|Staying close by eating out|
March 4, 2013
There’s something special about a parent’s one-on-one time with a child. Conversation takes on a different dimension without other people around to hear. Now that my kids have grown up – my youngest child recently turned 21 and is about to graduate from UCF - I miss those times and the intimacies they fostered. Perhaps that’s what prompted me a few days after Toby’s birthday, to call him on the phone.
“Can you meet me for lunch one day this week,” I asked. “I was thinking Garden Café, like we used to do.”
“Sure,” he said. “Is something wrong?”
“No,” I responded, “it’s nothing like that. I just wanted to spend time with you again, the two of us for lunch.”
During his preteen and early teenage years, Toby and I used to be regulars at the small vegetarian restaurant on West Colonial Drive. We’d go there after Saturday morning practice sessions at the Central Florida Chess Club. Toby was, and still is a chess devotee so I, by default, became a chess mom driving him to and from tournaments, practice sessions and private lessons waiting around while he studied, competed or played games with others.
For several years, the 35-minute drive from our south Lake home to those CFCC practice sessions in downtown Orlando was part of our routine. While my burgeoning chess maven immersed himself in strategies and techniques, I sat in the car, savoring a few hours of uninterrupted reading time. When the sessions were over, he’d pack up his chess bag, I’d lay my book aside and we’d head over to Garden Café for a light lunch before driving home.
By the time I got off the phone with Toby, we had arranged to meet on a day that fit his schedule, which happened to be a Saturday at noon. He even had a chess tournament to go to afterwards, which seemed serendipitous.
The closer it got to Saturday, the more eagerly I anticipated our meeting. Enthusiastic as I was however, a sense of sadness tempered my emotions. It felt like the moment I was approaching punctuated the end of an era. Because my youngest child will soon be leaving the state, I knew our chances of one-on-one times together were fleeting at best.
We arrived at the restaurant simultaneously and hugged in the parking lot. My first impression was that he seemed taller (or was I smaller?) than the last time we saw one another. After settling into a booth and reviewing the mostly unchanged menu, we placed our orders. A comfortable zone of catch-up conversation ensued. I gave Toby a quick overview of what each of his siblings was up to, how his father was doing and what was going on at home. He in turn filled me in on his plans for next year, how his girlfriend was and a little bit (as much as I could comprehend) about stochastic processes, the field of mathematics that is his current academic focus.
By the time the meal arrived and the jasmine tea had steeped sufficiently to pour, we’d gone well beyond appetizer chatter. More meaty matters (as much as can be expected at a vegetarian eatery) were being explored. We touched upon relationships, feelings and the importance of intimacy.
I can’t say exactly how or when it happened but somewhere along the line, it felt like old times. Once again, we were two people exploring subjects that normally go unspoken. We were mother and child, confidants and sounding boards. I listened to him talk and when appropriate, offered suggestions and advice. In turn, he made comments, a few criticisms and revelations. By the time we sipped the last drops of tea from our cups, the plates were cleared and the bill paid. I felt far richer despite having less money in my wallet.
Kids grow up and move away. It’s normal, healthy and to be expected. But it’s also normal and healthy to want to maintain an intimate relationship with open discussions about things that matter. Feelings. Emotions. Subjects of the heart.
As we walked back to our separate cars and hugged goodbye, I willed myself to restrain the teardrops welling in my eyes. They were tears of sadness for the fleetingness of time and tears of pride for a child who has developed into such an independent, responsible and kind adult.
Toby drove off to his tournament and I got in my car and headed home. Our destinations were different but our hearts were together.