Saturday, January 28, 2012

Two whole hours

I'm all alone.
Well, not really...I'm in a cafe filled with people. People are everywhere. I can hear all kinds of conversations. Someone is even saying, "Mommy, Mommmmeeee...," but I can breathe easy - he's not talking to me!

My heart is light.

I am planning to order a latte and a scone, sit here completely by myself and consume them as slowly as I want to. I will not be eating fast in an attempt to finish quickly before someone wakes up and demands to be nursed. I will not be eating and drinking with a baby in my lap, painstakingly trying to ensure that nothing hot, spicy or stain-producing falls onto her. I will not have to leave the scone half-finished and reheat the latte four times in the microwave over the course of the afternoon because I keep getting up to refill someone's juice or wipe someone's nose. I'm going to eat and drink however I want, and I have two hours to do it.

My husband ran ten miles this morning, so I now have about two hours to do anything I want. It was a fair trade...each of us taking the children for the other to get some time alone. I felt several times this week that my life depended on this upcoming break. When I left to come out this afternoon, alone, carrying only a small bag with my knitting, my iPad, my keys and wallet, and wearing a silk scarf (because no one was going to spit up on it), I looked at George sitting in the rocker with the two babies, and I felt more affection and gratitude for the man than I have all week.

The latte and scone arrive. I stare at them, feeling a surge of gratitude for this cafe, for the woman who made the latte, for the granulated sugar on top of the scone. I am in a little heavenly moment, all alone at my table, in my little cafe, all alone...

And then, it happens.

They come in. I know they aren't from around here, because they are close to my age and have no children with them and are clad head to toe in North Face apparel and are carrying brochures. The woman has blonde pigtails. Seriously. As I'm considering how weird it is that I'm part enough of this town to know at a glance who's visiting from someplace else, they come waltzing in and choose a table one away from mine and start perusing the menu. I can hear every single word they are saying.

Omigod, look, they have lattes.
Oooh, you can get soup and sandwich together! Oh, but I don't like any of these sandwiches.
Do you think the chai tea latte is vegan? Should we ask? I don't know, do you want to?
Do you think the dog is okay in the truck? I'll go check.

The guy leaves. When the waitress comes, the girl says, "Um, like, which is better? The chai spice or the vanilla chai latte?" The waitress says one is sweeter or something, and the girl sighs heavily and says she just can't decide. She guesses she'll have the vanilla.

Then, for some reason I can't possibly imagine, she decides to move to the table Right Next To Mine. It's like the old booths in Friendly's, where there are two tables right beside each other with a divider in the middle. If you have a big group, you can pretend that you're at one huge table and take out the divider and be all congenial and big-group with your conversation.

By now, it's very clear that these people and I would never be at Friendly's (or anywhere) together in a big group. Or a small group. Not at all. They are making me crazy. And here we are, separated by almost nothing. We're practically sharing a table. If I shift my eyes to the right, I can read her menu.

I turn a little so I'm facing away from them and try to read my book.

The guy comes back, and the girl repeats, word for word, her exchange with the waitress. Only now, she's the expert on chai lattes. "The vanilla is sweeter, you wouldn't like it," she says sagely. He nods seriously, wonders aloud how many more calories are in the medium than the small?

They go over every single sandwich option. They are agonizing over their choice. What kind of bread? Is it homemade? What if one sandwich is too much? Maybe a half sandwich? Should she get a wrap? A salad? No, she wouldn't be full enough. Oh, they have cinnamon rolls! They look good! Where? In the cabinet! Oh, they probably made them this morning, they might not be fresh... Another waitress comes and tells them the specials, which throws their whole process into a tailspin. "Omigod, they have lentil soup. I just have to get that. When she said that, lentils, I just knew I had to have something hot! But do you think it will take too long to make? What time do the caverns close? What if our food takes too long and we don't make it? Maybe we should just walk down to the visitors center and ask? No, let's just call them from the table...but maybe we should order first, just to be safe? But we don't know what we want. Maybe that pizza grilled cheese she mentioned? No, too fattening! Besides, we are having Italian for dinner. We are? Yes, lasagna? Oh, I don't know if that sounds good to me any more."

By the time the waitress returns, they are marginally closer to a decision. But then the guy orders the vanilla chai, sparking another whole discussion about whether he will like it and how it will go with the tuna melt on rye and whether he should get a small (like she did) or upsize to a medium.

"I just love, love, love rye bread, don't you? I'd eat absolutely anything if it was on rye," she says...and then she says to the waitress, still awkwardly standing there..."this is just, like, such an impossible decision!"

And that's when I just can't handle it any more.

It is not an impossible decision, lady. Pick a sandwich. Pick a drink. You will eat again. You probably go to restaurants all the time. What if you pick the wrong thing? What if it's awful and you absolutely hate it? You will not die. And if your boyfriend orders the wrong drink and it's too sweet? The wrong size and can't finish it? He'll survive.

You have a moment- a moment together, a moment in a restaurant, a chance to enjoy being together and sharing a meal. Your dog is waiting in the truck. Stop worrying so much about getting the perfect thing and just order!

I think of George, at home with our three little people, and I feel sad that I'm not sitting here in this restaurant with him. And I feel bad about how grumpy I've been to him this week.

Why is it so hard, I wonder, to work as a team?

Sometimes I almost feel like I'm competing with him. Who got more sleep? Who had a chance to go out alone more times this week, even if it was just to the grocery store or to get gas? Who had the opportunity to shower alone?

I love our children, and so does he, I know. He's a dedicated and wonderful father. I'm a caring and involved mother. So why do I feel like we are each aiming to get the biggest slice of a pie at the expense of the other?

The thing is- if we actually had a pie, or a brownie, or a vanilla chai latte or a tiny Ferrero Rocher candy, we would be splitting that and sharing it with joy, no matter how small it was. I never enjoy any treat as much if I can't save a little taste of it for him. Songs are always better if he has heard them, too (or if he has told me about them in the first place). I have always thought of us as having a rare thing, a true collaborative partnership. Yet lately, instead of partners, I feel like we're competitors.

Although we recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, we have been overcoming adversity and having adventures together since 1998. We actually like being together...traveling, running, hiking, cooking, discussing politics, hanging out and playing Wii. Neither of us is even remotely as annoying as either half of the couple next to me.

It is a true privilege to find someone so special with whom to share a life's work. Not everyone has what we have. I know this.

Lately, though, I find myself bristling frequently when he speaks. I'm frustrated when he cooks and leaves the counter a mess. I roll my eyes, close doors harder than I need to when I'm annoyed, sigh impatiently. I'm not as kind as I could be. I'm tired and overwhelmed, yes...but this is the most important person in my world we're talking about. Would it kill me to try to be nicer?

Why is it so hard to work together on this project of parenting the twins and The Boy? It's our biggest challenge yet- why can't we just be in each other's court?