So, there we were last Saturday, hubbs and me, seated at a corner table facing the rest of the restaurant as we waited for friends to join us for supper. A perfect vantage point for people-watching and hubbs could check college basketball scores on the flat screens if he chose to. We chatted back and forth but soon found ourselves paying attention to the next table’s occupants.
We saw them when they first were seated: a young woman, in her thirties I think, and with her, three young boys. The oldest faced me, his young face kissed by a smattering of freckles. He was tall and lanky, maybe 10 years old at most. To his left was his younger brother, who we guessed to be about 7. The mother had her back to us and to her right was sat the littlest, a cute little boy between 3 and 4. The boys settled in and seemed happy to be there. Mom began texting and perusing her iPad immediately, only raising her head to offer a scolding. Frequently she left the table and went outside. We couldn’t help but notice the oldest as he shared his pizza toppings with the littlest , and how he comforted him when asked for Mommy. Mom came back and forth to the table so many times that we lost count. A cluster of club-dressed women appeared and we soon learned that these ladies were Mom’s friends; the ones she couldn’t go out with that night because she had the kids. She said it with such contempt that both hubbs and I recoiled.
It wasn’t long before Mom handed the boys her beloved iPad and let their pizza smeared fingers get busy. This gave her the opportunity to grab her drink and sneak away to the bar, where she stood with her girlfriends for at least 30 minutes, her back to her children. When the littlest one scored points on the game, he raised a chubby arm and gave a triumphant cry. Bar Mom spun and shot a caustic look at the oldest, who clearly was failing the parental responsibilities she’d thrust upon his slim shoulders.
Eventually, and only after settling in the younger two, he warily approached the Mom. At first, she put her arm around him and smiled as she introduced him to her friends. But it wasn’t long before she tired of that and turned away from him and back to her friends; he stood where she’d left him, shifting his weight from one foot to another for a tortured forever.
To my right I heard Hubbs deep voice whisper, “You know, I’ve been that kid. I’ve been that boy trying to get his parents out of the bar; I feel so badly for him.”
There comes a point in circumstances such as this when your heart scrambles to see what you might have missed.
When you hope there’s another truth besides the one being played out in front of you.
There’s comes a point when you realize how it’s possible to feel empathy and anger at the same moment.
There comes a point when you sadly realize that not every child enjoys the luxury of being wanted.
There comes an understanding, too, that there’s little an outsider can do. We were strangers after all. Stranger danger.
We are parents.
We get it.
It’s demanding, stressful, and sometimes not that rewarding, quite frankly.
Sometimes you need a break.
But here’s the thing, sometimes you don’t get one. Why take it out on the kids?
I heard my mother’s words ringing in my head, “Children don’t ask to be here; the least they deserve is love and attention.”
Creating an opportunity, I walked past their table and, as I passed, tapped the oldest on the shoulder. When his brown eyes looked up into mine, I smiled and said warmly, “You sure are a wonderful big brother; what a nice job you’re doing!” He beamed and shyly said, “Thank you,” and off I went.
Coming back a few minutes later, I noticed he’d changed positions and was facing me. And when his eyes locked on mine, I smiled and winked; his grin back told me he understood what I was doing. Hubbs and I enjoyed several shy smiles cast our way for the rest of the time he sat there.
My efforts felt small and days later, here I am still thinking about him. I am thinking of him and hoping those few words of encouragement will sustain him the next time this occurs.
“Children don’t ask to be here; the least they deserve is love and attention.” – my Mom
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Have you ever found yourself in a similar predicament?
How did you handle it? or What do you wish you’d done?