Saturday, 15 June 2013

The woman with the caterpillar eyes

It was probably almost exactly thirteen years ago on a slightly overcast Saturday during our last June in Victoria. The Resident Fan Boy was home for a weekend secondment, having gone ahead to begin his new permanent job in Hades. I remained behind, getting elder daughter through her final days of Grade Two, and frantically cleaning between viewings from prospective home-buyers during which I had to hustle younger daughter into a stroller and vacate the house. We hadn't seen the Resident Fan Boy for about a month and would not see him again for another five weeks when he would come back to escort us to our new province and city.

I was overtaxed; he was jet-lagged. That's probably why we thought taking the girls to the Oak Bay Tea Party with the accompanying midway at Willow Beach would be a good idea.

It wasn't so bad at first. The RFB took elder daughter on the rides. Younger daughter was too small to join her sister. Besides, for the past year she had developed a habit of melting down in anything involving crowds. I thought it had something to do with her father's frequent absences -- she had started having night terrors early on in his first secondment nearly two years before -- but I had made an appointment for later in the month to have her assessed by a speech pathologist.

I knew I had to get younger daughter to a washroom before setting off on the long bus-ride home, so I set up a rendezvous point with the RFB and elder daughter, and led younger daughter to the pavilion. I don't quite remember when she started screaming. Maybe it was the long line-up, maybe it was not knowing where her father and sister had gone, but by the time I got her into a cubicle, she was yelling blue murder. I tried to soothe her, but I knew there was a point when she was beyond my reach and I could only wait for her to subside. Somehow, we got through the business, and I beat a hasty and embarrassed retreat, aware of the many eyes on us and that the RFB and elder daughter must be wondering what on earth had become of us.

A woman stepped into our path.

"Why is she asking to be left alone?"

"Because she's had enough of here and she needs space," I replied wearily, scanning the crowd for an opening, but this woman was not budging. She was standing very close to me and what I chiefly remember about her was that she had blond hair (standard for Oak Bay) and dark-green eye-liner with one odd little hump on each side, like two little caterpillars.

"Well, I'm a mother and I'm concerned."

I couldn't believe my ears. "So am I!"

"I have three children and none of them ever behaved like this!"

"Well, good for you, lady," I called back, quickly steering younger daughter, who had calmed down quite a bit by this time, into an available gap in the milling bodies.

I wonder if Caterpillar Woman thinks back on this incident at all. If she does, it's no doubt with some self-satisfaction in confronting an evident child abuser. When I remember her -- and I try not to -- I think of her three children who never "behaved like this". I hope they saved all their acting-out for adolescence and made life a perfect hell for their perfect mother.

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