So, Mom and I were in the JCPenney at the Willowbrook Mall, not long after Desmond was born. I’m guessing he was maybe four or five months old at the time. Everybody knows that babies love to shop. We shouldn’t deny them, despite their limited understanding of currency, discounts and most other things.
Waiting my turn at the register, I held Desmond in one arm, two rompers and a package of bibs in the other. I bounced him gently and sang into his soft, smiling cheek. A customer standing directly in front of us turned when she heard me singing, “You are good. So, so good.” Who could possibly be that good to have a song written about them? I’d want to know, as well.
“Oh, he is beautiful,” she said.
“Is he your first?”
“Second,” I replied.
“Aren’t grandchildren special? I have five now.”
Other sounds kept leaving this woman’s mouth, but I couldn’t hear any of them. My brain had locked on the word “grandchildren” and froze there paralyzed, unable to perform its job of interpreting language and responding to basic verbal queues.
Grandchildren? Is she kidding? I thought to myself. I’m 39 years old. Do I really look that bad? I lurched away from the line, searching for my mother. I found her in the Intimate Apparel department, removing white brassieres from their boxes and testing the elastic. By the look on my face, she knew something was wrong.
“Honey, what’s the matter?” she asked. “You’re as pale as a ghost.”
“Someone over there”— I pointed in the direction of the customer service desk — “She thinks,” I paused. I still couldn’t believe it. “She thinks I’m an old lady, like her.”
“Who? Where is she?” Mom was furious that I was upset. She demanded more information. Together, we pushed the baby carriage to the Kids’ section so she could hate this person with her very own eyes.
“There she is,” I said. “Lavender sweater.”
My mother and I stood there while the offending party gathered up her purchases. We stared as she headed toward the escalator. Mom grabbed me by the elbow and loud whispered in my ear.
“There must be something wrong with her, Mary. Maybe she’s retarded.”
My mother loved me so much, she didn’t think twice about calling a perfectly sane woman a mental patient so I could feel better about myself. Would your mom do that?