On recent trip out for breakfast with my son, I learned that I can be a real jerk. A jerk that means well, but a jerk nonetheless. Read on to find out how — and how my toddler totally showed me up in the process.
Every now and then I take my son, JR, to the Carytown McDonald’s for breakfast*.
We always order the same thing: two plain biscuits and a two-pack of hash browns. He drinks milk, and I get a Diet Coke. A big one. Because one cannot go to McDonald’s without consuming a bucket of this sweet, sweet nectar. Seriously, can other restaurants just get on board with McDonald’s magical syrup-to-carbonation ratio?
We typically sit towards the back, sharing the same side of the booth as we eat our breakfast, chat, and maybe do some people watching.
Last Friday it was especially busy, and JR was drawing a lot of attention from our fellow diners for two reasons: 1) he has no volume control and 2) the way he eats a honey-soaked biscuit is perhaps the cutest thing in the entire world. Normally he’s a pretty neat kid, but he just can’t help himself when it comes to a biscuit. There is no pausing to chew (or breathe). He just opens his mouth as wide as he can (scrunching up his nose and eyes to an impossible degree) and shoves it all in, exclaiming “MMMMMM!” over and over again. It’s messy and loud and hilarious and gross and fantastic.
As JR continued his love affair with his biscuit, I noticed one man in particular watching us from across the room. He’d been looking at us since we sat down. After a while, he got up and started to make his way over to us. I groaned a little and tried not to make eye contact, willing him to veer off in another direction.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know what it is, but I seem to inadvertently project some sort of aura that compels people I don’t know to talk to me. Incessantly. And it goes beyond that, even. You know how sometimes when you go to a play or a show and they pick someone out of the audience to bring up on stage to thoroughly embarrass? Well, nine times out of ten, I AM THAT PERSON. I guess I always look like the least intimidating person in the room, so the powers-that-be see me and think “There’s our sucker! Let’s get her!” Add a cute toddler into the mix (if I do say so myself), and I’m totally screwed. What’s more, I have a hard enough time making conversation with people I’m friends with, so when complete strangers try to chat it up with me it’s just a perfect storm of awkward and stuttering and sweaty hands.
I don’t even know why I go out in public.
Now here’s the part where I’m kind of a jerk…
If I’m being totally honest, another reason why I was dreading our inevitable conversation with this man was that he appeared to be somewhat off, I guess you could say? As he approached us, I was having a hard time gauging where our conversation was going to go–I think we’ve all been there before. It’s amazing how many thoughts ran through my mind in the four seconds it took him to come over to our table as I tried to balance my Mama Bear instincts with my desire to model How Not To Outwardly Be An Asshole for my son. The closer he got to us, the more the scale tipped towards the Mama Bear side of things. In fact, I’m pretty sure I (somewhat involuntarily) gave him the stink eye.
When he reached our table, he looked at my son. Normally when faced with a stranger, JR’s eyes go straight to the floor, and he is suddenly glued to my leg (I wonder where he gets that?). Not so, in this case. He gave the man a big, honey-caked smile.
“What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Is this your Mama?”
“Does she love you?”
“JR, I’m going to tell you something important. Are you ready?”
“Always be good to your Mama. You only get one.”
And then the giant fist of irony slammed me off of my high horse.
I don’t think I was necessarily wrong to have my guard up when I saw this man coming toward us. I’m always on higher alert when my kid is around, as I should be. But part of me wishes that my brain didn’t automatically go to a place that assumed we couldn’t possibly have a meaningful interaction with this man. I think my initial reaction underestimated all of us in that scenario: him, my kid, myself.
All he wanted to do was to tell my son that he should appreciate his mother, and my son was more than willing to hear what he had to say, greeting him with kindness and genuine interest. Did I need to run up to the man, give him a hug, and say, “Come sit with us! Hold my kid! Be our best friend!” No. But I owed it to him (and my son) to show him the same level of friendliness he was given by my three-year-old, the person I’m supposed to be guiding in this world. I guess it’s going to be the other way around sometimes.
With a lump in my throat I thanked the man. He wished us a Merry Christmas and walked out the door. And JR finished eating his breakfast while I dug into my heaping serving of humble pie.
* Don’t judge. He eats great food most of the time, and it’s on our typical route when we’re out and about in town. Plus, sometimes you just need a hash brown, ok?
Photo by: Bordecia34