I was in Chicago last June, visiting my favorite cousin, Liz. We decided to have a girls day out in the big city, and the Art Institute was the flavor of the day. We stood in the block-long line to get in at opening time, and went in at about 10:15 a.m. I was pretty excited, because I love art, but I knew from vast experience in the art museums of Europe, that I have low tolerance for the museums. I want to look at a painting, to study it, and to come to understand it. This takes time. In museums, especially ones that require a full day’s travel to visit, one cannot study each painting if one plans on seeing more than the first room. I lose steam pretty fast, and start breezing through, just trying to catch a glimpse of everything before closing time. Or in this case, before I collapsed.
I was 6 months pregnant. I am not a happy pregnant lady. I am not a nice pregnant lady. I get very sick and I hurt a lot. I hate being pregnant so much that I now have a mortal fear of ever being pregnant again. But I didn’t want to miss this opportunity, so Liz and I went in, at least hoping to see “American Gothic” before the inevitable collapse.
I had carefully chosen my wardrobe of the day to be comfortable. I was wearing stretch jeans turned up at the calves, running shoes, and a “Hello Kitty” t-shirt with a rainbow on it that I had gotten at the local thrift store. I’m sure I had on the minimum of makeup, since I don’t wear much anyway, but hey, we were in Chicago.
So we had probably been there about an hour and a half, and had seen a good deal of the museum, when we went around the back of one of those walls that’s in the middle of the room and has a painting on both sides. You know how at the really big museums there are security guards in every room? Well, once we were behind this big wall, the security guard, a statuesque Chicago black woman, came around behind us and said, “Excuse me?”
I have this panic reaction that makes me feel like my brain is boiling. My ears ring, and my face gets very red. I look guilty, no matter what has happened. If I raise my hand to answer a question in Sunday School, yes, I blush. I also stutter. So I’m thinking, “What, does she think we’re defacing the paintings? We didn’t bring in anything but the bottle of water that we’re allowed. We didn’t have backpacks. I didn’t flash anyone. Neither did Liz. I’m pretty sure. I haven’t touched anything, I swear.”
And she goes on, “Do you wear that shirt ’cause you like it, or did someone give it to you?”
“I mean, do you like your shirt?”
I’m so confused.
“Because I gave my 16 year-old daughter a “Winnie the Pooh” night-light, and my Mom says she’s gonna hate it and all her friends are gonna make fun of her.”
So I gather my senses and try to close my mouth. I tell her that I bought the shirt myself, at the local thrift store for a dollar. Because I like it. So, Yes, I wear it because I like it. And she asks me if I think her daughter will hate her for the night-light. I tell her that I think if her daughter hates the night-light, she won’t use it. I mean, she’s 16. Hopefully she knows how to unplug a night-light. But I tell her I’m not really the person to ask about the taste of 16 year-olds. I’m 31. She looks at me with that piercing ‘I-know-you’re-lying’ stare, and she says really slowly, “You’re what?”
This is where I really start to blush. “I’m 31?”
She leans back, puts her hand on her hip, and says, “Girl! I thought you was seventeen!”
Oh, man. Have you ever had the kind of compliment you just want to keep forever? I giggle. Actually, it was more than a giggle, it was downright hooting. I swear, I don’t really look 17. And I’m 6 months pregnant. I tell her so. “You’re what?” I tell her I’m going to have a baby in a few months. She says, “You’re pregnant.” She looks me up and down like I just insulted her Grandma. “Where?”
Yeah, this was the best compliment ever. I look 17, I don’t look pregnant. I tell her I’ve got two kids at home. I think she’s going to faint. She starts to ask me how I’ve kept the weight off, if I breast-fed my kids, what’s my secret. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so good about my appearance. Except the day I got all my hair cut off while I was engaged. I got a pixie cut, no more than an inch long anywhere. And my fiance was at the grocery store with me when he turned to me and said, “I feel like I’m walking around with a super-model.” I married that guy.
So then the security guard looks at Liz, and accusingly asks, “Well, how old are you?” Liz tells her she’s 30. I think the lady is going to press charges.