Every mother has days like this: she has twenty-seven hours worth of chores to fit into a twenty-four hour period. So she leaps out of bed in the morning (okay, some of us crawl) and tries to be superhuman. As she gets the kids ready and makes food, in the back of her mind a little voice is reciting her to-do list: drop off the eldest at kindergarten, cash that check, buy groceries for tonight’s supper, pick up the eldest from preschool at three clean the kitchen, ditto bathroom, living room…we’ll just hope the guests don’t go down into the basement or look into the bedrooms…pay the electricity bill, take the car to get its tires aligned—and every time something goes wrong or slows down the hectic pace of the day, the little voice pauses, taps the mother on the shoulder and says, “You know you don’t have time for that, right?”
This little voice has been known to cause symptoms of stress, snappishness, and tears in the best of mothers at times. And none of them were parents to Justin Shoalter.
Amy Shoalter put her van into park, shut her eyes and sighed through clenched teeth. “I am doing fine. I am getting as much done as I can get done. I do not have to have my house perfect for Amelia Gross to see…” Her eyes popped open. “The lightbulbs! I forgot to add the lightbulbs—she’d make hay out of a dark dining room. Crap, where’s my list?” She rustled frantically through her pockets, found a scrap of paper, and scribbled it down. She glanced behind her. Her son’s dark head was bent over a battered stuffed dog, named with the endless creativity of a three year old: Doggy. He was bouncing Doggy on his knees and talking to him in a sing-song voice, “Grocery shoppin’…Grocery shoppin’…I like broccoli…but not wadishes…”
She her hands stilled for a moment and she smiled at his song. Why can’t people see him like that? She thought. Not a danger, not a genetic anomaly, not a freak, just a normal little boy? Amelia seemed to think it was a poor parenting decision to have a son with a genetic condition.
But the clock on the dashboard was ticking through the minutes so she jolted into action. If it were anybody but the Grosses coming over—she shuddered and ran a finger down her list one more time and popped out of the van. She had twenty minutes, tops, and then she had to pick up Tabitha from kindergarten and get home to get the charcoal started in time to cook the steaks…
With this in mind, she rolled open the van side door and started unbuckling Justin’s car seat at high speed.
Justin patted her on the back as she lunged over him to get one of his shoes. “Grocery, mommy?” He grinned at her as she wedged his shoes onto his feet, still clutching Doggy to his chest. She ran a hand absently through his dark brown hair so a curl fell down over his forehead. They were unmistakably mother and son; dark hair, blue eyes, fair skin.
“Yes, grocery,” she said, unbuckling him as she talked. “Now remember, we talked about the grocery store last time, remember? This is inside, we don’t rain or snow, or fog inside. Right, Justin?”
“Yep!” he said, “Walk?”
“Only if you stay close to mommy.” She lifted him out and grabbed his hand before he shot off into the parking lot. “Not even a fine mist, understand, little guy?”
“Grocery!” He shouted, and tugged her forward. “Look at veggies!”
“No, honey, we don’t have time.” She was scanning her shopping list, fingers tight on her purse straps. “Let’s be fast, okay? Please be good for mommy.”
It wasn’t Justin’s fault that they didn’t make it past the shopping baskets before disaster hit.
The voice accosted her as they stepped into the cool air, purring and saccharine in a way that only a very unfriendly woman can be. “Hello, Amy…Fancy meeting you here.” A tall, lithe woman with brown hair curved perfectly around her face, paused by them on her way out, a shopping bag in hand. Her eyes drifted down to Justin’s Doggy. “Oh I see you’re still encouraging him to be dependent. I’ve got to get you that article about how especially important it is not to rely on external comfort when you’re dealing with children who have disorders.”
Amy raised her eyebrows. “Oh, Amelia. How lovely to see you. We were just picking up some groceries for dinner tonight.”
Amelia Gross tsked and waved a hand at Justin, who had Doggy hugged firmly in his arms as he examined a picture of a lion posted on the side of the ad stand. “He’ll end up drowning us all someday if you let him have that thing. Here—”
And she stretched out a perfectly tanned arm and snagged Justin’s Doggy away from him.
Justin responded like any three-year-old would; he shrieked.
However, unlike most two year olds, a small cloud also appeared over his head and began to drizzle a fine mist down on him, pasting his dark curl to his forehead and making the floor wet as he cried, “Doggy! Doggy!”
Amelia sighed and shook her head. She dropped Doggy in the buggy basket and patted Amy’s hand.
“This age is so difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing.” And she walked out, leaving Amy glowering after her standing in the entrance with a distraught child, a raincloud, and a growing puddle.
Before she could turn to take care of Justin, there was a cough just behind her right shoulder. She turned and found a man standing there, arms behind his back, a stiff smile on his face. He wore a button up shirt over a sizeable gut and his nametag read Ed. Ed pointed a finger at Justin (still crying) and said, “I thought you should know, your son is raining. I’d really appreciate it if you took him outside to rain, as he’s creating a slipping hazard.”
Amy gave him a thin lipped smile and went to grab Justin’s hand. “Please,” she whispered, “just stop raining. Doggy is right here. There’s nothing to cry about. Stop.”
An elderly couple, passing, skirted Justin and his puddle by several feet, and the woman sniffed: “That kid needs a good spanking…”
“can’t handle her own kid…” her husband agreed.
Amy felt a scream building inside of her. Justin’s eyes darted from her red face to his Doggy separated from him in the buggy and his lower lip trembled. “Mommy?”
Then she smelled it—the scent of ozone, of heavy raindrops and a sizzle of coming lightning.
“No, no, no!” Amy gasped. She backed away from the rainfall. “Justin! Stop it this minute!” It was the wrong thing to say. Justin started to cry harder and—Amy cringed—there was a clap of thunder. It wasn’t an earth rattling rumble since it came from a thunderstorm about a three feet square in diameter, but it was right over Justin’s head and more than enough to frighten a little boy afraid of loud noises.
“No thunderstorms!” said the manager, pointing towards the door.
“Look, you’re not exactly helping!” Amy snapped at him, and reached for Justin’s arm to pull him towards the door. But the thunderstorm continued, hovering over Justin’s head, the dark grey clouds snapping with electricity and roiling just above his head. Justin looked up and cowered, his wet arm slipping out of Jessa’s grasp, covering his head. And the cloud grew and writhed around him, a grey covering that filled most of the entrance now, the rain drenching the weekly ad stand and pattering down on the tile floor. In the middle of it, Justin cried harder, his hands over his face.
“Come on!” Amy cried, and dove into the cloud to pick Justin up by his armpits. The rain dumped down on her hair, streaked her mascara and pasted her shirt to her chest, but she carried him and his cloud outside.
She sat him down in the sunlight though he was still crying under a cloud, and backed up, trying to paste her hair out of her face and look calm and in control and like all mothers deal with the occasional toddler sized thunderstorm. It didn’t work. First she sent nasty glares at the other customers staring at them open mouthed, and then she turned her head away and screwed up her face, desperately holding back tears. Behind her, the rain slowed to a drizzle and she could hear Justin sniffing.
“I just wanted to pick up a few things,” she growled, rounding on him. “Just a few things. Four, in fact. It would have taken fifteen minutes! Couldn’t you be happy for just that long?”
But he was standing there in a puddle, shivering, his shoulders hunched and his eyes full of tears. The clouds covering him slowly evaporated in the afternoon sunlight. Water dropped from the hem of his shirt and splashed onto the damp concrete. He lifted his eyes up to hers, full of fear. She opened her mouth to continue her lecture but stopped, mouth open. The haze of her own to-do list cleared and she saw him as he was; a small person, unable to communicate effectively, looking to her for protection and saddled with this stupid weatherman gene. She remembered how he cried when full sized outdoor thunderstorms came, and how much worse they must be when they come from yourself and you are a very small person still learning to navigate the waters of large emotions.
She shut her mouth, dropped down to the sidewalk next to him, pulled his sodden self onto her lap and kissed his head. “Were you scared, Justin?”
“Yeah.” He said in a tiny voice. “Mommy mad?”
“Not really at you, Justin. I’m sorry for snapping at you.” She sighed and rested her chin on his head. “What do you say to going home, getting into some dry clothes and ordering pizza for this evening? Ms. Gross can just stick her nose in the air and deal with it…don’t repeat that, Justin.
“He looked up at her and grinned. “Pizza?”
“You know what, kiddo?” She got up, pulled him to his feet and crouched down in front of him. “Instead of just hoping you don’t get upset…let’s just buy you a raincoat.”