You had just turned seven and that age of reason shined upon us like the sun after a long dark storm.
It was a warm fall day and the Children’s Museum was premiering a new exhibit block party style. As we walked into the celebration a flash mob broke out with a heart thumping dance. We watched the neon clad performers alongside the bewildered crowd (flash mobs were still new), your biceps bumping to beat, your three year old brother trying to copy your every shimmy with a sly sideways glance.
After all the dancing, hunger nipped at our heels and we lined up at one of the street food trucks. There were five people in line ahead of us yet the line moved so slowly I could feel myself aging. You scattered off to the grass to play tag with some children –faces painted like lions and leopards.
Left alone to wait, I had plenty of time to study what was wrong with the food truck system. There was one person doing three jobs and none of them well. They were short-staffed, a dedicated order taker would was needed, an order expeditor /runner to refill the sodas and napkins. If they implemented my plan they could double their speed and sales
At one point someone in charge of the street festival asked if they would like the band to announce that the truck accepted credit cards? This ‘in-charge’ person paused then said to the order taker, “Or perhaps you are already feeling maxed… traffic wise?” The food truck staff stopped what they were doing and huddled behind the sweet potato fryer and conferred. At length. Fine they said. But I stopped the would -be announcer in her tracks. I piped in my unsolicited opinion that having been in line for more than 30 minutes perhaps it was unwise. She thanked me, apologized and hurried off.
You ran around on the grass nearby and checked back not less than six times to see if I had food. Not yet. When I finally reached the front of the line the order taker announced “I’ll be with you in one moment.” Really? I wanted to say instead gritting my teeth.
So close. The order taker went to help the cooks and then refilled all the drinks, got ice, replenished napkins and straws. She then announced. “We are out of the grass fed hot dogs.” I heard my too loud voice say “Are you kidding me?” Eyebrows raised to the roof, air constricted in my chest. “ I have just been standing in line for 35 minutes and now you ran out of hot dogs?” There was a palpable silence, the cooks inside the truck, suspended their burger flippers midair and peered at me, this harried women angry over hot dogs. I ranted on. “Didn’t you know you were running low before just, just… springing it on us?” No response, perhaps they sensed I had more to say.
I detected you just then in the periphery but I went on.
“I mean really? It’s only noon and here you are at a Children’s Museum event and it’s a universal rule that one item all children will eat are hot dogs. Didn’t you know there would be a crowd at a block party?’ When I was finished with my tirade I swatted away the order takers mumbled apologies. I scanned the now limited menu for something my children would ingest without epic tantrum. And after another painful setback (delivery of yep, the wrong order) – we got our food. It was 1pm. As we walked away you caught my arm. “Mom,” you said, “What if I grow up and worked there and you were ordering and you didn’t recognize me? Would you say the same thing to me if I made that mistake?” Hungry, tired and cranky, my forty year old self mumbled back to you. Something about teaching you to make better choices.
We ate our lunch and watched the next show. Suspended in midair trapeze artists flipped and twisted in impossible single-arm holds. There was a band playing for the kids, the lead singer in a chicken mask. We turned down your request to purchase $14 maracas and banged on the tables instead. We danced– all of us, our family of four, in the sun and stayed a little too long. Yet, all the while as I was loving each of you, and your words stayed with me.
That night as I was tucking you into your stuffed animal-filled bed I cleared a place for myself between the well-loved fuzzy dog called puppyness and a new yet-to-be-named cheetah. “ I have been thinking about your question, how you asked if I would be angry at you if you made a mistake and I didn’t recognize you and I am so glad you said that to me.” I saw the faint ripple of a smile, tug at the corner of your mouth. Then it was gone. Meeting the steady gaze of your round blue eyes I said, “I learn a lot from you.”
Of course that sweaty order taker on that food truck in her burger joint paper hat with her hair wisping annoyingly into her eyes is somebody’s daughter. Your seven year old soul was tugging on my busy arm asking me to stop a minute and see that.
I was reminded of a speech I heard by Salvador Minuchin an acclaimed family therapist. He said, “The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.” Snuggled in to your bed, overflowing with a veritable zoo of spotted and striped stuffed animals, I wanted to tell how much you teach me about how to be a mother, your mother. How I learn from you about how to be a decent person in this world and what this world looks like through your eyes. How, when I am paying attention, you teach me everything I need to know.