How to Make New Friends in 2020—A Summer Without Playmates

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“How long did it take us to make friends in South Carolina?” my six-year-old son asked. 

We were in the car. I glanced at him in the rearview mirror and knew why he was asking. We had lived in Omaha for almost two months, and we made no new friends. 

Our move to Omaha was bizarre. We left South Carolina without saying goodbye, and we entered Omaha with COVID-19 restrictions still in place. The playgrounds were closed, most restaurants only did take-out, and I found myself and the kids stuck in the house, with boxes upon boxes of our stuff, while my husband went to work. 

We’ve moved a lot. But this move was like none other we’ve experienced. It has taken my breath away. Like a slow-leaking party balloon, I limped along, going through the motions of the move, but feeling deflated inside. 

The first couple of days we lived here, I ate a lot of cookie dough. 

I checked online to see the price of airline tickets: OMA to CHS. Could I make it work? We hadn’t officially sold our South Carolina house yet. Could we go back? Even just for a bit? 

Moving to a new community during a pandemic is not ideal, and it has not been an optimal time to make new friends. 

Once everything started opening up again, we ventured to the playgrounds. My son ran and laughed with the other kids. (My daughter did her own thing.) 

The other moms were on their spaced-out benches. They looked friendly enough, but I never approached their bubbles. 

I’ll have the courage next time, I thought. 

Then it happened. I blew a tire on the interstate while my husband was on a business trip. I had no one local to call. While the cars sped past me, I felt utterly alone. 

With the car in the shop, we came home to a quiet house. I put a cardboard pizza in the oven for the kids’ lunch and crawled into bed. I watched Korean dramas for the next two days.

It was too much. It was lonely—I miss our friends in South Carolina. It felt lonely not to have friends here. I lost all the air in my symbolic balloon. 

My husband, in his way, tried to sympathize. But he was going through his transitions. 

Then, just like that, I woke up and took a breath. It could always be worse, I thought. 

There’s a lot more gold than dirt in this situation. I will have to dig for it. 

We had each other. We would be okay. Right? 

I finished unpacking all the boxes. 

I found the bathroom scale

I stopped checking social media to see what our friends in South Carolina were doing. 

My kids and I spent time outside as the summer sun stayed out longer and longer. We watched male cardinals bicker and became familiar with the sound of the woodpeckers who lived in the woods. 

We spit cherry pits and watermelon seeds off our back porch. My daughter had her first taste of mulberries

I took afternoon naps, and my kids’ made-up games and played with each other

They built forts out of the moving boxes in the living room. Then they moved their fort to the front yard. Then eventually to the back porch. 

The dog became the royal guard to their cardboard castle. 

How to Make New Friends in 2020

Little by little, I changed the way I saw things and looked forward to our miniature adventures.

We climbed the hills in our neighborhood, and my son wiped out on his bike, learning the importance of applying his breaks down the steep slopes. 

I turned on the sprinklers, and the kids laughed and shivered in the sun. 

When we couldn’t bear the long days any longer, we took road trips to see grandparents who lived just a state over. 

We found the gravemarkers of my great-great-grandmother in a cemetery just outside Omaha, on a gravel road surrounded by fields. My great-great-grandmother’s 9-year-old son (my great-uncle) resting beside her. We wondered about the story. 

My to-do list grew with things to organize, books to purchase for the upcoming school year, etc., but I let them be. Instead, I focused on being okay. I concentrated on refilling my metaphorical balloon. 

I read books and sipped sun tea and lay in our hammock. 

I pulled out puzzles and board games. My son learned how to play checkers. 

We met neighbors! 

Then I was invited to a mom gathering for the moms in my son’s upcoming school class. It was a warm summer evening. The sun had not yet set. A handful of us gathered in a circle of lawn chairs, pulled from our mini-vans, in a shady spot at a local park. The women were kind. They listened to my story and encouraged one another. 

I was hopeful. 

Soon school would start, in whatever form that looked like, and my family would meet people, friends! Surely this group of moms had children who would become playmates for my son, I thought.

Maybe this was our summer’s purpose. 

To be. 

To let go. 

To rest. 

And to trust, it will all be okay. 

I’m not sure how the kids will remember this summer. To them, will it be their summer without playmates? 

But this friendless time was just a season—our first in Omaha.

I like the lines from Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem Annie Allen:

Exhaust the little moment. Soon it dies.

And be it gash or gold it will not come

Again in this identical disguise.

I’m not sure what this next season will hold for us. 2020 has brought surprises for most everyone. It’s easy to see the dirt.

As for me, I’m going to dig for the gold.

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