it’s been a while since i’ve felt shamed like i felt today in regards to having kids. there have been times, as any parent knows, when i have had to leave places, heart pounding, face red, all eyes upon me, when ruth was younger and would you believe even more unreasonable than she is now? once i was quite familiar with mapping out exit strategies wherever i went and i was no stranger to these types of exits, kid all a-scream,thrashing tucked under one armpit (caution: this is not a drill. i repeat: not a drill. for the loveof all that is holy, get out of the way!). good times. it’s been a while, though.
joel has recently entered into that wonderfully annoying phase called one year old. suddenly, a once agreeable baby, he is suddenly walking, starting to talk, and has a set opinion on things such as when he will be strapped down (never) and when he won’t (always, unless asleep), when he will be held (hardly) and for how long (a couple seconds). i guess it has been a little while since i’ve been out in public with the two of them, because i was blissfully unaware of the situation i was putting myself into when i decided to take them both up to city hall to get a garage sale permit this afternoon. here’s me: la, la, la. unaware. getting ready to go. putting shoes on. sweaters. i should have packed some tear gas and a bullet proof vest or two.
it started off ok. joel was in the umbrella stroller and ruth was trotting alongside me. look, ma, no hands. that was until i got the application and sat down to fill it out. rule #1 when dealing with independent babies: keep the stroller moving. as soon as joel felt that thing come to a halt, he wanted out. but bad. and did that charming trick he’s picked up of late when anything mildly displeases him: arched his back and screeched like he was being stabbed by a blunt object. which is fine when i’m places like kroger. i fit right in. or the park. it’s spacious enough, people don’t notice much. however, city hall was deserted, save the workers. and the halls echo. yup. every eye was on me. c’mon, people. you’re government employees. civil servants. shouldn’t you be busy earning taxpayer dollars? guess not.
so, i did what anyone caught in that desperate situation would do, and i took him out, where he happily began stumbling around the place like a drunken elderly man. that was fine with me. as long as people watched where they stepped, he’d be fine. but the people behind the counter started to look at me and my family like we all had leprosy and didn’t know it. i didn’t want to, but i did that pitfall of parents, and i thought about how they all saw me. it had been a few days since i’d bathed. my hair was the usual mess. i was wearing one of greg’s shirts, splattered with food from breakfast, a pair of pants that were on their fourth or so day of wear, flip-flops, and old sweater. ruth was in her usual footie pajama of choice. joel was wearing his camo sweatshirt, four sizes too big. the stroller is old and coated in rust and squeaks when i push it. ruth was jumping up on the windowsill nearby and joel was still serpentine-ing his way down the hall. both of them being loud. it wasn’t pretty. or flattering. i looked at their neat attire, their office manner, and i began to understand how annoying and utterly unprofessional we were to them.
then i began to get angry. here i was, a citizen. a tax payer. trying to do the right thing and pay the stupid five dollars and fill out the paperwork to have my crumby yard sale meet the city requirements instead of just throwing up a sign like everyone else. and they were looking at us like we were leftovers gone bad, lip curled, face pinched, checking their watches like when the frig is their friggin’ lunch hour???
i finally finished the application and plopped it up on the counter with my credit card, ready to get it over with and leave, when the lady, hair and nails done to perfection, makeup symmetrical, asked to see my drivers license and made a big production of going over to another associate and entering all my data in the system (like they can’t do that after i’m gone???) and then came back to collect the payment. “i’m sorry,” she said after i extended my credit card, “we can only take cash here. i was hoping to spare you having to go over with the kids, but you’ll have to go next door to the treasury to pay. then come back here, and we’ll give you your license.”
first of all, if they take payments all the time for shit, why don’t they take credit cards? secondly, i don’t need to be spared my kids, thanks. i’m with them all day, lady.
but i went over, still hoping it would all go okay. i grabbed joel (more screaming and thrashing) and plopped him down over by the treasury counter (where a sign read: please end all phone conversations before approaching window”) somewhere when i thought he couldn’t get into much and went to the counter (there was no one else there) only to be informed by the (not one but) two people behind the counter that they would be with me in a moment. now, i’m sorry, but i find it ironic that they refuse to let customers business get in their way, but don’t mind making us wait for whatever in the hell they were doing that i’m sure they could have finished once i was gone because, i’ll say again, i was the only one there. but i waited. i watched joel climbing the window ledge, and i waited. i went over and grabbed him and he screamed some more and i waited.
finally, they said they could help me. i handed them the bill and my credit card, and would you believe they didn’t just swipe away? no, a bunch of typing ensued like i’m the first freakin’ person in the city to have a garage sale and they need to figure this out. that’ll be five dollars, ma’am. i handed them the card that was sitting there. redundantly. then she hit me with, “there will be a three dollar charge.” right. so, because i’m paying with a freakin’ credit card, like every other american pays with for everything, i’m getting charged nearly twice as much as it costs for the permit in the first place. i thought about pointing out that their system is really inefficient for tax payers with families like me who are just trying to do the right thing and come down there with my two young kids to demonstrate how you do things by the rules. but i saved my breath. and i paid the extra money.
no one pointed out how cute my kids were. no one looked at them with anything short of disgust, never mind wistful adoration. i didn’t even go out the door i came in, but shamefully, and quickly, looked for the absolute nearest exit. when i left, i was shaking, that’s how bad i felt. i don’t think i’ve even felt as embarrassed or as full of shame as i did right then. and why?
it just baffles me, absolutely baffles me, how people, society, can view kids as an inconvenience, a plague on sophisticated civilization. yet i encounter that attitude more often than i’d like to admit. how can that be? that people see children in that light? that choosing to have a family is seen as the quintessential poor planning or bad move. they are our future. our hope. we should treasure them. nurture them. they are all we have. not to mention an integral part of any functioning community.