They’re 18 and 23, and they don’t live with me anymore, but if we’re eating together, or worse yet if I’m simply watching them eat, I’m compelled to get involved.
Aren’t you going to finish that?
Do you want more butter?
Does that need to be heated up?
Don’t you like the soup?
(I need much larger FONT.)
And it’s not just loving, motherly attention I’m expressing, but anxiety, compulsion, PTSD even.
As a mother of two, and as a lifelong early & elementary educator, and as the oldest of 8, not to mention as FEMALE, I’ve attended to children at mealtimes since I was old enough to talk—from bottle-feeding to spoon-feeding to fixing meals and to taking my youngest siblings (and later nephews & nieces) out to Pizza Hut long before I had kids of my own.
Over the weekend my husband and I went out for brunch–with our grown kids–where we were seated near two different tables, each holding a mother and a young son and no one else. Adorable.
At the table closest to us, the mother had a fruit cup and her child had waffles or pancakes or french toast (one of those). At the other table, it was the child who had the fruit cup while the mother had yogurt with granola. I noticed this and something else when I passed their tables on my way to the bathroom.
The child with fruit was on a device.
“Did you see those two tables?” my husband later said as we were walking to our car. “I felt so sad about the mother who missed out on talking to her kid.”
I paused before I replied, and then I suggested that perhaps my husband had a gender bias/blindness, unaware of how demanding it is on mothers to eat out with their children.
My favorite scene illustrating this parental gender differential is one that takes place at the dinner table with the Incredibles. For years, I dropped this phrase on my husband:
BOB, it’s time to ENGAGE.
“Maybe that mother and child had a really good connection before breakfast,” I said to my husband, as we crossed the street. “Maybe they’re going out for a hike afterward. Maybe this was the mom’s only quiet moment of the day.”
Our own kids were device free in the world and maybe that had been a mistake. Maybe I would have been more relaxed if they were more fully occupied without my attention.
That said, I have two lasting memories of eating out with my youngest when he was a boy…
The first was the morning that we arrived to the Butterfly Museum before it opened. I had tea and he had waffles.
The second was the first time that he tried sushi and loved it.
I remember being in Japan for work and dining at a traditional restaurant where no one spoke any English and I was served a breakfast on a tray with a dozen ceramic dishes of mostly unrecognizable foods without any directions on how to use or not use the accompanying condiments.
I took cues from the small children at the table across from mine, toddlers really, thinking it more acceptable to stare at them then at a table with only adults.
They ate, like everyone else in the restaurant, almost silently, without a fuss, tasting everything on the tray, for a meal that lasted as long as a fancy dinner might.
Maybe Casey was right. Maybe that other mom was missing out. Maybe she was on the road and needed a break. Both mothers and sons seemed to enjoy a relaxing meal. I admired each of them and was grateful to be eating with grownups.