Someone Else’s Child

Today is the day of the Rapture. Oh, yes.

Domenico Bettinelli is hoping for the rapture just to end all the lame rapture jokes, but I for one am gleefully enjoying them. Is it because, not so long ago, I was among the number that anxiously watched for signs of the impending apocalypse, all while desperately hoping that I would be raptured with my brethren? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just because, having actually spent some time studying this thing called Christianity and these books we call the Sacred Scripture, it irritates me when people treat them like a Sudoku puzzle and make millions off of it while scaring the hell out of poor, well-intentioned but ill-informed followers.

Personally, I’m choosing to spend my last day on earth packing. I figure that if the rapture does come, we might as well be ready to beat a quick retreat because, let’s face it, God’s not gonna take the Catholics. And being in the middle of Sin City doesn’t seem too advisable during the Apocalypse. I did buy a Cadbury chocolate bar to eat at about 5:30, though, just in case. If I somehow am raptured, or if I die in the ensuing earthquake, I definitely want Cadbury chocolate to be the last thing I taste.

We chose to make the most of our last night as a pre-apocalyptic family by going to the Outdoor Picture Show yesterday. They were showing Back to the Future, which is one of my all-time favorite movies, so we headed up there early to meet my friend and her kids, and to snag a prime blanket-spot on the grass.

As always, the place was packed. The movie started at 8, and by 7:15 the only spots left were in the back stretch of grass. I quickly spread the blanket out while laughing at the guys next to us, who were tossing “it’s not the end of the world” jokes back and forth, and then left the Ogre with Liam and took my girls to go ride the Carousel with my friend and her kids.

After the Carousel ride my friend left, the Ogre took off to make a phone call, and the kids and I settled down with our bags of popcorn and bottles of root beer. Predictably, Sienna quickly struck up a conversation with the little girl sitting  behind us, who was accompanied by a very annoyed-looking young man, and they were soon sharing popcorn and laughing about absolutely everything.

The popcorn sharing didn’t phase me, as the little girl had her own bag of popcorn, but when she asked to share Sienna’s root beer I told her that she had to ask her Daddy. I got the impression that the young man (who was probably about 24) was not, in fact, her father, given the “I’d rather be having my toenails pulled out” expression on his face, but  I also wasn’t sure how to refer to him. She said ok and returned a few seconds later to report that he had approved the root-beer-sharing. Of course, I always double check because, let’s face it, kids are manipulative little liars in the face of sugar. 

So I twisted around and asked if it was okay if the little girl, who’s name was Anna, share the root beer. It took me a few minutes to get his attention, but when I did he shrugged and rolled his eyes.

I took that as a yes, partly because it seemed to really be an “I don’t care what that kid does” and partly because poor little Anna was watching this whole exchange. I can’t imagine how such a blatant expression of irritation and apathy would fail to affect any child, and Anna, who had been nothing but bounce and giggle up until then, got very still and began chewing on her fingernail.

I turned my back on the guy and smiled at Anna, giving her the root-beer a little over-enthusiastically to distract her. It took a few minutes for her to warm back up, but pretty soon the girls were back to playing.

When the movie started, I had a hard time keeping Sienna and Anna seated. They were sugared up by this point, and both of them kept popping up off the blanket like moles in Whac-a-Mole. I’d tug on a hem and remind them to sit so the people behind them could see, but if Anna didn’t comply fast enough, her guardian behind us would bellow, “Anna! Sit!” in the most aggravated of tones. At one point , the girls were standing up leaning against a light post. I was desperately trying to keep nursing Liam from yanking the nursing cover off while attempting to shield the precariously balanced root beers from Charlotte’s wandering feet, so although I saw them, it didn’t really register with me that I needed to have them sit. Suddenly, Anna’s not-father flew past me and grabbed her sternly (not roughly, just firmly) by the shoulders and gave her a good talking-to about how she would have to come sit by him if she didn’t stay seated.

The Ogre finally came back about twenty minutes after the movie had started, and I promptly left with Liam to get some napkins from Whole Foods to mop up the root beer that had inevitably spilled. While I was there, I decided to get some gelato for us to share. Remembering little Anna, I grabbed an extra spoon.

When we got back, I handed Liam to the Ogre, opened up the gelato and passed out spoons. Before I gave one to Anna, the Ogre turned around and asked the man behind us if she could have some. He said, “I don’t care what she does, as long as she sits down.”

My girls promptly dug in, but little Anna shyly crawled over to me and asked if she could sit in my lap. The poor little thing’s tiny request made me want to cry. I immediately pulled her into my lap and she sat there, eating ice cream with her little blond head resting against my shoulder.

She kept saying over and over that it was the best ice cream she’s ever had, which made me a little nervous. She was a really thin child, and I was afraid that her mother might be the no-sweets type, so I started asking her a few questions. I asked her where her dad was, and she said he lived in DC. I asked her where her mom was, and she said at work. I asked her who the man was behind her and she didn’t respond. “Is he your brother?” I asked. She shrugged. “Is he your uncle?” I asked, and she shrugged. “Is he your mom’s friend,” I asked. She shrugged.

Anna ate three-quarters of the pint of ice cream. I was worried it was going to make her sick, but she was so happy to be sitting in my lap, eating ice cream, that I didn’t have the heart to stop her. We left shortly after the ice cream was gone, as Liam was beginning to get restless. Anna begged us to stay, “just a little longer,” and when I insisted that we had to go she said, “but whose lap can I sit in now?”

As we were leaving I saw her next to the man who had brought her, sitting on the ground with her slim arms wrapped around her red blanket. He sat in a lawn chair next to her, and they looked for all the world like two strangers.

It was an altogether odd experience. I’ve never had another person’s child climb into my lap like that, not even my own niece and nephews. There was such a need for affection in the little girl, so much so that once she was in my lap it was as if she had forgotten Sienna altogether. Sienna kept trying to get her to play, but Anna refused to take her head off my shoulder. I didn’t want to leave her, but we had no choice.

It was painful, though, to see the degree of irritation with which Anna was treated. I wasn’t appalled by his behavior. To be honest, that annoyed tone and those eye rolls are sadly not unfamiliar to me, or to my kids. There have been many an afternoon when I’ve chased them out of the study with the same attitude, and their downward glances and sad looks haven’t softened my heart then. But seeing Anna’s face, seeing her shame and sadness at being such a source of irritation for someone else, made me realize that it isn’t any different for my children. In many ways, they’re just like Anna. I don’t give them the time they deserve; I expect obedience too quickly, I don’t let them play, I don’t treasure their childish silliness. I demand that they conform to me instead of doing what a mother ought and building my life around them. I feel sad for little Anna, and I hope that she has someone’s lap to sit in tonight, but I’m glad for the encounter with her. I hope that after this I’ll be a little more patient with my children, and never forget that there’s a little soul under all those bouncy giggles, a little soul that feels pain and injury when it is treated as little more than a nuisance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10329947206142706470 Peter and Nancy

    I volunteer in a ministry that reaches out to women who work in one part of the s*x industry, and this account made me think of the haphazard childcare arrangements some of them find to cover their nighttime work hours. I will pray that God sends a kind neighbor or someone into her life — and thank you for being that person for one night.Nancy

  • http://darwincatholic.blogspot.com MrsDarwin

    Heartrending.When I was pregnant with my first, I had to look after the daughter of someone in RCIA during Mass. The little girl, about six, sat up very straight and quietly the whole time, and I longed to take her in my lap and stroke her hair and squeeze her. I don't know if she would have been comfortable with that, though, so I didn't. That was when I first realized I'd be a very cuddly mother, always touching my children and hugging and ruffling hair. I sigh and eyeroll at my children, but I think they must be very confident in my love, since that doesn't phase them. They don't even seem to pay that much attention when I get angry and yell, which is either a very good or a very bad indicator.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03818420999930644450 sarah

    This is so poignant :-( Poor Anna. And I think of all the frightened, sad people who followed Camping, and they seem like Anna to me. I wish there was more love in this world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    how heartbreaking…both for the girl and also to realize how quickly we all must (probably) push aside our children every now and then. Thanks for writing this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17887429052179249473 Dwija {House Unseen}

    Oh my goodness…That poor sweet girl with no one's lap to sit in :'( This makes me sad for all the (many) times I've been short and intolerant with my own children.Thank you…again!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05461674983968119107 Claire

    Oh that is so heartbreaking. And I have to be honest, it made me think of my own tendency toward annoyance and eyerolling, especially as the day wears on and I'm tired. Thank you so much for the reminder!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12557248434888642114 Melanie B

    Heartbreaking. Me too about being sad about my impatience and irritation at my kids. I'm going to give them all extra cuddles tomorrow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10226221709279544399 Herb of Grace

    Oh my heart… poor little thing… Reminds me to be careful what my children see when they look at me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02274091412731174214 DD

    I've been wanting to say how much I've enjoyed your blogs. You make me laugh most of the time and, on occasion like this blog, you tug at my heart. I will say an extra prayer tonight for little Anna.


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