Neon lights blinded us as we weaved through aisles. Large amounts of produce piled to and fro. We were surrounded by Mexico’s harvest. There were others milling about but I could not see their faces. Our cart squeaked gently and the noise filled the air. From wall to wall, our presence was known as the needy wheel rubbed itself against the metal carriage. We rolled on past lemons: “Squeak, Squeak.” Then grapefruits: “Squeak, Squeak”. With every step we took, the size of the produce grew. My wife had long ago abandoned us in search of something more. She needed an onion. It was only when she left that I saw the horror of all horrors, the only thing that truly scared me. Why had she abandoned us at the most inopportune time?
I can go into any dark room and combat the lack of light or stare down from any height and not feel dizzy. Clowns and children and a mix of therein do not frighten me. I am unafraid of great distance and pain. But nothing, I repeat: nothing could have stopped my body from shaking when I saw the figure coming toward me. I tried to think happy thoughts as the red coated, face painted mother pushed her own carriage closer to mine. I comforted Jude as he looked around wildly, his eyes whiplashed from one bright colored fruit to the next. Nervously, I ruffled his golden hair while the red cloaked figure pushed past an old woman squeezing melons. Closer she came, a two foot man riding along with her. Upon his head the commercial lighting reflected off similar golden hair to my sons and brightened the same young, undeveloped face. His cheeks were as round as any pumpkin and twelve times as cute. Sticking out from his mouth was a small pacifier, matching his carriers overcoat. They were two different entities brought together by the carriage. Myself and Jude were the same. The only difference was that we were the prey, not the hunter. I went to pivot the carriage around a small display of avocados. Good price, I thought to myself.
It was the last thought I had.
While I was busy daydreaming of guacamole the entity got the drop on me. How could I have been so foolish as to let it happen. She stopped her cart directly in front of mine. The woman, somewhere in her late 30’s looked up. I cringed at her face. No paint or brush could cover up the sincerity she was showing. My eyes flashed from her lips: bright red, to her coat, to her sons pacifier. The red was to much. I was stuck like a bull, only I was not angry, I was terrified. Her mouth opened slowly and she looked heavily into my eyes. Her pupils grabbed past my soul and I felt my face start to melt. She was forcing a smile from the hole in her face. My teeth purged from behind my lips awkwardly. There was no nuance of an honest gesture with my smile.
“Say Hi.” She said. As she spoke the world around me grew a little smaller. The bright lights squeezed my lungs into a fist and I found it hard to breathe. Jude stared at her son, both of them eye level. The kid did nothing. Jude did nothing. They continued to stare into each other eyes. Both communicating in a language long forgot by my time and hers.
Out of nowhere, Alaina put her hands my cart. “Hi” she said nicely. I don’t know how long we had been standing there staring blankly.I’m guessing it was only a couple of minutes, maybe seconds. When the woman parked her cart the clocks in the store stopped working. No one moved. With Alaina my savior, safely by my side, the woman had none of her powers. She was lifeless and non threatening. Jude looked at his mother, then his father, then at the kid. He raised his hand slowly as I pushed past the woman and her son, saying goodbye to a very awkward situation.
There is a right way and a wrong way to approach people with babies when you have a baby. On that fateful day, if the woman in red had simply passed by us and had her kid say “hi” it would have been far less awkward than her parking her cart in front of mine and waiting for some kind of acknowledgment. Life is awkward enough without other people helping. A couple of weeks ago I accidentally made Jude punch himself while I was giving him a high five. Like I said, I don’t need the help of others to feel awkward in my parenting sometimes.
I have a hard time being cordial to people I don’t know and I worry I’ll pass this wonderful trait on to Jude. It’s important for him to accept people and be nice to them, even if he doesn’t know them yet. Otherwise, how will he ever make friends? Much relief has been felt when he interacts with people I know but he doesn’t.
One example: One day my cousin’s husband stopped by our house when he saw me outside. I don’t know a lot about him but I know that he’s a great father and a really nice guy. This man emulates “Most likely to be the nicest person you will ever meet.” Jude was approaching one year old and his tolerance of strangers was still low. While we were talking in my kitchen, Jim (my cousins husband) picked Jude up with no hesitation. My body tensed as I prepared myself for a meltdown. If I was being over-dramatic , I would say my eyes were closed in anticipation for his silent scream. I opened them when I heard his laughter instead. Jude fricken loved the guy! I couldn’t even begin to explain my elation with the situation.
A few months later while in a chinese restaurant, Jude waved to everyone going by. Most people going by smiled and said ‘Hi.” Alaina and myself were so happy that Jude was happy about waving to people. It’s the little things in life that get to you and help you learn.
Two weeks ago I was bringing Jude into see Alaina at work. As I pulled in front of the Deli, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a woman sitting with her young son. I sized him up to about Jude’s age. After grabbing him from the car seat I bee-lined for the counter and ignored my peripheral so I wouldn’t have to endure the awkwardness of meeting another kid. My wife informed me that we should go say hi to a friend of hers (also a woman I knew) that was siting in the window near the entrance. I felt a little embarrassed that I had rushed past this woman without even giving her a glance. If I would have looked I would have noticed that it was someone I did know and someone that Jude had met before. When meeting this time, the two kids were immediately happy to see each other. Even if they didn’t remember their first meeting they certainly didn’t act like it. In fact, when we were done talking and Jude was on the other side of the store, he started making his way back to the woman and her son. He wanted to hang out with the kid, or he was at least curious about him.
As he grows, Jude is forcing me to grow with him. He’s helping me break the awkward jerk that lives under my skin. While understanding how he sees people with no prejudice (negative or positive) I see how cynical all adults can be.