If there’s one thing that raises my mama bear hackles (do bears have hackles?) it’s when people seem to be affronted by the fact that Clio is shy / reticent in certain situations. She has actually come out of her shell to a huge degree over the last year and a half, but there are still times when she needs a bit of time and space before she opens up. And she definitely doesn’t like it when people — strangers, instructors, whoever — launch a full-on assault to try to get her to talk or smile.
This weekend, we were at the Home Depot to get some seedlings for the garden, and some new window shades to replace the tattered ones in the girls’ bedroom. As we were waiting by the shade roll cutting machine, the girls were sitting in the car-shaped cart, and Elsa was prattling on, asking me all kinds of questions about the shade cutter, the rolling ladders in the aisles, etc. etc.
During a pause, the woman ahead of us, waiting while her shades were being cut, said, “One talkative one and one quiet one, eh?”
To which I said what I always say: “Well, sometimes they trade, and the other one is the talkative one.”
“Really?” She seemed doubtful. And then she said to Clio — who was now giving the woman a look that could freeze over hell — “You don’t feel like talking today?” She seemed honestly perturbed by the fact that Clio wasn’t talking to her.
Clio said nothing. Elsa jumped in to fill the void, as she frequently does, to tell the woman that they’re twins, and they’re four, and they’re going to get seeds for their garden, etc. etc.
The woman still wasn’t satisfied. “Do you know your name, at least?” she asked Clio.
(Do you know your name. WTF?? ) “It’s OK to tell her your name,” I said to Clio, gently.
Clio told her. Still glaring.
A few minutes later, Clio asked me some sort of question, and the woman (who had turned her attention to the shade cutting process) turned around and said, “Oh, she speaks!”
I seriously wanted to deck her. I mean, Jesus, why this insistence that little children be chatty and charming? I do tell Clio that if someone asks a question, it’s polite to answer, but I know this woman rubbed her wrong right from the get-go by classifying her in comparison to Elsa (and talking about her to me like she wasn’t there). And anyway, what if she had special needs? Was hearing impaired?
I don’t mean to sound like a bitch. I mean, the woman was just trying to be friendly. But this happens a lot — adults see the contrast in Elsa and Clio’s public personas (I say public because at home, Clio is a total, hammy, silly nut-job, who actually talks more than Elsa most of the time) and seem to think that Clio is defective in some way. Or they attempt to draw her out when, in fact, by getting in her face they’re just making her retreat further.
When the woman and her husband finally left, and it was just us and the Home Depot employee — who was very nice, and friendly with the girls but in a quiet, non-confrontational sort of way — Clio instantly relaxed. And gladly told the employee how old she was when asked.
After our shades had been cut, I asked what they did with all the discarded ends of the shades. Did they just go in the trash? (I wasn’t angling for anything; I was seriously curious.) The employee said, “You want them? The girls can draw on them.”
So, we left with an armful of chopped-off ends of shades, and when we got home the girls spread one out on the floor and drew on it, and Elsa wrote a story (with my help): “Once upon a time there was a ghost who lived in a haunted house with bats flying all around. The End.” Clio carried it to school with her the next day and proudly showed it to their teachers.
Moral of this story? 1.) Go to your local hardware store/superstore and ask for the cut-off ends of shades for hours (well, minutes) of craft fun and 2.) Don’t fuck with my Clio.
Read about my forthcoming novel, EDEN LAKE.