"Why is he in that?" the delicate voice asked.
All around me are children. Whizzing pass in all directions. One year olds plotting out their first steps with Grandma following their every move, toddlers running just because they can, and dozens of preschoolers replicating the motions of a beehive, all dressed in over sized bright colored t-shirts that loudly display which group they belong to.
The delicate voice belongs to one of these preschoolers. Her t-shirt is green, as green as green can get. Standing next to her with a blank almost rude (if he wasn't three) stare on his face was another green t-shirt named Connor.
First I tried to ignore this voice, with all the chaos at the museum I decided to plant myself and Dermot on a bench inside the exhibit room so I could still watch my other boys enjoy their play.
She asked again, "why is he in that?" I summoned up some of my mommy sweetness and answered her.
"He can't walk, this is how he gets around," I said politely.
"Why can't he walk?"
"Well, God made his brain different than you and me. He can't make his legs work the right way."
"That's too bad, how old is he?"
"How old are you?" I ask, hoping to distract her from any more of the difficult questions.
"I'm three, does he go to school?"
"yes, he does, do you?"
"Yes, I'm with my school, this is Connor" she gestures to the short blond boy who's been staring, with this mouth hung open, at Dermot for the last five minutes.
"Hi Connor" I say cheerfully, hoping to break his glance from my son.
Nothing, still staring...
The delicate voice asks me if Dermot has any baby brothers or sisters, I go on to mention Ryan and Owen. Connor finally gets distracted enough to stop his staring.
I tell them his name they tell me theirs and ask them if they'd like to say hi to him. They do.
"Have fun the on the rest of your field trip" I say while I round up the boys to move on to another exhibit at the children's museum.
I can handle a delicate voice asking questions. Actually I appreciate a delicate voice asking questions. They are honest, unfiltered by social graces and motivated by simple curiosity. It's the stares that get me. From the moms, the older kids, the grandparents. All tinged with a level of pity that brings up my insecurities if I I'm not prepared.
On this day, at the Children's Museum I was in no mood for the countless stares and the "non-stares" where they look, but when I make eye contact with them they look away fast and pretend they weren't just trying to figure out what's wrong with Dermot. I just wanted to take ALL of my kids to a place they hadn't been for a while and spend a few hours exploring.
By the end of the visit to the museum I found myself hiding in a corner of the hallway, sitting on a bench holding Dermot, as almost to protect him. My other boys, laughing and running with the babysitter in the anthill exhibit. I was pleasantly surprised to have a young mother with an infant sit down to feed her 4-month old. We exchanged pleasantries and were chatting a bit. Then Dermot, as he often does nowadays, threw up in the burp cloth I was holding in my hand. The young mom left almost immediately, I was still wiping off Dermot.
"That's IT." I said out loud to myself, "We're out of here". I loaded Dermot into his wheelchair and rolled him into the crowded anthill exhibit to collect Owen and Ryan and Jess. Too many children...
I was close to a meltdown when I noticed one little girl standing still in the chaos, looking straight at me. She smiled and waved. As I smiled back to her my anxiety lifted, I took a deep breath and watched the children play until Owen arrived at my feet. "Ready to go honey?" "Okay mommy, Ryan's coming too"
As we drove home from the museum that afternoon I remembered something about that delicate voice and our conversation. I remembered her name.
Her name was Grace.