Such times have made me think in a different way. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t veer completely off the path. I didn’t dive into an all-out crime spree. But there were moments when the bottling of said lemonade may have involved somewhat erroneous labelling.
Let me explain.
Years ago, when The Girl was two years old and weighing in at around 10lbs, I took her on trip back to my home town, Auckland. Along the way, one of the gorgeous Air New Zealand stewardesses leaned over the girl and said, “Oh, what a beautiful baby. How old is she?”
Being a naive twit, and oblivious to the implications of such an enquiry, I relied, “She’s two.”
“My goodness,” the stewardess replied. “She’s so small…” Did you spot the ellipsis at the end of that quote? What those dots represent is an entire minute of unwavering eye contact while she waited for the explanation. Now, if you’ve read my other post, Moments I’m Not Proud Of, you’ll recognize a, “What’s wrong with your little girl” moment arising. Again, I was naive. I did my saintly explanation and we all moved on.
On the return flight, however, a second sweet, wonderful stewardess leaned over The Girl, turning it into some kind of airborne Groundhog Day, saying, “Oh, what a beautiful baby. How old is she?”
Now, it could have been my stay in Auckland that triggered something. It could have been some kind of aviation sickness. It could have been something I ate. Unlikely, but I believe this was a turning point in my life; that moment when the lure of deceit was just a little too enticing; when that evil twin took me by the hand and led me to the Dark Side (to use a bunch of mixed metaphors), because that tic in the corner of my eye activated, and without even thinking, I replied. “She’s six months,” and quickly looked away. Which would have been fine, except the stewardess from the first flight suddenly appeared from the rear of the plane like an avenging ghost, saying to the second stewardess, “Oh, Carol, did you see this gorgeous baby? I met her on the way up to Auckland. Did you know she’s two years old!”
Note: one red-faced mother spluttering ridiculous explanations. Maybe it was my imagination, but I’m sure the service levels on that trip fell into decline shortly after.
And yet, there was no stopping me.
Auckland Zoo ticket office, circa 1989: I step up with the now eight-year-old Girl in her stroller. The pricing board clearly states “Adults: $20, Children aged six to fourteen, $10. Under-five’s are free. The kid behind the counter catches my eye and says, “How many?”
“One adult, one three-year-old,” I tell him without even flinching. By this time the blackness in my heart has spread; the evil solidified.
He looks down at The Girl, then back up at me. There’s a glint in my eye. I shift my weight, jut my chin just a little. Nobody, and I mean nobody, in their right mind will challenge the mother of a disabled child. I know this. I have vast experience of the discomfort in others. I also know he’s on minimum pay and the line behind me is growing. He hands me my ticket and I swan off, revelling in my deceit.
Which might have been nice. I saved myself $10 on the way in. On the way out, however, I spotted the sign that says, “Caregivers entrance: free.” I went back to the car with my lips in a knot. I never made that mistake again.
And yet, almost the same thing happened on several occasions after.
Valentines Family Restaurant, circa 1997: Occasion: The Girl’s birthday. Going to Valentine’s restaurant for The Girl’s birthday has become a tradition – or should I say, an obsession. The first time I took her, she was sixteen. She looked like a child; ate like a horse. Children were charged in accordance with their age – so as a seven-year-old I got her in for $7.
In 1998 when she turned seventeen, I took her as a seven-year-old, which also cost $7. After three years of birthdaying as a seven-year-old, I felt a twinge of guilt and put her age up to eight. Remember, I was working on the “No one in their right mind challenges the mother…” principle. I did it because I could, and I did it because it worked.
This went on for another three years, always getting her in as an eight-year-old, always paying the $8. The Girl would sit all sweetness and innocence with her balloon and glass of fizzy drink, then clear three plates. Until the inevitable happened. The wonderfully sweet restaurant manager began recognizing us – recognizing her. Dammit!
Our cunning ruse came crumbling down in June 2003.
The manager was at the desk. “Hello again. Another birthday. How old is she this year?” she asked sweetly. Maybe it was me, but I thought I detected a hint of menace in the tone.
I turned pale. Looked around for support. There wasn’t any. When I turned back, our eyes met; locked. “She’s twenty-three,” I replied in a strangled voice.
“Lovely,” she said. “Shall I get the balloon?”
So that was it. Goodbye cheap birthday meals. On the upside, every year when we go back, we get terrific service.
Our favourite No-frills hair salon, circa 2004: Children under five get cuts for $10; teens, $15; adults $22. The Girl got $10 haircuts for three years as an eight-year-old until we walked in one day and one of the new stylists recognized us.
“Oh, look,” she shouted to her colleagues (the ones that practically knew us by name, address, and shoe-size), “You’d never believe how old this girl is. She’s twenty-two!” Her gaze returned to mine, seeking confirmation and thinking I’m going to be impressed with her feat of recollection.
My gaze did a quick trip around the salon where everyone, and I mean everyone was looking at me in askance. I nodded sickly. “Mm-hm, that’s right, twenty-two,” I said, the sound barely penetrating my tightly drawn-together lips. So long, cheap haircuts, it was good to know you.
There was no upside.
These days I’ve given up on a life of crime. The Girl no longer looks eight-years-old, and the embarrassment isn’t worth it. I guess that’s the only moral I can take out of this. But I did okay while it lasted.
And on occasion, I still make the odd batch of lemonade.