This took place during my “family vacation” – if by “family” you mean “lots of people crammed in one van,” if by “vacation” you mean “lots of people crammed in one van moving from one geographic location to another geographic location.” But call it what you like.
We were staying at a cabin on a lake near Minneapolis and decide to drive into the city to visit old and new friends. These old and new friends don’t know one another. But we typically like to make things more convenient for
us them by awkwardly forcing everyone in a room together. One stop shop, if you will.
- One family of four: mom, dad, two young kids.
- One family of five: mom, dad, three young kids.
- One male friend. Single by choice. Childless by choice. Works as senior event planner for fancy art museum. Will thus be called fancy friend going forward. Knows a living room couch’s proper ratio of down-filled pillow to carefully-placed Egyptian cotton throw blanket. Gets extra descriptors here in case automatic response to reading “childless by choice” is “well…but maybe someday.” Let’s just shut that right down.
We meet at family of four’s place. Which happens to be in the midst of a major renovation project. Boxes and boards all around, but beautiful nonetheless. We drink, we talk, we fiddle with making a dinner reservation – at a trendy but nonetheless family-friendly restaurant. Kids run around in the basement, carefully tucked out of view, but occasionally they pop upstairs to present themselves and their most adorable qualities.
Fancy friend coos over delightful children. Children coo back. Parents proudly watch on. Adult conversation continues.
Later, children come upstairs for good. Conversation begins to zigzag all over.
Fancy friend witnesses parents jumping into conversations with adults (about other fancy friends, legal contracts, previous childless vacations spent taking photos of wildlife, co-op grocery organic food) and then out and into other conversations with roaming children (about sharing toys, what toys might get stuck in their throats, the improper times to grab your genitals, and why we don’t have our own rainbow-colored Slinky at home) – with the greatest of ease.
Fancy friend after witnessing the twirling conversations: utterly exhausted. He eventually bleats, How are you all even doing this?!
You know those special eyeglasses you wear that allow you to see what your life looks like to another person? Yeah, those don’t exist. But almost. Alllllmost. Because I suddenly look over at fancy friend and right then I’m sort of seeing the way my life looks to him. Like looking at one of those stupid 3-D posters. Fuzzy and distorted but I can sort of make out a picture.
And it looks like a coke’d-up circus.
Cut to our walk to the trendy restaurant. Children towing four massive beach umbrellas. Because it might rain. Children dragging a salad bowl of blueberries. Because we might need blueberries. We decide this might be a good time to spread out and give each other sidewalk space.
At the restaurant, we decide to confine all children to one end of the table. It’s all the rage now in free-range child-rearing! Very Lord of the Flies, let them fight to the death. This arrangement works. We like it. Fancy friend sits at opposite end. Smart.
The waitress brings boxes of small toys. Quaint. Each child gets one box on loan. Which toys does she get? Does he have that one? Don’t take that one! But I didn’t get that one! Ultimately, the kids calmly figure it out. Adult conversations continue throughout but with a considerable amount of glances over to “the other end.” A few narrow misses with a few water glasses. Few and phew.
By then menus are handed out. Children menus are fashioned into origami fortune tellers. Adorable. I don’t want mine unfolded! How do I fold it back? Can you fold it back? Parents fumble with remembering how to fold an origami fortune teller 30 years post-middle school. Parents’ clumsy folding attempts continue. Someone can’t stop folding it into a boat. Dammit, the boat starts out just like the fortune teller. Eventually it all gets sorted out and the “menus” are passed back.
Have we even ordered yet? No.
Now we’re getting real. Lots of big decision-making takes place now. This is when the shit gets done. If I order the pizza and the shrimp for both of the kids, they can share. Can you bring another plate? We will split it ourselves. What about vegetables? I will order the chicken pesto and he can take some of my vegetables but if you order the fish, you can share your fries. Lots more discussion. Strategies are executed.
Fancy friend opens menu. He orders a drink. He orders the salmon tartare. Done and done.
This is when the long wait begins. The wait between “ordering anticipation” and “eating anticipation.” The children are well behaved. Amazing. But nonetheless, they are children. So later they ask, can we leave the table and go sit on that bench outside? Can we play Go Fish with these cards? Parents approve. Watching on as kids are now outside but in view from window, adult conversation continues. But with obvious distraction.
Let’s speed past the food arriving and eating part. Because if you’ve ever been around a child or a restaurant, it’s just your basic type of, Is there ketchup? Can you cut this? Plates being passed back and forth, back and forth. Crumbs, drinks and sauces spilled literally everywhere. Etcetera, etcetera.
Throughout meal, glances over at fancy friend reveal relief-meets-exhaustion. If his face were a book, it would read Get Me Back To My Life Now.
And that’s when it happens. The cherry on top. The exclamation point on the night. Right in the middle of dinner. A tooth is pulled out. A TOOTH! As if this happens in our lives practically every day. In fact, it practically does. Fancy friend cannot believe his eyes.
MY TOOTH! MY TOOTH! Lots of excitement. Diners look on. A waitress stops. And blood is pouring out of the child’s mouth and onto just about everything. The child grabs for a nice white cloth napkin, which sends parents quickly scurrying for a disposable anything to replace it. In the chaos of the moment, fancy friend thinks quickly, jumps up — and runs to the bar to grab a paper napkin. He is sympathetic. He wants to help. Help these people! They have children, help them! AND FOR THE LOVE OF LINENS, DON’T LET THAT POOR NAPKIN GET BLOOD STAINED!
Night ends. Nice-to-meet-yous are exchanged, hugs, promises to see each other soon.
And fancy friend speeds home in his fancy sedan to his fancy apartment in the Hip Side of Town, to relax and lie on his fancy couch – with the fancy throw pillows that never actually get thrown. Ever.