Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Pepper Poker Party

Friday night was poker night at my friend Pepper’s house. His wife is due to deliver their first baby any day now, and he wanted to host one last child-free poker night. The thing about poker night at Pepper’s, though, is that it’s not so much about poker. It's more about socializing than cards, which is fine because Pepper's friends are all very cool. Bump and I tend to forget this until we arrive and all the other players whip out their little scraps of paper that detail what hand beats what. We shake our heads. It’s my goal for Lumpyhead never to need one of these cheat sheets. I vow he will know that a flush beats a straight before he knows that T comes after S.

Being around Pepper’s wife reminded me of those last few months of pregnancy. Even though I was usually too grumpy to appreciate it, people were very nice to me when I was hugely pregnant. Strangers smiled at me for no reason. People asked if this was my first, and would offer stories of their own children. Waitresses would throw in free extras when Bump and I went out to eat.

On May 11, less than three weeks before Lumpyhead was born, some dimwit in a small plane invaded the protected airspace of the Capitol. At the alarm, the entire campus was evacuated, and people went scurrying from all the buildings.

I’m always skeptical during evacuations. Maybe it’s because I didn’t lose anyone close to me on September 11, and I would have been content to drink beer in a Capitol Hill bar (it’s like a snow day!) before I knew the scope of the disasters in New York and at the Pentagon. I was only slightly inconvenienced by the anthrax scares. Several false alarms have lulled me into thinking evacuations are never worth getting worked up about. I’ve been driven from my desk when a Halloween costume made everyone think a mad gunman was raging around the Cannon Building. I was evacuated when the Governor of Kentucky flew in for Ronald Reagan’s funeral on a private plane with a broken transponder. Each time, an hour or so later, people trudge back to their offices, the odd flutter of unnecessary adrenaline still in the air.

Not everyone feels this way; many people take evacuations very seriously. Women kick off their shoes, people cry, some leave the buildings at a dead sprint.

I was swollen and cranky and feeling like a pod rather than a person. The size of a small van, I lumbered out of the building.

On three different occasions, people stopped and offered to help me with my bag. I managed not to snarl, “It’s not this three-pound briefcase that’s slowing me down, you idiot, it’s the thirty pounds of pregnant.”

Instead, I thanked them politely. I smiled. “I’m good, thanks. You may continue running for your life now.” They nodded and continued their escape.

Looking back, I’m overwhelmed by their kindness. Granted, Capitol Hill is the kind of place where schmoozing is taken to another level, and there’s nothing like a baby to bring out the obsequious in every politician. But this was different. People I didn’t know, who were truly frightened, stopped to assist the potential that was in my belly.

And they’re awesome. Thank you to those random strangers who - while freaking out - were willing to slow their evacuation to help a pregnant lady. People who instead of pushing past, took a few minutes to make sure Lumpyhead made it out okay. You rock.

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