A Human Touch

A mom, dad, and two little boys sit down at the table next to me.

The dad is kind of serious looking. Dark hair, tall, broad shoulders, scanning the room with an empty stare, completely unaware of the breakfast discussion that is happening right next to him.
Mom is feisty. She has the rough and tough mannerisms of a mom who is raising two boys and has been away from the female race long enough to lose joy in picking out the perfect muffin. "Whadya want to eat? Come on? It's not that hard... just pick something." She points to something in the pastry case for herself and orders without truly looking.
The little boys, probably eleven and nine, are dirty and sweaty, fidgety and totally bored. It's Saturday morning and although they aren't sporting a baseball uniform, I'm quite sure she has just scraped them up from some park and put them in the car against their will. I think she's put the husband in the car against his will for that matter too. And there they sit, distracted and totally uninterested in pastries, muffins, and one another. Their faces say, "Saturday is for sports, for hobbies, for guy stuff... not these stupid muffins and family talk time."
Three men. Three islands.
Any minute I expect her to stand up, slam her hands on the table, grab the attention of the men in her life and say (with a fiercely threatening voice that makes you think she might not cook ever again or that she might pull her girl card and cry right there in front of God and everyone), "WE will enjoy this *&*$%^* breakfast as a FAMILY whether you want to or not!"
But she weathers the silence with grace and patience and somehow she draws everyone in with a series of questions and jokes.
Suddenly they are talking. The three islands are talking. This woman is amazing.
I think to myself... if I had been her I would've spewed my venom at them for their lack of interest and for making me do all the emotional, conversational work. I might have clamped my lips shut in a passive aggressive protest of their little care and concern for me and my family breakfast plans.
"Poor me. My boys won't talk to me. I'll show them." And then, as only a woman can do, I would make them endure my brutal silence as punishment for not loving me well. But she didn't do any of those things. She didn't get her feelings hurt. She didn't retreat. She didn't punish them with her silence. She fought for her children's words. She won a small victory.
an aside:
This mom showed me that no matter what your child is: boy/girl, shy/personable, angry/happy, interested/uninterested; a diligent effort to emotionally engage your children, will, more than likely, pay off.
Now, the conversation is marked by the laughter of these two little boys and the dad's full attention.
And me?
Well, I am the creep sitting at the next table watching them... but in my defense I am a very happy creep who just witnessed a mom being a really good mom. And I am relishing in the moment of this ladies victory.
Of Course...
This is all ruined when the nine year old kid, who, by the looks of his wild impulsive eyes suffers from some form of attention deficit, grabs a rock from the fountain behind him and throws it.
I'm not sure what it hit, but it ricocheted, it's path of destruction eternally long and it was loud enough that the entire restaurant stopped and took a collective breathe.
The morning was, yet again, ruined.
The dad instinctively grabbed the son by the leg in anger. The mom shot straight in, "What are you doing? What are you doing? Why would you do that?" People's eyes bore into them. All four of them. The dad's grip tightened. His stern look was debilitating even for me.
It stemmed from embarrassment of course. That's what I'm learning. A lot of times we parents are reactionary. What deserves a normal- don't do that- turns into a swift and militant response when the kid is 'doing that' in front of lots of people and we find ourselves cringing.
Inevitably this response, though, leaves the child embarrassed. And this nine year old followed protocol.
He looked down at his legs and his eyes burned with tears that he kept sucking back. I watched his whole body sink and deflate as his little brother stared at him. In his mind, I guess the whole world was staring at him. He kept his head down like a dog who had been scolded and wouldn't make eye contact with anyone. He went to his own universe. And they to theirs.
Mom acted like nothing happened, but the tension came all the way over to the creepy girl's table and I was as stressed as she was.
The mom did as many moms do. She tried to make it better. Tried to talk to the little boy and ask him questions from across the table. But he wasn't buying, he wouldn't raise his eyes above table level. Dad tried to smooth things over by talking to mom, laughing about something terribly not-funny; he was keeping the pep in the deflated family breakfast trip, but he was failing miserably too.
I had written the rest of the story in my mind. They will leave. Mom frustrated- which always leads to tears. Dad frustrated- which sometimes leads to throwing the towel in and making the rest of the day a "personal day" as Ryan calls it. Big brother either smugly satisfied that the blame could all lie on his counterpart or angry that that his counterpart ruined the morning. And little guy... hurt and angry, embarrassed, would spend his Saturday sulking.
I was all torn up. It was like watching my own reality show except no one won any money and they all ended up going back home empty handed. I freaking hate reality shows. I scolded myself. Why do I watch them? They came so close. I stopped watching and went back to writing my book.
The Touch
And then it happened. A human touch.
Something came over the father's face. His countenance changed.
He turned his body towards his son who was sitting one bench over. He put one arm around his shoulder, another under his knees, and with one big swoop he lifted the little boy up, put him directly on his lap, wrapped his arms around his chest, and bear hugged him. He whispered into his ear and kissed his cheek. He held him there. Not letting go. And there they sat. In the middle of a busy restaurant. A shamed nine year old boy. In his dad's lap. A grown man. Putting himself aside. A human touch.
It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen a dad do. Ever.
And, in one moment, that human touch redeemed the entire morning.
The boy, of course, fought it in the beginning. Still sulking. Head down. A little scowl. But the longer the dad held on. The longer he hugged. The more this big, strong, grown man whispered into his little boys ear... you could visibly see it, the wall of shame and defense began to crumble. The embarrassment was left on the other bench. The little boy let go of the anger, came out of hiding, and felt safe again. Loved. Liked, even.
I no longer felt creepy. I felt honored. I found myself with tears burning my eyes as I watched what grace looks like. Grace with skin on it. And I found myself, in that busy restaurant, sitting in my own father's lap as he hugged me, told me I was beautiful, told me to forget about what happened, told me he loved me. I fought it, of course. I wasn't even sure that I had done anything to make me feel like I needed to be lovingly taken back into the family (like throwing a rock that made a whole restaurant stop and gape) ... still, I had an overwhelming sense that I needed it. Right then. Right there.
I squirmed a bit and felt way too grown up for what was happening. I suppose I'd much rather be left alone to sulk. I tried to get my shoulders free. But that whisper. Leave me alone, I'm the one who screwed up and everybody knows it. But that kiss. A feeling of annoyance. Please just stop. But that gentle squeeze. A denial. But that acceptance. A rejection. But that hug... the one I didn't want... right there in the middle of the restaurant...
intimately, strongly, lovingly I was swooped up unto my father's lap
before I knew it, I was smiling
I am loved.