Having seen plenty of newborns at this point in my life, I think I can say this objectively: my nephew was beautiful from the day he was born. There was no grace period to get used to bugged eyes or jaundiced skin. No time for a slightly smooshed head to re-form. He was dimpled perfection from the start.
At two years old his dimples had deepened and he was no less beautiful, but entirely ambulatory. And willful. We were in the middle aisle of JC Penny and he was toddling alongside his stroller holding his Nana’s leg. The Twin and I were bringing up the rear and discussing the finer points of buying stuff when a non-human wail got our attention. I did a quick scan to find the Wailer and was shocked to see my perfect nephew laid out on the floor, hands and fist flying in emotion, his dimples hidden by rage. I looked to my mother and she shrugged her shoulders in confusion who knows what set him off? The Twin tried all of her newly learned motherly tricks to console, cajole, and convince him to get off of the floor, but to no avail.
My nephew eventually tired himself out or got over whatever was bothering him, or just regained his equanimity. Either way, he got off the floor when he was good and ready. I remembered staring at that perfect, dimpled face for the rest of the day wondering what time bomb ticked in that little heart. In that one inexplicable act, my nephew had turned me – had turned us – into those people.
Those people. You know, the ones with the snotty-faced, demanding toddler who insists on throwing candy at you in the checkout aisle. Or those people with the obnoxious, seat-kicking brat behind you on the airplane. Or the whiny, small children in your pew who are completely distracting you from hearing God’s message at church (why won’t they take them to the nursery?_. We were suddenly among those people – the ones who can’t seem to control their small children in public.
The Twin and I had sworn — in the way that teenagers with no responsibilities or true understanding of life in general, or children in specific, are wont to do — that we would never be those people. We would be strict. We would spank in public or walk away from them, forcing them to see the error of their ways. We did not understand then that there is no such beast as negotiating with a two-year old mid-tantrum. My nephew (and shortly thereafter his two brothers) would teach us time and time again that we had no idea what we were saying with our never us declarations.
How many times have I looked at those people and thought never me? There’s something about daytime talk shows in particular that give me delight in Monday morning quarterbacking the life and choices of others. I would never go back to a man who cheated on me. I would never forget something that important. I would never shipwreck my life in such a disastrous manner! Oh, but I have. But I have. There is such wreckage in my life that I never saw coming. Things I could never have imagined let alone declare never me about.
In the past three years, I have become those people. I am that person that you are afraid to ask “how are you?” because of all the emotion bubbling under my face’s surface. The person least likely to respond with “I’m good” or “fine” or whatever pat phrase that keeps others at bay. I am that person who is most likely to cry for-God-knows-what-reason at her desk on a Wednesday morning. I am that messily human person with all kinds of untamable emotions – the ones that aren’t mean for public consumption. I am those people.
I never wanted to be those people. I still remember how I looked around, seeing the strangers hurry their steps past us as my nephew laid waste to J.C Penny’s that day – how embarrassed I felt. I never wanted to be pitied by anyone. But I’ve been through a lot since then. I’ve learned something of the world and something of myself in that time.
Sometimes 2 year olds throw unfathomable tantrums. Some days you cry at your desk because your heart is torn and some days you don’t feel that you can take another step. Some days you realize that there is just the sliver of heartache or your brother unexpectedly six feet under between you and those people.
Being those people gives you the compassion to help the frazzled mother pick up the candy off the floor and to smile at the small children playing with fire trucks in your church pew. Being those people is liberating because to be those people is to be human.