Friday, February 7, 2020

Loaded Girl Scout Cookies

On a sunny day in January, Zuzu sold Girl Scout cookies the old fashioned way: by pounding the pavement in our neighborhood. Coco was her very enthusiastic assistant, and my job was to push G in the stroller, remind Zuzu to say thank you LOUDLY, and break up squabbles about who got to ring the next doorbell.

Our neighbors were very gracious about ordering cookies and it was a pretty nice day, so things were moving along nicely. We knocked on the door of a house where a family had moved in fairly recently--I was pregnant with G when they moved, and although I had good intentions, we never stopped by with baked goods and greetings.

At any rate, Zuzu gave them her sales pitch and the lady very nicely explained that her daughter was also selling Girl Scout cookies.

(I had no idea there was another Girl Scout on the block, so I felt kind of bad for not sharing our territory, but also early bird, worms, dog eat dog world, capitalism is inherently evil, etc.)

Anyway, we quick did introductions and this family also had a toddler and the mom is pregnant--this time with a boy. I smiled and said something like, "Well that will be a new experience! We just have girls at our house." And then did the usual, "Hope to see you around, enjoy the sunshine, good luck selling cookies, okay bye" thing as I started to maneuver the stroller down the sidewalk. We were at least twelve paces away when Coco turned back and yelled, "WE HAD ANOTHER BABY. BUT SHE DIED!"

* * *

In the circles of baby loss moms, we talk about "dropping the dead baby bomb." It's a bomb because it instantly changes the mood of the room and the dynamic of the conversation. Often, it's a conversation killer. It's useful, though, in that it allows for a very quick assessment of whether a conversation might lead to a friendship.

We talk about whether to drop the bomb on sales clerks who ask "Is this your first?" or "How many kids do you have?" as conversation filler for the 30-second check-out transaction.

We talk about when to drop the bomb on new acquaintances--early? So you know whether to bother? Later? Once you've determined whether they deserve to know your personal history?

I'm selective about when I drop the bomb these days. I told my coworkers during my job interview for this new position, which was not what I'd planned to do, but it came up naturally in conversation and it seemed easier to go into the job with them knowing.

I skip the bomb in sales transactions. I always tell teachers via e-mail at the beginning of the year. I tell parents of friends, usually via text, before play-dates. ("We have two dogs, there is a hunting rifle unloaded and stored up high in the basement, and my first daughter died, so it's possible that will come up in conversation. Any food allergies?")

Generally speaking, I do not drop the bomb on visibly pregnant women.

* * *

Maybe I should have turned back and explained to this neighbor. Instead, I nodded my head and kind of "mm-hmmed" in Coco's direction, but I let momentum carry me down the driveway and back to the sidewalk.

Zuzu turned to Coco before I could say anything at all: "Coco! Why did you say that?"

Coco was confused, "What?"

Zuzu said, "Why did you tell her about Eliza?"

I intervened, "It's not a secret. It's fine to talk about Eliza. But usually we want to tell people at Eliza at the beginning of a conversation, when we have time to talk. Not as we are walking away from people, saying good-bye."

Zuzu added, "Yeah, Coco!" for good measure, and I looked at her, wondering when my seven-year-old had gained the EQ to judge when one should or shouldn't mention Eliza.

* * *

There's no right answer to when to tell and when not to. If not mentioning it would feel like a lie, or make me feel uncomfortable, I will probably say something. But as I meet other new people on campus, unsure how often our paths will cross, or as I introduce myself to students, if they ask about kids I usually say, "I have three girls at home."

When I'm showing my kids pictures on instagram and they ask questions about my friends' kids, I always mention their siblings who died. "Remember Finn and Mary who visited us? And their mom's name is also Caroline? And they have a brother Cale who died when he was a baby."

Despite my own reservations, I'd rather Coco feel comfortable talking about Eliza than feel like she's pressured to keep a secret, or like it's a puzzle to figure out when it's okay and when it's not okay.

It can still feel like a bomb, but when the dust settles and you see who's left standing, that can be how you find your people.

(I personally don't recommend it as a sales technique when you're peddling Girl Scout cookies door to door.)

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