The three of us walked through the gate as I flashed our shiny new family membership card at the teenage boy behind the desk. My daughter was decked out in her swim gear, and my son sat in the stroller, content, a toy car clutched in each chubby hand.
I was ready for this.
I'd decided on cut-off jean shorts, a navy blue tank, flip flops, and ponytail, a casual but clean ensemble that said I was easy-going but actually did laundry every once in awhile. My mom bag hung over my shoulder bursting with towels, Goldfish crackers, and three baby dolls my daughter insisted join her at the pool. I eased over to the picnic tables, where the scent of sunscreen and chlorine washed over me. My eyes darted back and forth behind sunglasses, scoping out the field.
This was it — the first day of swim lessons in our new town — the ultimate pick-up scene. This place was crawling with moms, and I was on the prowl.
It was pretty new territory for me. In our previous town, all my girlfriends and I started having babies at the same time. My friends became my mom friends; no mom dating required. This worked for me. I was never very good at the witty banter and thoughtful questioning that first dates require. Today had to be different; I brought my A game.
I unloaded at an empty table and attended to my children, careful to present myself as available but not overly desperate. I knelt down to give my daughter the obligatory pep talk about obeying her teacher and being a kind friend. My speech faded off as I noticed a mom at the next table smothering her child in Banana Boat. We exchanged a quick glance and brief smile before our moment was cut short by a whistle and a lady with a clipboard.
I walked my daughter over to the pool fence and casually hung around to check out the kids (see: moms) in her class. The class was small, only five children, and one had been dropped off by her dad. Useless.
I sat on a bench and began gauging the compatibility potential of each mom present. Did she look friendly? Did she look funny? Was she too put together? Too frantic? Was she a high-strung mom or an I-don't-put-sunscreen-on-my-kids mom? Did she have other children? Did it look like she already had enough friends? Was she out of my league, or did I stand a fair chance?
First impression: everyone seemed taken. Moms were already paired up or huddled in small groups chatting about swim meets and The Bachelorette. Should I move closer? Maybe I looked unapproachable or uninterested sitting on this bench alone. I was just about to walk a lap with my son when I spotted her.
She was walking toward the fence, just a few feet from my bench with a baby on her hip, a toddler at her side, and waving to a boy in my daughter’s class. I gave her the quick once over.
Nice smile. Must be friendly, maybe even funny. Bonus.
Sporty outfit. Hmmm. Might be one of those moms who exercises. We can work on that.
Alone. Perfect. She could be as desperate as I am.
This might be it. This could be my next mom friend.
I debated some of my best pick up lines —
"Do you live around here?"
"Cute yoga pants!"
"There's actually gin and tonic in this water bottle if you want some."
But instead of wooing her over with my wit and charm, I froze and spent the remainder of the swim lesson with a creepy smile and awkward stare.
Oof. It's a wonder I ever made any mom friends.
I came back the next day with gumption. To my dismay, my target dropped off her son and proceeded to leave. Leave? Are moms allowed to leave during swim lessons? I'm not required to sit by the fence giving a thumbs up every time my daughter puts her whole head under water? Interesting. She was a bit of risk-taker. I liked her even more.
Day three. I had to make it happen. I spotted her in the kiddie pool, sitting in the shallow end with a baby in her lap. A few days a week, the kiddie pool opens up during swim lessons, which is perfect for entertaining younger siblings. That's it. That's my line. I had to move quickly. I picked up my son, walked around the pool with confidence, and sat down next to her in the water, shamelessly invading her personal space.
"It is so nice that some days they open up the kiddie pool during swim lessons. Sure makes it easier than trying to entertain him myself for a half hour."
Hook, line, and sinker. She totally bought it, and we launched into first date chitchat.
Over the course of the next two weeks, the small talk continued. Conversation stayed within the recommended boundaries for early dates — summer vacation plans, preschool, and best local restaurants. Neither of us mentioned gender-neutral toy aisles, immunizations, organic food, or Donald Trump. Our children played together nicely with minimal toy snatching, and all signs pointed to compatibility. With the last day of swim lessons approaching, I knew what I needed to do. If this was going to continue, I had to get her number.
Driving to the pool on the last day, I was determined to not let cold feet get the best of me. I tried rehearsing a few lines for casually exchanging numbers, but all I could hear was Carly Rae Jepsen's voice singing in my head. (Insert head bopping to chorus of Call Me Maybe.)
We met at our usual spot in the kiddie pool, chatting until swim lessons were over. Ring Pops and certificates were handed out as moms dried off their children and began packing up to head home. Not us. We had plans. That's right. Plans. We had decided to pack picnic lunches for the kids and spend the afternoon at the pool. That's kinda like second base, yes?
The kids were all gathered around the table with pruney fingers grabbing at each other's food. This is a good sign; when your children are making serious trades like my pretzel for your BBQ chip, you know you're knee deep in this friendship thing. No turning back now. My moment was here.
Uh oh. Carly Rae's voice was back.
Hey, I just met you
And this is crazy
Come on, Joy. Speak.
But here's my number.
Do it. Get her number.
So call me maybe.
And then, something I never saw coming. She did it. She totally blindsided me.
"Hey," she said, "Before you go, we have to be sure to exchange numbers."
Genius. So simple. So well-played.
She just swept right in there and stole my moment. She must really like me.
I bet she practiced in the car.
Guest post written by Joy Becker. Joy is a wife and mama living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She recently resigned from a 12-year career as a literacy coach and first grade teacher to become a full time stay-at-home-mom with her two young darlings. She is a lover of new notebooks, October, and goat cheese, and a hater of traffic, scary movies, and overcooked asparagus. You can peek even further into her love for Jesus, food, motherhood, and friendship over at 44 & Oxford and on Instagram.
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode on Motherhood + Loneliness