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."
"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."