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I suppose I could have fixed dinner and kept the kids while Andrew drove to town to get the necessary items from the grocery store. I knew I wasn’t going myself, feeling totally uninclined to do so, and the dogs and cats were making it quite clear that they were going to get dinner, one way or another. However town is a good thirty minutes away, which would mean dinner and bed chores would fall squarely on my shoulders. I certainly didn’t feel inclined to do that, either.

So we went out for dinner.

This is always a rather sad undertaking. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the kids just love it. For them it means no kitchen chores, and maybe a soda, that rare and bubbling treat. But for those of us with more refined tastes, the prospects for good eating are so dismal and pathetic that we have to suspend criticism and just eat.

Tonight it was El Chapala’s. Andrew made things a wee bit harder by comparing it to Salsa’s, our most favored restaurant. But the delectable and fiery creations of that esteemed restaurant are a good hour away, and no place I’ll ever take my kids, at least, not until they appreciate passionate flavor. And of course, there is no comparison. You can see it in our waiter’s eyes. He’s patient and polite, but there’s no passion in his eyes. No fire. This is not a place for passionate people. I am a little uncomfortable.

The glare of the fluorescent lights. The sickly peach walls. The cheap art. The plastic decorations suspended from every available stretch of ceiling. Ah, welcome to dining in the boonies. The whole place has a sort of hushed pallor about it, which my kids immediately set about to dissipating with their giggling, their loud voices, and their incessant Sprite slurping. But we manage well enough, even accomplishing that stuffed-ness that one always seems to get in a true Mexican restaurant. We roll out the door.

We attack the grocery store in full force. No one is ever ready for us. Bert is thirteen and wields a shopping cart like a weapon. He’s riding it like a skateboard to the front door when I call for brakes.

“You’re gonna run over a granny,” I say, “and I can’t afford her hip replacement.”

He smiles genuinely—is there ever a time that he doesn’t?—and slows down.

But here is the test, all of us roving the wide aisles. Bert’s pleading to lug the huge bag of dog food on his shoulders all the way from the other side of the store while McKinley is saying in his customary almost-yelling voice, “I gotta go poo! I gotta go poo!” Renee is relatively subdued only because she is still licking on the tootsie roll pop she got instead of soda. She is walking by the side of the cart singing to herself about its splendid joy-giving tootsie roll center, which she thinks is gum. Every few steps she’ll turn round and testify in her almost-yelling voice, “It’s got gum in it! It’s got gum in it!” Rae, the quietest of the bunch, is a fifteen-year-old sweetie, and she and her Dad have now taken to having an ear flicking contest. We must give thanks that Alex, the oldest and most dangerous, decided she’d rather stay home and have some quiet.

We came to town for: cat food, dog food, sugar, cereal, and milk. But every outing is its own event, and we frolicked through the grocery aisles, all of us focused on obtaining the needed items, and no more, yet all of us moving together through the wide spaces of the grocery store like our own little school of fish, clustered yet darting. And all of us were smiling more or less, having carved our own happy niche into the chaos of seven, chipping away what’s extra to shape the circle of us.


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