The Sunday version of Bagels With ButterTM has morphed into a trip to our local diner, mainly because: 1) Daddy wants eggs and bottomless coffee; 2) those slackers at the coffee place don’t open until 8 on Sunday mornings; and 3) the diner offers a far more interesting view of disheveled dog-walkers and vehicles running red lights.
On the way to our table, we passed a dad ministering to a one-year-old girl in a high chair while a four-year-old girl vigorously sawed at a waffle. Since lately I’ve been envisioning the next few years of my life as that of a beleaguered shuttlecock in my children’s insouciant game of badminton, I saw the chance to squeeze a little reassurance from a kindred spirit. I’d confess my nervousness, he’d tell me it’s not so bad, and we’d laugh heartily, merge our tables, and order a side of bacon for everyone in the restaurant.
I began with the tried-and-true parental icebreaker:
Me: “How old are your girls?”
Him: “These are my sister’s kids. She and my wife are upstairs sleeping off hangovers. So I’m sorta stuck with them.”
Ah. OK. The conversation just went code blue, but it’s still got strong vitals. At least he’s wearing a Sox cap.
Me: “It’s good to see more Red Sox caps around town since the World Series.”
Him: “I have no idea what this hat means. My brother gave it to me before he moved to Australia.”
Me: “Do you follow baseball at all?”
Him: “Not really. I just moved here from Zambia.”
Now we’re on life support. Time to whip out the defibrillator paddles.
Me: “How do you like the city so far?”
Him [smiling wanly]: “I miss my home.”
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Time of death, 7.48am.
Later, after they had left, I caught myself gazing at Robert while he gnawed on his breakfast. This will be his first real Christmas, I thought, and I wondered what he must be thinking of all the lights and Bing Crosby music and the five-foot evergreen by the TV. As if reading my mind, he looked round at all the diner’s holiday decorations—Santa and his reindeer over the lunch counter, icicle lights and other baubles hanging from every horizontal seam in the ceiling—and exclaimed, “Wow! Look at all this crap!”