can we do it?

ergo chomper

You wouldn’t know from looking out my window right now, but yesterday was brilliant. Eighty degrees and sunshiney, the first full day of summer felt every bit as it should. Today we’re back to the soggy grayness that we can’t ever shake. Not that we’d want to, really, because without it, Oregon wouldn’t be the green growing wonderland that it is. But it does get a little old, come late June, when outdoor activities probably need rain gear and you wonder, when you go to bed, if you should grab an extra blanket. What’s cozy and familiar in the fall is resented once it’s Summer. At least, that’s how I usually feel.

This year I’m conflicted.

It was so perfect yesterday to throw on a tank top and and have sunshine filtered through a car window on my bare shoulder. Do you know that feeling? I grew up in the Southwest and came of age with hot summers and blue skies, so that sun-warmed car sensation might be sentimental. And I reveled in it. Driving plus sunshine plus the music up loud equals a blurry generalization of all my best adolescent memories balled up and squished together.

But then the driving part of my day was finished and I had to walk up to our town’s farmer’s market. Yes, had to. We pick up our CSA veggies every week at the market. It’s only a handful of blocks away, and my capable thirteen year old can certainly handle the task on her own. But mister Six also wanted to go. While I trust my girl completely to successfully negotiate any walkable errand, I wouldn’t yet expect her to be responsible for her little brother (even though, honestly, I’m sure they would be fine. He’s about as solid and dependable as they come, that one). So I had to walk up, too. And I had to take the baby, of course. And because it was warm, the baby was wearing a cute short one-piece. And I have been dreading this situation for so long, the weight of dread was crushing me.  I resented the weather for being warm and beautiful. I wanted dampness. I needed layers. I did not feel ready.

Yesterday I took my baby out in public for the first time wearing shorts and short sleeves. I felt like the bravest woman in the world. I really did.

Ulysses rode on my back and chomped on the ergo straps (he’s cutting a tooth!) and I walked like I was in a movie, cast as an extra playing a part as a confident, care-free lady. (I have employed the ‘playing a part’ technique my whole life, or as long as I can remember, but never has it been so useful). I just walked like I didn’t give a flip about anybody. I walked like it was the most easy and natural thing in the whole effing world to have a baby with only four toes and tiny legs on my back. I walked like I wouldn’t ever expect anyone to take a second glance.

Of course, I did notice someone double taking, jaw dropping and all, with furtive whispers I couldn’t quite make out. I did notice that one person. But a good actor never breaks character. Let that stupid lady gawk and wonder. Ulysses is the star of this movie. He’s the star and I’m the extra and we owned that scene. We owned it.

We made a beeline for the safe base of our friends’ market stand. Oh, yeah, because we don’t just buy local veggies, we buy them from good friends. I don’t just know where my food comes from, I know the people who plant and tend and harvest those weekly shares. It’s the next best thing to picking food out of my own garden. I think we’re very fortunate to live where so much wonderful food grows (and, this time, I speak of my little town, surrounded by so much farmland, and not this general region). And I am also fortunate to have a base of good folks in town. I need those safe anchors. I would be floating in a sea of confused and surprised strangers otherwise.

And after I chatted with my friend a few minutes, I met up with my farmer-marketing children and then, while they waited for their crepe to cook (“if we have a creperie at market now, our town isn’t as small-towny anymore!” said the thirteen year old) I decided to buy some tomato plants. We didn’t start seeds indoors this year (insert laundry list of legitimate excuses here) but we were gifted a few extra starts from the aforementioned farmer friends. I wanted a few more and the booth across from the crepe stand had many varieties, mostly heirloom, non-gmo. Ok. I can do this. I can interact with someone I don’t know. What’s that, director? I’m doing such an amazing job that you want to see if I can handle a few speaking lines? Bring it on.

Maybe the woman selling tomato plants was playing the part of someone kind and easily charmed by cute baby smiles, I don’t even care. She was nice and said the right things (“he looks so happy back there!” with a smile and to-the-baby clucking) and I weathered the whole transaction seamlessly. I am pretty sure I did such a great job I’ll be called back for more work soon. Do I see a career in my future?

I guess it’s possible that even one person reading this might think I over-react, that I make too big of a deal about my son’s differences. And I think if there is a person like that, well, that person doesn’t have a baby with obvious differences. I’ve been depending on our cool temps and rain, on the need for pants and jackets, to keep my little guy mostly covered. I am not ashamed of him. I do not want people to be mean to him. That’s the distinction. At home, he’s often in a onesie; I certainly don’t dress him at home with any thoughts of his limb differences. I am not being precious when I insist we don’t really think about his conditions all that much at home anymore. He is who is he is and that’s enough for me. But when we leave our house, perceptions shift. He isn’t Ulysses anymore. To us, sure, of course, always. But to random passers-by? He’s just a baby with weird legs, missing fingers, did you see that? {whisper, whisper, nudge, nudge} So maybe you can imagine why it’s a tiny bit easier when it’s cold and wet and why I cringe now when it’s hot.

So, yesterday, it was hot (for us!) and we bravely strolled through the farmer’s market. I did it! Now, today, it’s wet and chilly and we didn’t need to go anywhere. Balance. I don’t know when “summer” will return, but I know soon I’ll be in the same situation again. I’ll do what I need to do. Do extras get craft services? How are the beverages?


tiedye sleeping

(i find it challenging to take a flattering picture of myself and the baby while he’s on my back. so it’s a crappy capture, but it was snapped on our walk up to the market yesterday. oh, sweet baby. we can do anything. right?)

Categories: Uncategorized | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “can we do it?

  1. Amelia

    You and Ulysses are rock stars, don’t let the quiet whisperings in your brain tell you any different.
    Rock. Stars.

  2. this makes me extremely happy for so many reasons. i could start with the creperie for F. but really it is you, playing the part of fierce mama out in the world, letting the sun shine on that beautiful boy.

  3. Sarah

    Your writing always leaves me teary. You are brave and I love your family, all the characters who traipse across your pages, Uly and his fierce brilliant mama especially.

  4. Sharon

    Ulysses may be the star, but you are not an extra. You’re always the Best Supporting Lady.

  5. This is beautiful, April. I love it. And now I know what I’m doing tonight…namely, reading more of your blog! 🙂

    • well, since I am always glad to see one of YOUR blog entries pop up in my reader, your comment is particularly complimentary!

  6. Yetunde Enendu

    I have tears running down my face right now,cos this was me the first time i took my daughter to a big supermarket during warm weather AND that she was old enough to walk.usually i have her hand tucked under my arm,but this time she got down and RAN.i saw several pple whisper,then go round the aisles again to get a look at her hand.(she has symbrachydactyly)but she just looked up and smiled sooo sweetly!just like your son!!i am not ashamed of her,but am afraid people will be mean to her,just as you are both soooo amazing.thanks for sharing this!

  7. Just playing catch up here…

    I have to say I vividly remember our first uncovered-baby-outing. Since she was born in the summer, we had to face it pretty quickly. Anyway, it went well. People were sweet and I was pleasantly surprised. And for the most part, that has been true. And while I sometimes feel like a celebrity who goes around ignoring the stares of others (like I imagine a celebrity has to get used to doing) for some reason it really has felt like people don’t stare as much. However, I think being used to it is probably a more logical explanation. BUT, even this past weekend–2 years into this gig, some bad experiences under my belt, but mostly confidence in the kindness and respect of others–I was *this* close to letting a guy know that he expired the appropriate amount of time for staring and stood firmly in the rude zone. I try really hard to be understanding and know that most people are curious and sometimes even need to confirm what they thought they saw… but man when that line has been crossed I’m ready to pounce. I need to have some ready-made lines to throw out a moments notice… kind, but in a I-see-what-you’re-doing-and-this-is-your-warning sort of way.

    • Hi. Let’s get together someday and come up with some witty lines to have ready for throwing!

  8. moonstone

    Just found you through PAIL and have been reading though your posts. He is so lucky to have you as his mother. x

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