Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Rules of Child Rearing, According to Some Guys at Exxon

It was the best case scenario: My toddler, the Pork Chop, sat quietly in the greasy plastic chair, swinging his feet, clutching his stuffed elephant to his face, and sucking his thumb. In the tiny gas station convenience store, bags of pork rinds, libido-boosting herbal supplements, and pine-scentend air fresheners were hung at toddler height. A door to the right of the counter led into the auto repair shop. A door to the left led outside, to the gas pumps hemmed in by two busy roads.

My son is fast. My son is destructive. In a few chaotic seconds, he could have been slathered in rind fat and squeezing into a tail pipe. Or, worse: hopped up on sex vitamins and flashing passing drivers. Mercifully, he savored his thumb instead.

His thumb — his oldest, dearest companion. Predating his ratty stuffed elephant. Predating even my mother's touch.

Two men jockeyed for space behind the tiny counter. One, a clean-cut manager type with neat fingernails and a fresh polo shirt, took down my information. The other, a stocky mechanic with a thick Southern drawl and 5 o'clock shadow, fished my car key from my key chain and then trudged toward the auto repair shop, stopping briefly by the door.

"That your Chevy right there?" the mechanic asked, pointing a meaty finger toward our parking spot.

"Yup. That's us," I responded, feeling suddenly relieved that I drove an American car.

"It'll take about an hour and a half. We'll give y'all a call when she's ready," the mechanic said over his shoulder.

I opened my mouth, about to say that there was no hurry, that we'd be just down the street, eating zucchini bread and drinking smoothies at a nearby café, but then thought better of it. This is not the kind of man with whom you discuss zucchini bread, smoothies, or, for that matter, cafés, I decided. I assumed he preferred more patriotic fare, like Mountain Dew Code Red.

The door to the repair shop swung shut behind him.

I gathered my jacket and backpack full of diapers and turned toward the manager, who had come around the counter to stand in front of my kid. He tilted his head and stared down at Pork Chop. My son curled his fingers around his nose, allowing his thumb to dangle briefly on his bottom lip.

Suddenly, the manager swung toward me.

"You know why he sucks his thumb?" he asked. And before I could make my patented "I'm not properly dressed for a shit storm" face, he wagged a finger a few inches from my boobs. "Because you breastfed him too long."

And I swore that I could hear a turd hitting the ground.

"I learned that from a doctor," he said, "on a video."

Thud. Thud.

"I sucked my thumb until I was 11," he said, "because of my mother."

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

"See what you did?" he chuckled, gesturing toward my quiet, wide-eyed boy, "A little thumbsucker!"

The shit rained down in a merciless torrent.

Suddenly, I wanted to nurse my son while simultaneously singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I wanted to hold my child up by his sodden thumb and yell, "Flesh of my flesh!" or something similarly biblical. I wanted to explain that he needn't point at my boobs when discussing breastfeeding; even though I'm just a lady person, I know where breasts are generally located.

But most of all, I wanted to scream, "My son is not a 'little' anything. He kisses everyone he loves. He eats only by the fistful. He drinks soapy bathwater. He wrestles his stuffed animals. He prefers stomping to walking. He's a year-and-a-half old and he sucks his thumb. What's it to ya, punk?"

I wanted to do all of that. But I was tired, my son needed lunch, and my car needed to pass its Virginia State inspection. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, confrontation gives me bladder spasms.

"Uh, well," I stammered, "in all of my ultrasound pictures, he was already sucking his thumb."

"You mean, like, inside you?" he said, helpfully pointing at my uterine area.

"Right. Before he even was born. He just finds it comforting, I guess."

"That's so weird."

"Yeah, so weird," I said, gathering up my calm, quiet bundle of toddler and stalking off toward the café.

Breastfeeding: The Gateway Drug


Our 90-minute lunch passed in a blur of rage and self-loathing. How dare that guy judge me for breastfeeding? How dare he assume that I even breastfed? (Dear god, could he tell just by looking?) How dare he judge my son? How dare he point accusatorially at my boobs?

The trek back to the repair shop was a foot-dragging affair. On the one hand, I wanted to finally give the manager a piece of my mind. On the other hand, I had just polished off a really tall smoothie and a cup of coffee.

But the manager was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the mechanic lumbered up to me, my car key in his oily fist. His eyes darted behind me, and I instinctively turned. Dozens of Slim Jims lay in a haphazard pile around my son.

"Snack?" asked Pork Chop.

"Snack!" declared Pork Chop.

"Snack. Snack. Snack." Pork Chop chanted like a Buddhist meditation.

I expected the mechanic to mumble under his breath, to admonish my son, to call my son "boy."

But he quietly handed me my key. "She passed inspection, ma'am, but you're gonna wanna get some new tires on the front before too long. Not tomorrow or nothing. But before winter for sure. Otherwise, you's all set."

Then he nodded in Pork Chop's direction. I straightened my shoulders, instinctively crossed my arms over my chest, and waited for the good ol' boy shit storm to rain down.

"How old's he?"

"Oh, about a year and a half."

"I figured. Got a toddler myself. And two stepdaughters too. The older ones, they could spend all day braiding each other's hair, singing them songs from Frozen. But that toddler, whew, who knows? Draws on everything, then eats the dang crayons. He's just bound and determined to be whatever he wants to be, ya know? And we just gotta let 'em figure it out." The mechanic grinned, shaking his head at the glorious mystery of childhood.

I looked down at my son, waving a Slim Jim in the air like he was conducting the Exxon orchestra. Then I blinked up at the mechanic. I wanted to blurt, "I took my son to a café! We drank smoothies! I'm so sorry! I'm such an asshole!"

Instead, I scooped the pile of beef jerky back onto the shelf  and took my kid by the hand.

"I bet you give your mom a real run for her money, don't you?" the mechanic asked Pork Chop.

Pork Chop popped his thumb into his mouth, hiding his face behind my thigh.

"He's just in a shy phase," I explained, with more apologetic flair than was necessary.

"I get it. I get it, little man," the mechanic said, as my son groped for the soft hem of my sweater. "It's a big ol' world, and you just don't know who to trust."

25 comments:

  1. From the mom of one thumbsucker to another, that manager is an asshole. Is it wrong that I want to deck him with a tire iron? I'm glad the mechanic (and a smoothie and coffee and snacks) made up, however imperfectly, for the whole boob-and-uterus-pointing episode. I'd still like to see that patented shit storm face, though.

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    1. I am actually really grateful that he sucks his thumb. It's such a comfort to him. I think it's largely responsible for getting him to sleep through the night early on. Granted, I may feel differently in a few years, when the dentist gets a look at his teeth. But until then, yeah, that dude is on my LIST.

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  2. Gah! (Using P.C. language.) This is great. As usual. It's amazing what morons some people are about children. And women. Then the better ones are such a lovely surprise. I'm glad you encountered these guys in that order, idiot, human. (This is Meg, by the way. I am not signed into Google right now, so it made me sign as "Anon.")

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    1. Rampant cursing is allowed here. And, yeah, I was shocked by the whole encounter: by the weird guy and his comment, by my own judge-y jerkiness, and by the loveliness of the mechanic.

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    1. I wish I had. But I didn't want to pee in my pants.

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  4. What a great post, Jess...just to play Devil's advocate - are you sure it was "judge-y"? Maybe the man liked sucking his thumb ;) Maybe it was pure nostalgia and he was saying, "Good job, 'cause I really love my mama - she made me what I am today..." Perhaps that's a stretch - I know I wasn't there - but I do try to see the good in all of the crazy people, you know. LOL.

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    1. As always, Lisa, you are far better at seeing the good in people than I am. :)

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    2. I love that you look for the best in people. Truly I do. I don't think the guy was trying to be malicious; he was just weird and clueless. But from a few other things he said (things I left out of the essay), it was clear he wasn't giving me props. But hey, he gave me great blog fodder!

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  5. Well I'm just glad he pointed out where your boob and uterus are. It's embarrassing when we're out and you point to your toes and talk about breastfeeding.

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    1. Ya know, I like your positive spin on this. I'd been wondering for years when my reproductive organs were located. Thank goodness someone finally pointed them out (literally).

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  6. Well that one made me cry it ended so beautifully.

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    1. Honestly, I nearly cried when that mechanic said what he said. I felt like such a jerk. I felt so moved. All at the same time. (Thank you!)

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  7. Great story! Babies are long in my past, but I felt an instinctive urge to whip out a breast and start feeding one in front of that first dude. Just for spite.

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    1. Thanks for the note of solidarity, Karen! Yeah, I wish I had the courage to do SOMETHING in the heat of that moment: yell, cry, whip out a boob.

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  8. Just goes to show you can't judge a book by its cover--joe college vs. mechanic. Kudos to mr. Mechanic and shame on mr. Joe college!

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    1. Indeed. Shame on me too. I felt so bad about being a judgmental jerk. But it was a good lesson all around in choosing your words wisely.

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  9. I would have said my child wasn't breastfeed so that blows your theory out the window just to see what the idiot said next

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    1. I thought about that, Jo-Anne. What if I hadn't breastfed at all? I think his tiny head would have exploded had I dropped a bomb like that.

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  10. Well he saw it on a video by some doctor. He obviously knows what he's talking about. The best: "In a few chaotic seconds, he could have been slathered in rind fat and squeezing into a tail pipe." Followed by: "even though I'm just a lady person, I know where breasts are generally located."

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    1. I have a degree in poetry, so lines like that come easy, ya know?

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  11. The manager probably saw it on Dr. Oz-hole. Awesome post, Jess! I got a little teary-eyed at the end, too. Oh, and keep an eye on TireRack.com for new shoes for your Chevy! :)

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    1. Haha! Dr. Oz-hole. I bet you're right. What the hell is a full-grown man (who, I'm guessing does not have children) doing watching videos about breastfeeding? Creepy much? And thanks for the tire tip!

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  12. I sucked my thumb until I was 10 and wasnt breastfed. People talk out of their ass more than their mouths these days.

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    1. I sucked my thumb until I was 8, Shannon. My overbite is proof of that. I wonder sometimes if it's genetic -- both thumb sucking AND ass-talking.

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