It was 89 degrees when I picked up my beautiful daughter on the last day of H2O camp at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. I envied her her day; frolicking in cool waters while I whiled away my hours in a house with nonexistent air conditioning. I pulled up and saw my beautiful daughter sitting with her new friends on a grassy knoll eating an Otter Pop lookalike. It was the quintessential image of carefree summer life. Ah, to be a kid!!!
She said her goodbyes, collected her stuff and buckled herself in the car. As we were leaving the Rose Bowl grounds Max rolled down her window, causing a backdraft of unwanted heat which interfered considerably with my much desired climate control. I looked back and noticed that the wrapper from the Otter Pop lookalike was gone. I slowed down the car and asked accusatorially, "Did you throw that out the window?"
Maxwell gets very sheepish when she's caught in a no-no. She's mostly a very good girl. So, as she was babbling some sort of excuse which was circuitous and becoming utterly Dickensian, I realized this was probably one of those instances where she wasn't intending to be bad per se, but wanted rather to see what would happen. Even before she fully admitted to the infraction, I made a U-y in search of the offensive wrapper, probably melting on the parking lot behind us. I spotted the detritus, pulled to a stop and demanded that my daughter retrieve the wrapper.
There standing in the shade of a tree, quite apart from anyone or anything else, was an African American woman who looked on with blatant disapproval. This kind of hyper-vigilance was understandable. Pasadena, after all, is a lot like Switzerland, where you are openly tsked if you litter, walk against the light, or burp the ABCs. I gave the woman a sympathetic nod, representing the put-upon, monosyllabic kids!
To be honest, I was actually proud that there was an eyewitness to my parenting, which in this rare moment, was exemplary. I felt at one with the woman under the shade tree. Ever since my Caucasian self walked onto the parenting scene holding a black baby girl, black women have pulled me aside and given me tips...usually about hair. I tried not to shun their suggestions and have even learned to welcome these unsolicited nuggets. So, this moment seemed full circle. I was able to show the shade tree mama (perhaps grandmama) that I have raised my daughter, her daughter, with values. Yes, Maxie may have committed a wrong, but in taking the time to turn the car around, to teach her that we must care of our planet, that every Otter Pop lookalike wrapper must be thrown away, Maxwell's values became stronger...and this was witnessed!!
Maxie picked up the trash and skipped back to the car. I looked at the woman with fellowship, as if to say, "Look what we did." It was truly a pat-on-the-back, it-takes-a-village moment. And this woman, this soulful "auntie of my daughter" seemed pleased with what transpired and even gestured for me to roll down my window.
As I did so, I was clear with myself that I didn't need praise, because it has taken generations of mamas and grandmamas before her to help shape my mothering skills. She deserved as much praise as I did, perhaps more. Before my window was all the way down she asked, "Is she your daughter?"
I swelled with pride at the recognition. And even though our encounter was because my daughter (intentionally/ unintentionally?) littered, I felt this was going to be one of those fortuitous life moments. I puffed out my chest, a small smile played on my lips, and I beamed, "Yes."
Then the woman stepped from the protection of the shade tree, advanced towards the car and with the speed of a tightly coiled cobra she snapped her head in my daughter's direction and pointedly demanded, "Is he your father?"
Her face in the glaring sunlight was outwardly antagonistic. She showed none of the understanding I thought was originally there. What happened to passing down the heritage? I thought her gesture to roll down the window was one of good will but the second she stepped into the sun... I needed to exert control.
Before my daughter could answer, I intervened, "Wait! What is going on here?!?!"
And the woman from the shade tree, all pleasantries stripped aside, spoke in a way that galvanized, "I just wanted to see what was going on."
The insinuation was repugnant. I wasn't going to let her get away with that. I wanted to show her I could cut even deeper. How dare she...
Maxwell's eyes were on me.
Fuck. It's another goddamned teachable moment. The responsibilities of parenting can be such a boor. And I could have used a good "What the fuck!" Instead, I snipped, "Thank you for looking out for my daughter," rolled up the window and drove away.
As we headed to the nearest garbage can, Max asked, "Why is she taking pictures of us?"
And that was a good question. If I were some nefarious sort who preyed upon young girls (blecch, even to write that...) why in heaven's name would I stop to pull over and pick up trash?
An exemplary parenting moment witnessed as perversion.
"I honestly can't tell you why she's taking pictures. Spaghetti for dinner?"