Now before you brand me the world’s worst mother, let me say a few things in my defense. I spend a tremendous amount of time with my children, homeschooled my daughter for two years, and even let her sneak into my bed while my husband’s out of town. But as far as dedicated, one-on-one time, I have to admit to being pretty delinquent.
I think it’s a combination of her being the oldest, the most competent, and quite frankly a girl--in a world where the squeaky wheel gets the grease, her brothers definitely get my attention. But when she “squeaks,” my first response is usually to want her to buck up, dig deep, and be a strong woman. At seven.
I suppose it’s also that I never was much of a girly girl myself, so I hadn’t thought to incorporate something like diner and shopping into our relationship. (For me, shopping carries overtones of Inquisitional torture. Forget the rack or burning at the stake, simply put me in a strip mall, with limited funds, and the need to find the perfect dress for a wedding. Yeah, the Spanish had no idea.)
But over the last few weeks, I began to notice that I was saying “no” to her more often than “yes.”
Her: Mommy, can we bake cookies? Me: Not right now, honey… Mommy’s busy. Her: Well, then can we watch a movie together? Me: Tonight’s a school night. Her: What about a craft? Me: It would be too messy.
So with daddy out of town (and little brother with him), I decided I needed to finally make a date with my daughter. When I told her my plans, she melted and grinned from ear to ear in disbelief at her good fortune. I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t felt so guilty that it took so little to make her that happy.
So after school yesterday, we picked out our outfits, did our hair in hot rollers, and pulled out the Lip Smackers. Once we dropped littlest brother of at a friend’s house, we were on our way. Now, I completely left the agenda and restaurant choice up to her, but to be honest, I did try to guide her to something a little more elegant than McDonalds. After significant discussion about the pros and cons of fast food, dine-in restaurants, and buffets, she solved our dilemma with one question: “Where can I get a hot dog?”
We ended up at Steak ‘n Shake.
This wasn’t what I had in mind. I’d have preferred someplace where I could have at least entertained the thought of a nutritionally balanced meal—if not for her, for myself. I wouldn’t call myself a whole foods freak, but after a breakfast of greek yogurt, fresh mango, and tea; a lunch of European multi-grain bread slathered in homemade hummus, cantaloupe, and a handful of raw almonds, my psyche wasn't exactly prepared for a double steak burger with a side of fries. But this was her choice. So we went.
Once we got there, she ended up picking the macaroni and cheese plate, baked beans and a chocolate-chip cookie dough milkshake. I resigned myself to a burger, arguing to my thighs and stomach that they shouldn’t hold it against me because I was doing it for the right reasons. I also promised them that I would feel guilty the whole time.
But the funny thing is that I didn’t.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, the moment when I let go of my food insecurities. Maybe it was when she asked me to help her with number #2 of the crossword puzzle on her place mat. (“What do you use to carry water and sand at the beach?—Mommy, I can’t figure it out--the word “pail” doesn’t fit. The word has to have a “U” for the second letter.) Or maybe it was when the waitress brought our food and she dove into her (obviously boxed) macaroni and cheese, declaring it the best thing she had ever tasted (“Oh, Mommy, you have to taste this *reaching across the table to put a forkful up to my mouth*—it’s just sooooo good!”)
But somewhere along the way, I decided to put aside my nutritional angst and receive that burger and fries with thanksgiving. Not because they were healthy for me, but because they enabled me to be with her. All that salt and fat and carbs—even those sips that I stole from her milkshake—allowed me to sit and experience joy with her. And in those moments, I finally understood how a simple prayer of thanksgiving can sanctify any food. Because although it wasn't what I would have chosen, it was good for me. And it tasted good too--like love and joy and blessing. So I savored each bite the same way she savored her institutional mac and cheese.
Because it was just sooooo good.