Waiting rooms


“Oh, they’re cute when they’re little, but it gets worse.”

The woman takes up two chairs in the waiting room, her large body spilling over the edges. A tiny toddler sits motionless on her lap, watching us all without a sound.

“Just wait until the terrible twos! And the teenagers!” She’s running a monologue, really, talking to her captive audience. Charlotte shrieked, delighted, when she sat with the toddler but the child just looks dolefully around.

The large woman is going on, about how she’s not afraid to “spank their butts” because her kids like the corner, so that would never work. Across the room a man in a Texas A&M hat is ignoring her, holding an infant that’s starting to fuss and trying to watch a four-year-old run across the room.

(“Been a while since I’ve seen a hat like that,” I told him before the large woman came in, and we traded hometowns. He’s from Abilene but his wife, standing at the counter talking to the receptionist, is local. “Do you miss Texas?” he asks me and I tell him I miss the sky, most of all. “Oh I know! You can’t see where you’re going here! They don’t understand what I’m talking about,” he says, but the infant is insistent now and the large woman has taken her place.)

She’s still talking, mostly about teenagers and their difficult-ness, when another woman walks in with a little girl dragging a soft blanket and smiling around her pacifier.

“Between 18 months and 2 years?” The large woman guesses immediately, and she’s right: 20 months. “Oh I’m good. I should be, with six children and all,” and then she’s off telling this new mother (who is white) how to preserve her dark-skinned child’s curls.

“All my kids are half black,” she says: stating her credentials on half-black hair.

And the child on her lap says nothing. He doesn’t move. He just turned a year, she tells me, but I think he’s smaller than Charlotte. Older – in the way he holds his body, the way his muscles are firmer and more controlled. But smaller. His dark eyes are too large in his pinched face.

We’re called in and I hear the large woman talking on. The Texas couple has left. But I’m wondering why the child is so small and the mother so large. I’m wondering why he doesn’t smile, or look around, or squirm or talk or laugh.

I wonder, absentmindedly tracing the fat rolls on my own daughter’s round thighs.

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