I once commented about how daunting the school playground can be. The comment came from the perspective of a male. A gay male. A gay male undertaking the the job of primary carer of our children.
I was surprised at the response. So many people agreed with me. So many Mums agreed with me. My assumption that the fear, the trepidation, the isolation I felt standing at the edge of the asphalt, were emotions only I felt was quickly dispelled.
One after another Mums and Dads, heterosexual and homosexual, single parents, couples, birth parents and adoptive parents. All expressed the same disquiet. The same feeling of being 'outside the circle'.
About three months after our son's placement with us we determined it was the right time for him to go to the local pre-school. Finding a place was harder than we had imagined, not least because we were almost two thirds of the way through the school year.
J approached a few and was rebuffed by at least three before finding a voluntary one run out of a local village hall. Relief at being accepted, at the confirmation that some of the children from this playgroup would be joining our son in the reception class at the local primary school, this all mixed with the trepidation of joining something new.
Our son went along on those first few days with the amazing confidence and inspirational fearlessness that I've mentioned before.
J went along with with some reluctance and much anxiety. Most of that being on our son's behalf, but also as a result of not only joining something new, but entering an established community. One with which we had, until about three months beforehand, nothing in common.
Waiting to go into the playgroup in the morning, and equally to collect the children at lunchtime, the parents would congregate in the entrance vestibule to the village hall. Large enough to hold all of the parents, but only just.
In such close proximity there was no escaping the nuance of the situation. J was very often the only father there. He was also the newest member of a group of mothers who had clearly been known to one another for some considerable time.
The mothers outwardly exhibited their unity. Born of familiarity. Of an established routine, honed over a couple of years attending the play group. But they also had a deeper, more emotional tie. To us an unfathomable one. Commonality bred from common experience.
Their attitude was exclusive and excluding. Not deliberately so. Naturally occurring as a a result of our being completely incapable of understanding.
J is by nature a quiet, gentle soul. Remarkably kind and patient he's not naturally outgoing. That job is left to me in our relationship. He therefore felt more deeply the sense of exclusion in this situation than I would, perhaps, have done.
His saviour was a fellow newcomer. An Antipodean mum. Also newly arrived. With a foot in both camps. After the first few days, noting his isolation. Recognising the discomfort. This Mum went up to J and loudly introduced herself, and then those other mothers around her. Cracking the ice rather than breaking it her continued presence and friendliness were a God-send to my husband through those difficult early months.
For me the experience was slightly different. OK, very different.
Two and a half years later it was my turn to be the primary carer for our daughter.
Different play school. Very similar situation. The story could have been same. But my bravado. My flirtatiousness. My outgoing persona wouldn't let that happen. Recognising the wall of suspicion in front of me I hit it head on, rainbow flag flying.
Told by the play school manager on one of my first mornings dropping our daughter off that she needed to 'grab me' about something, my answer was loud and proud in front of the assembled Mummy Mafia.
"That'll be a new experience!" I beamed. And after thinking for a moment. "Probably for us both!" I added with a wink.
The play school manager blushed, playfully fanning herself. The assembled mums tittered. The ice was broken. Never one of them. The message made clear, I was not going to be an outsider either.
So now I enter the play school vestibule with some confidence. Strength born of commonality.
I stand in the playground aware that most of the other parents around me have felt the same qualms I have. The assumed knowledge of shared fear boosting my confidence.
And when I see a new parent, standing uncertainly as we once did, I remember our friend from down under and go up to them. Introduce myself. Say something nice. And hope that makes them feel better as the same approach once did for us.