Except. Sorry, I have a small problem to solve before I can tell the story. You all know I'm anonymous here and that I don't use real names very often. But this story is hard to tell without names and I don't exactly want to just make them up or use initials, which can be confusing (especially since Bean's husband shares initials with both his sisters, one of whom is a key player in this story). I often refer to Bean and Baby Bean, but what do I call her husband? Husbean? That seems an overly cutesy title for a man who is not my husband. There's a part of me that would like to give him a brand new name that is so ridiculous that everyone will realize it's fake, like "Aloysius" or "Fitzroy Von Gibbon, the Earl of Gloucester". Bean just calls him J on her blog, so I guess I'll go with that.
Father's Day Hibachi and My Mistaken Identity as a Member of a Polygamist
Cult Family Cult
It's Father's Day. J decides that hibachi sounds like an excellent Father's Day feast and that he'd like to invite his sister and her family along. He invites me, too, and I'm like "Hey! Entertainment using food? Why not?" so I tag along. Now, let's pause to add some background: J's sister has seven children. The oldest is 18 or 19 and the youngest is about two months. Oh, and you should also know that she and her husband are pretty conservative, so all the girls wear long skirts or dresses and have long hair. And we're back in.
We pack up the adorable Baby Bean and head over to the restaurant, which Bean has thoughtfully called ahead to reserve a table because WHOA six adults and seven kids is a lot of people descending on your eating establishment, even if you don't have pretty rigid seating capacities at your grills. We arrive and are led to our grill/table without much of a wait which is very nice. With one infant in a bucket car seat, two little ones in high chairs, and the oldest nephew not in attendance (fine crazy boy, hibachi is delicious; more for us), we just barely fit around a single grill. We space the children around the table so that there is at least one adult within arm's reach and we're good to go. I immediately steal (with permission, which is basically borrowing, but whatever) the baby out of his car seat and marvel at how ridiculously small newborns are, especially when I've gotten used to Baby Bean who would be more accurately Toddler Bean.
Soon after we sit down, the grill opposite us (basically a mirror image so that the chef can access both grills simultaneously) fills up with several different families and couples. There's enough distance between our table and theirs that we can't really share a conversation, but we're all basically staring at one another. If we're not staring at our menus, which is the polite thing to do, strange man sitting catter-corner from me.
We're a slightly raucous group, as you might imagine, trying to get all of the kids to focus on their menus for long enough to pick something to eat. We also have a small hurdle to overcome, since at least one of the children is allergic to soy and hey, we're eating Japanese cuisine that may or may not have soy sauce on ALL OF IT. Anyway, we finally settle on a dish for every one and we give our order to the very nice and somewhat genuflecting waiter. The room is noisy and increasingly sauna-like due to the grills. When our salads and soup come, J calls for our attention and, as is the custom in many Christian families, we all grab hands and bow our heads while J offers grace.
I snuggle the infant in one arm and try to eat my salad one-handedly while helping the child next to me and also trying to avoid the STARES of Catter-Corner Staring Man. I make faces at Baby Bean and talk with the adults and ask the kids about school and church and whatever else you talk about with your live-in-family's-family's children. The chef comes and lights things on fire and makes a smoke volcano with an onion and does whatever hibachi-ing one would expect from a Hibachi chef. The kids are enraptured by everything he does and we're all enjoying ourselves immensely. The other table watches, too, because their chef hasn't arrived yet. Probably because he is currently cooking our meal. They all seem to be just as entertained as we are. Except for staring man, who is (predictably) still staring. At me.
Now, I should probably describe the nature of his staring: It's not exactly rude, except for the, you know, staring. His expression is not judgey or even curious. It's actually kind of blank. Like he's recently been hit in the back of the head with a baseball bat and he's trying to remember where he is. His mouth's a little open and he's mostly...bored. Which is sad for his wife and two or three children (I can't tell if the one on the other side of his wife belongs to his family or the next one over, because, unlike HIM, I am not looking at them enough to figure it out). Really, it seems like they dragged him out for a Father's Day celebration. He's just present and not much more. It's weird, but I give him the benefit of the doubt and think maybe he's actually staring off into space out of boredom and it just happens to be in my direction.
This is where I would normally make some comment about HOLY HELL HOW MANY WORDS HAVE I TYPED I AM SO TALKY SOMETIMES but really we all knew from my lengthy title up there that I was going to milk this for all it's worth, so let's just jump back in.
We eat a lot of food. I try sushi. I don't die. When the baby gets fussy, I jiggle him a little and try to soothe him, thinking this is probably a rare opportunity for his mother to eat a meal without a human attached to her. When it looks like she's close to finished, I hand him back to nurse. I eat some more, this time with both my hands, and I have a re-established respect for mothers everywhere. I help with another child. At various times, both mothers and J's brother-in-law leave the table to take children to the bathroom and/or change diapers. I take Baby Bean for a little bit so Bean can eat and so she doesn't have a high-chair-related meltdown. Baby Bean and I walk around the table, trying to stay out of everyone's way and chatting with each kid as I pass them. Staring Man continues to stare, his eyes following me as I pace with the baby.
J's sister gets up with her infant and we decide to step into the front room, away from the grills and the noise to help the babies cool down. I am overly warm, too, even though I wore my hair in a ponytail. I am regretting not putting it all the way up into a bun, since it has gotten so long that it's still past my shoulders when it's up. I'm chatting with J's sister and making faces at her baby and mentally cursing my hair when Staring Man comes into the room and approaches.
"I hope you don't think I'm rude," he begins unwisely. His tone is not confrontational, but it's been my experience that if you think you need to start a conversation with that phrase, you are probably going to follow it up with something rude. "But...what religion are you?"
"We're Christian," says J's sister.
"Jesus. We like Jesus," I answer at the same time (if someone asks about my religion, I prefer to point to Jesus, rather than getting bogged down in definitions of religion and misconceptions about labels).
"Well, but what kind?" Staring Man asks, slightly more pushy this time. "Tell me more."
"Uh, we're just Evangelical Christians," J's sister says. She shrugs and we exchanged a confused look. "We're just Bible-believing...Christians..." She's not sure what he's getting at or how to phrase it so he'll understand. I super-helpfully mumble my line about Jesus again.
Staring Man just (predictably) stares at us for a long moment. J's sister and I shift the babies around uncomfortably, unsure what's going on. Staring Man opens his mouth a few times and then closes it, as if he can't find his words. I wonder again about that baseball bat.
Finally, he whispers, "Like, polygamist?"
We blink at him.
"Noooo...?" I say slowly. I am slightly unprepared for this turn of events. "Just...Christians." J's sister looks stunned for a second. My mind races and I realize that I, too, am wearing a long skirt and have really long hair and have been holding ALL the babies. Huh. Maybe he doesn't know where I fit? "There are two couples and then me," I say. I point at Baby Bean. "There's her and her parents. I live with them and help out with the baby."
"That's my brother and his wife. My husband and I have seven kids," J's sister follows. "He's here tonight, too." She adds that last part in bewilderment and the man has the decency to look slightly embarrassed. Not very, but slightly. "We get asked about our religion a lot, but we're just regular Christians."
Now the man is uncomfortable and obviously doesn't know how to get himself out of this situation he's created. He continues to ask other, less controversial questions as if he didn't casually pry into our sex lives and just generally makes small talk to fill the awkward silence. Finally, he thanks us and heads back to the table. J's sister and I turn to each other with wide eyes and burst into laughter. J's sister immediately goes into "EwewEW!" mode because, "That's my brother." And all I can think is he must not have seen her husband at the table, although with all his staring, I'm not sure how he missed him. I mean, that has to explain it, right? One guy plus three women plus many children equals polygamy...?
J's sister had a pretty good laugh telling her husband the story, but allowed me to tell J, whose first response was, "He probably wanted to know how I managed to get you all to agree to it." To which his sister very pointedly said, "Ew."
Later that evening, I texted my dad and told him Happy Father's Day and that his job was complete, as I had just been mistaken for a polygamist and there probably isn't a more...interesting standard by which to judge your parenting than that. He was just as baffled by the story as I was.
And, being the logical creature that I am, I continued to be bothered, not by the social or personal implications of what the man had asked, but by the mathematical stupidity it required. Even if he didn't see J's brother-in-law, there were still four adults at the table. There were eight kids. My first assumption would be three moms and one dad, which equals a married couple and two women without their husbands. If you split the kids among us, it's not like it would be ridiculous to think that we were three families of two or three kids each. I mean, I don't know about you and your life, but my first assumption would be multiple families, not multiple wives. OR! Even that there were two families, one heterosexual couple and one same-sex couple, each with four kids. I mean, I'll admit my brain doesn't go there as readily as it does to missing husbands, but it definitely goes there before it jumps to POLYGAMY.
I have since gotten over the math, but I still think from time to time about what happened later on the other side of this story. I can just imagine that man slinking back to the table and having to explain to his wife what he had just asked us and the horrified face she likely gave him. And I can just hear her saying, "Honey, you can't just ask people if they're polygamists."