Tonight was my mother’s something-year-old birthday and, as anyone who reads my happy little portion of hell on the internet knows, she was not in attendance. Regardless, my dad and I make it a point to go out to dinner each year to celebrate. It’s not necessarily a somber affair; it’s more of an acknowledgement that she’s still alive to us. Before you get ahead of yourself, know that this is merely symbolic. I’m not suggesting we had her taxidermied and hold a vigil each year while praying for the reanimation of her corpse. It’s just that we’ve recognized that someone can physically die, but they’re never really dead until you forget them. To us, Connie is very much alive.
Connie’s favorite restaurant was P.F. Changs, a place that serves Americanized Asian dishes and is a step up from, say, TGIFridays. It’s not a bad place, just not all that inspiring to me. We went though, the three of us, because that’s always where she wanted to go on her birthday.
Her passing did nothing to break this routine. Every September 10th, we’d pile into the car and head off to have some lettuce wraps and marinated sea bass. It was three years into this ritual that we finally admitted to ourselves that we fucking hated P.F. Changs. We’ve tried to celebrate in other ways ever since.
We went to our favorite restaurant this year, a tiny hibachi-style Japanese place that cooks your dinner at the table. Per usual, there was no pomp or circumstance. The three of us sat down at our own table and enjoyed the evening as we would if it were any other night. Connie wouldn’t have wanted us to dwell on her lack of presence. In fact, if any of us had gotten nostalgic, she probably would have shown up with an eye roll and said, “oh for Christ’s sake.”
Overall, dinner was good and uneventful. We made the requisite jokes about Connie picking up the bill and/or haunting us, but that’s pretty standard for us. Just as I was thinking about how pleasantly normal the evening was, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. There was a change in the room, a distinct chill. I felt that chill to my marrow, and I knew, I just knew – she was there.
Sure enough, I looked up, and there she was. A woman with a vapid expression and a vague sense of reality was careening toward the table next to us with three young children in tow. She was that mom. Her boyfriend meandered behind them.
They sat down, and she casually settled each child into its proper receptacle. I turned back to my son who was telling me about Pokemon in a language I have yet to understand, and then it began–the symphony of terror began as I had anticipated.
The two little girls were whining about how they wanted a certain drink but the mother had said no. They turned to the boyfriend with hope in their eyes, but that hope was misplaced, because he barely acknowledged their presence. The son, who I’d place at an undersized 4 years old, was loudly banging his fork against his ceramic plate. Mom didn’t seem to notice. I will admit that becoming a mother gives you this awesome ability to filter out certain noises, but there was no mistaking this sound. My dad who is 60% deaf heard it, and if he heard it, so did the rest of the world.
Mom didn’t seem to notice when her son, desperate for attention, began screaming wildly as if possessed by actual Satan. This went on for a solid minute before she managed to tear her eyes away from her boyfriend (who was also oblivious) and pick said child up in order to distract him. Good, I thought. Show him some attention, have a discussion with him about proper behavior, and shut that shit down.
We were on the same page until the part where she took him up to the decorative gong and encouraged him to play the song of his people, a cacophony of metallic punches and kicks that failed to adhere to any rhythm. Satisfied, the young conductor sauntered back to his chair and resumed his post. Mom fell in step with a pleased smirk on her face.
Peace reigned for a whole three minutes before the tiny musician found a new instrument: a plastic bowl. He banged it wildly on the granite tabletop. Unimpressed by the noise, he threw it forcibly on the tile floor. Everyone in the restaurant cringed at the noise, much to the glee of the boy. My father and I exchanged horrified glances. What circle of hell were we in? What had we done to deserve this treatment? WHY, CONNIE, WHY?
A passing gentleman picked up the bowl and returned it to the little dude. Mom thanked him for the safe return of the instrument and murmured a vague, “what do you say?” to her son. His response was to strike up another tune by throwing the bowl yet again. Mom laughed. My dad and I exchanged looks once again. Had we…did we drink all the Sake? Were we trashed? Was this real life?
I want to tell you that the Mom finally had enough and talked some sense in her child, but that’s not what fucking happened. Ten more minutes of this horrific concerto continued.
I managed to tear my eyes away and I looked over at my son who was quietly eating his chocolate ice cream, giggling to himself about God knows what, and that’s when I realized how lucky I was to have such a well-behaved child. I realize that every parent thinks their child is some mystical gift from God, but I really hit the jackpot. Never once have I had a real issue with my son. I attribute 60% of this to his complacent, introspective nature, and 40% to me being hyper-vigilant that he wasn’t one of those kids. I looked back at that Mom with confusion. Why did she let that happen? Did she not care?
As I tallied up my winnings, I lost focus. Soon there was an interruption in the bowl smashing choir and an uptick in amused laughter.
I looked over, and there he was, my well-behaved angel doing what I suspect is the Harlem Shake in-between the tables.
Maybe this admission makes me a hypocrite, but I’d like to point out the obvious difference between a child loudly slamming a bowl against tile and a child quietly jiving in the corner for your entertainment. Not to mention, this kid has some fucking MOVES, even if I don’t fully understand what those moves are.
We paid our tab and left. A couple people gave my son high fives. I didn’t give the miniature maestro a second glance as we piled into the car and headed home, but I’m still thinking about him.
Parents…there will always be people who are displeased to see that you’ve brought your child out to eat. Those people feel that way because some parent out there lets their children destroy the peace and sanctity of a nice meal out. Quit being fucking lazy and teach your children some respect. If you can’t manage that, then don’t take them out.
It’s really not that hard—I managed to instill a sense of appropriate behavior in my child and I fucking kill fake plants for Christ’s sake. You can do this. Get your shit together. And if you can’t manage to do this but absolutely must go out, take your kid to Chuck E. Cheese. They take all kinds there.
Last but not least, Happy Birthday, Mom. I firmly believe you sent this experience to us just to spite us, and for that I’d like to dedicate this slow clap to you.