During a roadtrip break, our fast-food dining neighbour appraised us warmly, smiling in our direction, wanting to let us know by sheer enthusiasm that we’re welcome in public despite the disturbance of peace and the mess we leave behind.
Evan was artfully war-painted in smears of chili, beaming kidney bean-squashed grins at every female who passed and shrieking every time he managed to crush a soda cracker in the palm of his hand. We’re used to it now, the wide berth granted to us by other diners. One look at the floor under his highchair and they know well enough to stay just outside of firing range.
No matter how well we think we're holding it together, we're a rabble of bumbling, staggering half-wits to the outside world. Accompanied by that circus ditty the band plays when the juggling clowns pedal into the big top on unicycles wearing gigantic red shoes.
“Doesn’t that make you want one of your own?” our neighbour piped cheerfully to her companion.
“Ugh,” the companion sniffed, loudly. “Makes me never want one.”
Part of me wanted to grab her whale’s tail from out back of her pants and yank it up over her head. How could she possibly look upon my sweet, miraculous boy and be anything other than charmed to the core? But then, what struck me as funny: she was me, two years ago, all except for the butt cleavage.
I looked at him as she must have, as I did on all kids: smelly, inconvenient, embarrassing and cumbersome. Compounded by the fact that his newfound toddlerhood has a way of getting on my nerves… a constant battle of wills in which my opponent keeps putting on advantageous weight and strength.
The upside doesn’t make sense: I’m most proud of him when he’s filthy. It’s the sign of a day well-lived.
And I’m proud of myself at the end of a truly god-forsaken episode, when he gets poop on my clothes and sand in his crack and chews on my hair and pinches the skin on my neck and uses his head as a morning wake-up battering ram.
Being proven capable – not perfect, but capable – is a more gratifying rush than the satisfaction you get from being childless and free.
I'm starting to truly believe it.