I once had a friend who was about 15 months pregnant when she went to Tom Thumb and got asked by a toothless old guy if she needed an “amateur gyno” at that particular moment. Sometimes motherhood is just plain indecent. I take that back, he wasn’t toothless; he had a bare nub of a tooth on the bottom. In telling her story, my friend is always careful to emphasize the fact of his “nub on the bottom.”
When I was about 15 months pregnant, I was in a work meeting with my boss and my intern. These are two people I generally want to impress by my work ethic and hygiene. We were sitting in plastic chairs, some breed of which you might find procreating in the back of the Ikea warehouse, and which will be the last manmade thing standing when the aliens discover earth in four hundred billion years and nothing is left but un-recycled diapers and all things Ikea. Including the uneaten hot dogs they throw out.
I was sitting there very professionally, my cankles crossed, when all of a sudden the most precious little girly FART bulldozed its way out. Of me. And reverberated in the echo chamber of my seat.
I had been talking at that moment, presenting something about how we were going to save the lives of 100,000 inner city kids or some such lofty thing when it happened. I don’t know the protocol when you interrupt yourself with your own horrific alter-ego Julie the Troll Who Passes Gass In Meetings, but I just barreled through with what remained of my pride. Neither my boss nor my intern said a thing. But they knew. Oh but they knew. And they pitied me deeply and profoundly, like how you pity balding celebrities. Or they reviled the creature I had become. (Like how you revile balding celebrities.)
Once we are freed from the dangers of pregnancy humiliation and weird sexual harassment related thereto, we move into the waters of infancy. My infants always waited until we were in public to free from shackles their loose stools and to scream baby epithets like little Danny DeVitos. Now that my oldest is three-and-a-half, he no longer has blowouts but he still poops his pants like he means it and wants to proselytise others to his cause. He still throws the occasional tantrum too, but only if I’m on my period because that’s when our kids detect a hormonal imbalance and prepare their strategic assaults.
I’m waiting for when my children will not make we want to crawl under a table in public. When will this be?
Gordon and I were at a rehearsal dinner this weekend. At the head table was the sweet couple and the couple’s parents. The bride had a sister who appeared to be an adult by years, but who was obviously very mentally disabled and seemed like a small child.
She held a baby doll in her lap and would sit it up on the table now and then to stroke its face. Then without warning she would cry out in a loud primitive voice — in anger, in delight, in frustration.
The room was large with a lot of people present, everyone listening to the toasts and enjoying the profound moments of remembrance and laughter, and well wishes. But everything was punctuated by the presence of this girl, this woman, in her wheelchair with a doll, making loud exclamations.
The girl’s mother, who was also the mother of the bride, would gently reach over and whisper something in her ear. Or would slip her fingers around the girl’s hand to bring it down if it was making a distracting gesture. This lady was the most graceful, dignified woman I have ever seen. The girl’s father was there too, and was performing similar acts of interception with quiet fortitude. They were trying to be equally present with their other daughter who was shining in the sun of her wedding weekend, as with this beloved daughter who couldn’t figure out WHY HER DOLL KEPT FALLING OVER.
For those with adult children who are mentally disabled, there is and always will be the burden of public perception and environmental control. There will never be a time when this mother will be out to dinner with her daughter and will look across the table to admire the mature, intelligent, accomplished woman she has become. She will always be in management mode, always playing defense, always aware her precious one is getting older but never really growing up.
I’m at a loss for how these mothers do it. These are angel-moms. You may think the facts of autism/cerebral palsy are proof God doesn’t exist. But the fact of mothers, and not just the selfless devotion of mothers but the genuine delight moms take in their precious children, “normal” or not, is greater proof He does.