my “almost-made-a-friend” victory fresh in my mind, I approached the playground moms again with renewed determination. I decided I would just introduce myself. Just like that, I would simply say “hello”. So I arrived at the playground and rolled my son’s trike right up next to the group and said, “…” Well, it was hard to find a good moment to strike, so I altered the plan and switched to a mom-to-mom approach. I cornered one of the moms who happened to be helping her son down the slide near my son playing in the sand, and I went for it: “Hello, I’m Kate!”, I smiled my nicest smile and held my breath, and then she said, “Hello, my name is Cecelia, and this is my son, Ramiro”. And just like that, a friendship was born…
Okay, so it took a little bit more work than that, but within a few weeks of introducing myself to every mother I met at the park, I made (clawed?) my way into the mommy máte circle. My husband was very impressed the day he found me at the park sipping máte with the moms, and chided me on the way home saying, “Look how far you’ve come!” Persistence, patience, and putting yourself out there are the military spouses’ secret weapon when it comes to making friends at a new post, and our first post overseas has reminded me just how resilient and strong we military spouses are-for our kids, for our spouses, and for ourselves. We really can do anything-from making friends fast to playing it cool at a birthday party, the power of a military spouse comes from the ability to adapt, and then strength to do it all again next PCS.
*máte is the national drink of Argentina. It’s similar to loose-leaf herbal tea and is sipped through a silver straw and passed from person to person as a symbol of friendship and respect.