My mother is the kind of person who can walk into a situation and ask for something--maybe something absurdly unreasonable, maybe not--and people think nothing of it. Instead, they drop what they are doing and get her what she wants. It's a confidence thing, I know. I don't have it.
But periodically, I find it fly out of me all unexpected. It happened this morning, the morning of Joey's last day of first grade. It was an early dismissal, but somehow I got it into my head that I should pick him up earlier. There have been a lot of events at his school where the parents who can, do. I always mess up and miss the chance, even being an at-home mom. Joey always came off the bus those days, sad and forlorn, reporting, "Just four kids had to stay all day, Mom. And I was one."
I attended the morning's awards assembly, and some children flocked to their parents afterward and it seemed they would be taken home. I thought to myself, "I've done this right." But then I couldn't find Joey at all, and I realized that his class hadn't come. The whole darn thing had only been grades 2 and up, and I'd just wasted an hour. Feeling...lost, as I often do in these Joey's-School Situations, I gathered up my Noah and went home.
But at home, I still felt lost. I'd been there, and I hadn't taken Joey. It was all so silly, and I knew it. Did I want to pick him up early or not? Truly, no one would care. I once turned down a routine hemoglobin test for Joey at the pediatrician. He'd had it once before and it had been a disaster. A huge and bloody disaster, and in the end, unnecessary. When they presumed to do it a second time the next year, I felt this surge come up inside me out of nowhere, and I blurted, "We're not having that done today." The nurse looked at me in alarm, and I knew I had done something Judy-ish. But I stayed strong. I hardened my face and my voice and I said, "We had a bad experience, and we're signing off on that." The surge, still roiling inside me, seemed to scream at my subconscious, "It's your child. You know what is right."
It's that way, though less extreme, when it comes to other things, and I felt it today about picking Joey up from school. I called the school (inconveniently, Noah had chosen that moment to fire up the karaoke machine and sing some indiscriminate rock song) and said simply, "I'm going to be in the neighborhood in a few minutes. Would it be all right to pick Joey up now?" As it's the last day of school with a ten o'clock dismissal, it sounded reasonable (and Judy-ish) even to me. I was surprised by my own voice speaking the words, and even more surprised when the secretary responded, "Of course. That would be fine."
There was much to celebrate after that. My moment of audacity, though just plain normalcy for most, as well as Joey having a great report card, and of course, the first day of summer vacation. When Joey suggested we all go to the zoo, I agreed.
It didn't go well. It's the end of the school year for everyone (obviously), and many schools had decided to take field trips. We were surrounded by swarms of small children in brightly colored matching tee shirts, all sticky and be-candied and completely NOT listening to their grownups. The day was sweltering hot, making the crowds and zoo-ey smells twice as unbearable. I began to feel claustrophobic and panicky, my confident moment of the morning long behind me.
Joey suggested we get some lunch at the zoo's "Beastro," and I agreed solely because I think its name is clever. But then while we were eating our burgers at the lovely umbrella table, a fat seagull landed on top of our food and flapped its disease-y feathers in Joey's face. I screamed, and Joey screamed, and a table full of older people beside us turned to me slowly in annoyance and frowned. It would have been a great moment to be like my mother, to say something commanding and inarguable, but I just sat there, heart still pounding from the attack of the maniacal seagull. Really, what I was thinking was, "Did you not just see the bird that tried to steal our food from our hands and mouths?"
I looked at Joey, who had hopped off his seat and was now shaking his fist threateningly at the now-retreated bird (who just looked so smug on the nearby Beastro rooftop), and then at Noah.
Noah, who had not screamed, was still holding his burger in his hand, his feet swinging merrily from his too-tall chair.
"Well that was weird!" he said cheerfully.
The old people's faces softened and they nodded at Noah's sage remark and turned back to their lunches. Apparently, some people don't have to grow into this kind of confidence. Apparently, some just are confident. (And some seagulls are, too.)