Regina George, with her perfect blonde hair and manipulative persona, no longer reigns. George’s mum in your kids class does. She rules the playground. People will only attend events knowing she’s there. You’ve smiled at her and been met with a blank stare as she and her collective went off for lunch. You might have thought you escaped it when you graduated, but I’ve got bad news: the queen bees are now moms.
Looking back to when my son started school six years ago, all I was concerned about was how my little boy would cope with his new routine. I knew that he would be led astray, would be testing his very best, most ground-breaking variations of potty mouth on his friends, and I wouldn’t be there to wag my all-knowing finger and tell him, “We don’t say things like that in our house darling.” Don’t get me wrong, he is no angel — I know that — but I am a stay-at-home mum, so he is a product of my guidance. It’s almost comical to think that my only concern was about the cheeky things going on in the school playground.
I remember that first day in September clear as day. Stepping through those narrow gates, I was hit by a wave of gut-wrenching nostalgia for my own first days of school.
Individuals standing vulnerably, clutching book bags, clumped into little groups, checking to see who might be friendly — I’m talking, of course, about the mums. (Forget the kids who, by this point, were running around like nutters, screaming and shouting — all white noise to me, this sh*t was far more worrying).
I stood there looking for a social lifeboat, taking in the relief of friendship hierarchies, alliances, women who clearly shared the same hairdresser.
Mum Bees. That’s the term I came up with watching these little groups buzzing around central figures, the alpha female within the pack — the queen bee.
We are now thrown together, not by work, not by a similar interest, but by our children. And we have to get along.
I’ve spent a long time dissecting the dynamics of the playground. There’s the working mum, the stay-at-home mum, the glam mum, the perfect mum, the wannabe mum, the competitive mum. Where do I fit in?
Obviously, we’re not defined by these categories; it’s just the outer shell we project. Some women become really empowered and blossom as mothers; some become quite insecure and anxious. But the bottom line is we are now thrown together, not by work, not by a similar interest, but by our children. And we have to get along. Muster the grace to see each other twice a day without revealing our sodden, anxious, twitching insides. How the f*ck does that work??
Speed coffee-dates would be the answer. Not quite as cut-throat as Tinder. Just a non-committal 10 mins, maybe 20, to try and work out whether you have a “connection.” then ring your bell once or twice accordingly. Nope. Not that easy. Women together are far more complex.
I have an awful but totally common story about a friend who was invited over for a play date (shudder at the term “play date,” a forced friendship with a child who has been cherry-picked by the social-climber parents in a creche version of arranged marriage) and she likened the experience to being interviewed. Questions to work out exactly what her husband did for a living, if they had just moved from London where did they live in London, do they rent, does Harry read yet? Can he write his name? To save time, she should have just handed over her husbands pay slip and house valuation, and given the son a quick IQ test before they arrived to streamline the horrors of meeting new people.
Ruthless, calculating and just not cool.
Look, I have met some of my best friends in the playground. I love my life as a mum, waiting to see my brood as they come out brimming with excitement to show me what delights they have made with a bog roll and some cereal boxes; of the huge bear hug my son still gives me when he walks around the corner and sees me; of dropping them off without any makeup after a dreadful night of coughing, temperatures or leg ache (which is a real thing by the way) and being cheered up by my friends.
So how does someone navigate these playground minefields?
I’m still trying to figure it out, but what advice I will offer to those of you who have your firstborn about to start school: just take it a day at a time. There are some mums you will never win over, and some who will become your best friends.
Be yourself, toughen up, smile and walk through those gates with both eyes open and a sense of humor, and eventually, even against your will, you might find you get your buzz on.