There are stories all around us. The mailman who walks with a slight limp and stops for five minutes every day to throw the ball for Hampton. The dreadlocked barista at the Espresso Hut, tight and round with her first child. The man at Costco with metal arms who tells my kids he’s a pirate. The quiet woman with a spaniel who gives Hampton a treat every morning at 7:05 a.m. You don’t have to hear the actual words of the tales. You can find the paragraphs in heartbeats, the chapters in tears shed. It’s all there, written on reams and sheaves of minutes and seconds and hours.
It makes me furiously sad when “intactivists” attack a grieving mother for decisions made in what became the final hours of her child’s life. It makes me nauseous when extreme anti-adoption advocates call me and parents whom I know and love and cherish slave owners. It makes me cringe when we throw around words like bigot with casual confidence in our supreme rightness.
Stories ripped. Chapters slaughtered. Real lives consumed by the slash and burn tactics of a few. Their tales left charred and cold in the ashes of the bonfire of the book of life.
I used to think that giving soda pop to a baby was the poster move for bad parenting. What was to argue? I barely give my kids juice. I think the devil invented chocolate milk. Could you care any less about nutrition? About chemicals? About sugar and high fructose corn syrup and useless, wasted calories?
Then, I met a mom. She’s young. She’s single. I’m her mentor, in theory, though I’m not sure I qualify for that title. I’ve learned more from her than I could ever have to teach. She works so hard. She works so hard at just making life work. She works long hours for money that barely provides their basic needs. She works at the relationship with her baby’s father. She works at learning to manage money and think ahead. She sometimes runs out of diapers between pay checks and she goes to the food bank where they will give you five diapers at a time. She works at staying above the chaos and drama of her family’s life. The 911 calls. The ER visits. She works at boundaries when the adults in her life have none. She works at staying sober when the adults in her life abuse drugs. She works at staying honest when the adults in her life commit felonies.
Every Sunday, before we meet, she stops at McDonalds and gets an extra large sweet tea. The super size that sells for $1. It’s her treat to herself and her daughter and she settles beside me at the indoor mall playground of the faded floor and gigantic rubber mushrooms and fills her daughter’s sippy cup with sugar-filled, caffeinated liquid. I watch the clear plastic behind the pink octopuses and fish turn deep brown and I smile at her.
You should see how her daughter runs into her arms. She’s a solid, square little thing with a booty to die for and wild curly hair. You should see how she smiles when her mom scoops her up and plants juicy raspberries on her chubby side, just above her hip. You should hear how she laughs.
I am ashamed to tell you that I have mocked parents at the state fair as they handed their kids soda pop. I have rolled my eyes. I have exchanged glances with Matt that spoke volumes of our prejudices and our perspective. But, if you saw us at the mall, sitting side by side on the grubby vinyl bench that rings the rubber mushroom forest. If you passed us as she poured her sippy cup and you rolled your eyes or you commented or you tweeted, I would take you the fuck down.
No. I wouldn’t. I have scrawny, pathetic little arms.
I would wrap my scrawny arms around you from behind and hug you as tightly as I could. I would kiss your cheek and put my hands gently on either side of your face and look deeply into your eyes. I would lean close to your ear and I would whisper.
Shhhhhhh. Shhhhhhhhhhhhh. Let’s not tweet. Let’s not talk. Let’s just listen. I’ll help you and you help me. If we do it together, we can let go and we can hear them.
There are stories all around us.
This essay was originally published in Mamalode’s Faith print issue.