and, for once, by “out”, i don’t mean “outside”, as in “out of doors”. like at the zoo when we stop for our mandatory french fry lunch. no. we actually took joel and ruth out for breakfast.
are we crazy? have we finally lost it completely? did having joel actually push us over the edge? you know it.
“i dunno if we should do this,” i said, nervously, “what if something...happens?” i asked greg next to me in the passenger seat. we were on our way to our local woods for an early-autumn investigatory hike and were going to stop by the doughnut shop and grab a few and call it “breakfast on the go” but quickly realized we were both too hungry and strung-out from getting the kids ready to leave the house to settle for such a sugar-packed breakfast. we needed something more substantial in our guts to calm our frazzled parental nerves and give us the strength to continue on with our day without maiming anyone. greg suggested our old favorite greasy spoon for a real eggs-and-bacon, buttered-toast breakfast. we went back and forth about it, me behind the wheel, unsure which way to turn, which direction to head, when suddenly, we looked back at joel and realized he was asleep. score. i turned the car towards our greasy spoon and sped up. no use wasting precious time with one unconscious child.
we tried to prep ruth with the usual admonitions to “be good“, threats that if she didn’t act well, we’d have to leave, then using emotional guilt-tripping, told her that “big kids” behave well in restaurants, talk quietly, and stay in their seats (god, the terrible things we do to our kids to get them to do what we want, right?). in any case, she usually sees through all of that. she knows we’re all talk and no show half the time and that she has at least three warnings before anything gets real serious. when we walked in, it wasn’t overly crowded, but loud enough that ruth’s voice probably wouldn’t draw every eye in the place. every glaring eye. maybe just a couple.
our server showed up and asked us what we wanted to drink. this was the first make or break moment. was ruth going to have fun or was she not going to have fun and turn into “grumpy ruth”? “nothing,” she said to my tempting offer of chocolate milk. i gulped. not a good sign. i quickly scanned the table top, sending out a small prayer of thanks to the restaurant gods, or the bus boy, that there was a heaping bowl of creamers on the table, an overflowing dispenser of individually packaged jams and jellies. i reached for it quickly, yet tried to play it cool, calm and casual. ruth can smell effort a million miles away and is always at the ready to sabatoge anyone’s preconceived notions about what she’s going to like or how any circumstance is going to play out. “hey,” i said, putting my non-existent acting skills into overdrive, “these creamers are fun to play with. i wonder how tall a tower i can build.” knowing that the quickest way to set off ruth’s “alterior motive alarm” is to ask her to join in, i simply started to build a tower on my own. how cliche and insincere, i know. but she doesn’t know that. to her, i just invented a freakin’ ingenious game. move over bill gates. flippin’ intense ingenuity and resourcefulness goin’ on right here. “let me try,” she said, taking the bait like a fish on a hook. this is good, i thought, let her be the domineering one, take charge and show me how it’s done. in the meantime, staying occupied for the invaluable minutes it takes for our saturated fat, nitrite, and sodium-loaded breakfast to be sizzled to overcooked perfection on the griddle.
the game and our cool attitudes calmed her down enough for her to ask me to open a creamer for her. a good sign. if she doesn’t start drinking creamers, you know your time is limited. i appeased her and popped one open. she downed it like a shot of tequila and presented another for me to open. “no, i can do it!” she yelled and ripped it out of my hands after a few seconds. it’s all payment. the verbal abuse, the mess, the out-of-corner looks from other patrons, disapproving, always disapproving. it’s all just the price we pay for this rare occasion out. and well worth it. the longer she struggled with opening the creamers and the more of them she drank, the longer we had to eat our food. greg got a coffee, i rationalized, so technically, he could be using these creamers to put into his coffee. we are owed these creamers. they are rightfully ours. that logic worked until i looked over at the pile and counted ten creamers. “better get a refill, greg,” i said, “just to make it all look a little more legit.”
the server brought our food and we immediately dove in, blood sugar having plummeted from the extra stress of being in the restaurant and knowing the precariousness of our situation. joel could wake up screaming, as he so often does. and ruth could lose it at any moment, become inconsolable and we would have to usher them out as quickly as possible, one of us staying to box the food up, pay the bill with his or her eyes to the floor, an apologetic, humble smile on our lips, keeping it together until getting out to the parking lot.
food never tasted so good. the grease immediately coated my neurons, wrapping them in a warm blanket of fat. i felt my brain start working just a little better than it had been a few minutes earlier. the salt sped up my heart, which began to pump the thick blood through my arteries with renewed vigor. the protein went straight to my faltering joints, repairing the damage done from lugging joel around, consistently carrying armloads of shit, squatting on the ground in all manner of uncomfortable postures in order to play with ruth, day after day. it was delicious. just what we needed. we engulfed that food.
in the meantime, ruth refused to eat even a bite of her chicken strips and french fries and instead decided that she needed something crunchy to go with the ten creamers she had just downed. “mama, i want ice!” and if you think i wasn’t about to chew up ice cubes from my own water and spit them out again on a napkin in front of her for her to daintily pick up and eat like candy, you’ve got another thing coming. that’s exactly what i did. like a damn regurgitating mother bird over here. and what?
then, to top off her meal, make the whole thing a well-rounded and complete affair, she went for the sugar container, turned the thing upside down on a plate and then proceeded to lick up the sugar like a dog. was i about to stop her? finally put this tom-foolishness to an end? hell to the no.
it’s all payment, as i said. it’s all worth it. as any parent can attest to. we boxed up ruth’s untouched breakfast just in time. joel began to stir right before we lifted him to walk out the door. ruth hadn’t screamed once. and greg and i were both able to eat our entire breakfasts sitting down, pretty much uninterrupted. we left a bigger-than-average tip, for the creamers and sugar-clean-up, and walked out the door, no one the wiser of the huge potential catastrophe that could have been their peaceful morning. a little quickly. didn’t want to leave on a bad note. didn’t want to jinx anything. with kids, you gotta get while the gettin’s good.