Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Confessions of a New Parent: the one about my purse

Are you familiar with the oversized posters located at security check points in U.S. airports? The posters include photos and text outlining what sort of items are prohibited on aircraft. Some are things that could be considered dangerous, but useful. Things you might forget to remove from your bag before going on a trip. In my mind, that is the purpose of the sign- to remind you to take these useful, yet dangerous items out of your purse.

For instance, I have an incredibly calm friend with no criminal history who also happens to have an affinity for Swiss army knives. You know, the little kits that look like a pocket knife, but in fact hold enough teeny tools to build a submarine? I could see how it might be useful to see a photo of your teeny submarine-building knife on a poster with a big circle around it & line through it in order to remember to take it out of your bag.

There are, however, many items on the poster that make no sense. I can’t tell you the number of times B.C. (before children) that I stood in the security line at an airport rolling my eyes & snorting at these posters as I asked myself, “who has to be reminded to take a BRICK out of their purse for heaven sakes?” More on that later.

Recently, after fishing in my purse for a pen at the post office while a line of customers waited behind me, I found myself standing at the counter holding a Holstein cow hand puppet.  The cow & an oversized yellow plastic whistle had been confiscated from my seven-year-old’s backpack while in the drop-off line at school earlier in the week. (You’re welcome, second grade teacher, you’re welcome.) Of course I didn’t have a child handy to blame for the puppet, which is especially frustrating since I usually can’t move six inches without stepping on at least one of them. Nope, I was standing in line at the post office by myself clutching a hand puppet.

The postal clerk looked me calmly in the eye, slowly lowered his gaze in what attempted to be an effort to make eye contact with the cow, then looked me pointedly in the eye again. It reminded me of that safety session in college where you are told to look strangers in the eye if you are walking on campus at night, as if eye contact will somehow cause them to reconsider their plan to murder you & chop you up into bits. I can only assume the post office has a similar presentation based on the assumption that this whole “eye contact” trick also applies to crazy people.

Nobody uttered a word. He sold me my stamps, took my money & made change without ever breaking eye contact, which I found admirable. As I walked out the door, I noticed a car barreling down on a woman crossing the street to the post office. I toyed with the idea of pulling out my handy oversized whistle to help her out until I saw the way she was looking at me. Only then did I realize that in my relief of being free from the staring contest with the postal clerk, I was still clutching the Holstein cow hand puppet- although at this point I had changed hands & I was now holding the helpless cow tightly by the throat. The only thing that might have made this worse would have been if I was actually wearing it on my hand & carrying on a conversation with it. Good thing I didn’t have any additional stops to make. No, I was headed straight home where I would likely spend the rest of the day stepping on children each time I moved.

So back to the security posters in airports & my ongoing judgment about the unnecessary inclusion of many household items that would never be carried in a purse by a sane person. On my first trip to the pediatric dentist with all three boys, after reaching in my purse for some paperwork, I found myself standing at the checkout counter holding a hammer. Not a little tack hammer (as if that would have been better), it was a big hammer. The kind you might use to build something, like a deck. Or maybe a submarine. I silently congratulated myself on inadvertently solving the mystery of why my purse had been so heavy lately while admiring the fact that motherhood had clearly turned my tiny purse into some sort of bottomless Mary Poppins bag. I rested my elbow on the counter (the hammer was getting heavy) as I peered into my bag. How did that giant hammer fit in there? Never mind why. I wasn’t even going to waste my energy wondering why. The “why” ship sailed about 6 weeks into parenthood & I haven’t seen it since.

Once I finished these vaguely connected thoughts, I looked up to find myself in a staring contest with a woman in scrubs. By now I knew how this game worked, having been to the post office a few short weeks ago. I waited patiently as she made eye contact with me, slowly lowered her gaze to the hammer & turned white as a sheet as she glanced at the giant glass window between us on her way back up to make eye contact with me. I calmly put the hammer back into my purse as the boys stood by patiently, not even bothering to ask & I signed our paperwork & left. Honestly I’m not sure what was more perplexing to her, the hammer-wielding stranger or the children who were clearly unfazed by the whole incident. This happens with kids who spent two years in foster care… they are unfazed by crazy things but freak out over completely normal occurrences, like being picked up 10 minutes early without days of advance warning.

As we walked into the parking lot, the airport security poster flashed in my head & I could clearly see the outline of a hammer, with a circle around it & a line drawn through it. I imagined my pre-child years of eye-rolling & snorting while I stood in the security line (likely well-rested & with eye make-up on both eyes). No wonder that sign had never made sense to me before. I had not been to the airport since becoming a mom. 

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