French Fries and My Three-Year-OldBy Rachel Zients Schinderman
April 20, 2010
I spent the day with my son. Now, granted I spend almost every day with my son. But some days are different. Some days, you take a step back and remind yourself to remember this. This moment right here. This is why it is OK that I am always tired. This is why I don’t work anymore. This.
Benjamin and I had that kind of day recently. It was nothing big and special, nothing monumental. Nothing that was even Facebook status worthy. But some days you can’t imagine how you are not incredibly grateful every day that you get to hang out and raise your child.
But not every day is like that.
Some days, you are vomited on in quick succession about five times (let’s call that Monday). Some days your child wakes up at 4:45 in the morning declaring it is light out and time to get up (Tuesday and then also Thursday). But some days, like Wednesday, you head down to The California Science Center and The Space Museum just next door and you shoot rockets and look at satellites and watch all of the older kids in their matching T-shirts in their camp groups and you can’t imagine how some day you won’t be the one to take him to do all the cool things he likes to do. And you’re glad he is only three and clings to you and loves you in that exhausting 24-hour kind of way. And you briefly get sad and protective thinking of him older in one of those T-shirts roaming through the world or at least this museum without you, but then you think of him giggling in the corner with his friends and sitting in The Space Museum’s helicopter with a girl he likes and you get excited for him. Soon, in your mind, he is married with kids, a doctor, perhaps in a small practice, who does a lot of charity work.
But none of that is why the day was so special for me, though all of that was nice. It was one simple little moment. We got lunch at The McDonald’s at the museum (no lectures please, probably only his second visit to McDonald’s) and we got a Happy Meal and I watched him eat French fries. And it was the greatest thing I had ever seen.
He ate them with pure joy. We sat together in this big hall full of loud strangers, my child and I, and enjoyed the quiet connection between us. The fries weren’t even that good actually. I ate one and thought I remembered those being better, but for him, they were a delight, a treat. And for me, sitting there with him, together, as he ate a meal I ate as a child as well, was lovely.
Eating those fries with him reminded me of my father. My father died when I was four and my own memories of him are few, if any. My mother tells a story about how he ate French fries. He would take a very long thin one and bite in the middle and then stack the two pieces on top of each other and then bite in the middle again, repeating the whole process until there was no more fry. When he did this it made my mother laugh. When she told me this story, it made me laugh. I don’t know why. It’s not particularly funny or clever. But the visual of it, for me as a child, was something I could physically do to try to imitate who he was, how he was. And I ate fries like that for years.
I sat there with my child eating French fries, knowing I never really got to eat French fries with my dad and I was surprisingly not sad. I was filled with love for my son and for me and for us and felt lucky that we had each other.
He will not remember that day. He is just three. Childhood memories before the age of four are limited. I know. But hopefully these moments of being together will provide him with a quiet confidence. I know they have for me.
Sometimes it is just a flash, just a moment, like that one, that reminds me to take stock, to look around, to adjust what needs fixing and to accept and feel proud for what I may have done right. I am not perfect. I do not always enjoy the day to day of being a stay-at-home mom. I admit that even on that day at the science center I may have hurried him along from activity to activity because I was bored. But he and I have created a bond and every now and then, like at a museum’s McDonald’s surrounded by a sea of campers, it announces itself grandly and quite simply knocks my socks off.
I think there is something so poignant in the ordinary act of eating.
I know that I feel a peculiar sadness when I happen to see elderly people eating in a mall or a McDonalds. For some reason – it seems just so incredibly sad to me. I have no idea why.
Which is why stories, like yours, about joyous eating, make me happy.
My mother came up with a briliant idea when I was a baby. She set me up in a highchair and gave me my very first chocolate biscuit (cookie) and documented each bite with her camera. The look of surprise and then mad joy on my baby face is great. I don’t remember it, but I am so pleased to be able to look at the pictures and see what a first experience looked like.
This is such a beautiful, poignant essay and razor sharp in its evocation of motherhood. Bravo, again, Rachel!
No lectures please – hahaha. I’m a mother of 3, so that gave me a chuckle. Exactly. Let the kids eat in peace once in a while. ( :
Anyhow, I loved this post. So pure and tender. Oh, to be able to remember what all of it is for each and every day. Each and every MINUTE of the day. A mother’s Holy Grail.
So nice. It’s true that when you stop worrying about what’s going to happen, or planning for what could happen, or revisiting what has already happened, you can miss pure gold like the moments you experienced.
Funny to see this today, because as I got ready to do my morning meditation, I was interrupted by the sound of one of my dogs chomping on her little bone. Mouth open, eyes open, staring ahead and just chomping away in her own little world. As I watched her completely in her moment, I realized that I was completely in mine and I found myself in a huge smile.
Thanks for the great reminder that sometimes all you need to do to change everything is stop and look.
Hey, hey – it’s not just mothers :). Since she was old enough to sit up and eat “people food”, my daughter and I would go out every weekend morning for “coffee and cookie”, letting Mom sleep in. I cherished that time. It has now mostly morphed into “Daddy-daughter dates” (she’s a big five year old now)… but still usually ends up being us, in a coffee shop or Borders Cafe, me with an espresso and her with a cookie. And now I cherish that time.
Zara, I have a great video of the first time she had an ice cream sundae (from, um, McD’s). She looks like she’s about to starting channeling the voice of God or something – eyes rolled back in her head, hands in the air, hot fudge all over her cheeks. 😀
Rachel, that last paragraph about knocked my socks off. Spot on, Mom, and well done. He’s not going to remember the imperfections, the occasional forced enjoyment, the underlying impatience. He’s going to remember the feeling of love, of inclusion, of having Mom there when he gestured, wide-eyed, at some mundane-to-grownups thing that totally blew him away at that time. He’ll remember the sharing and the loving. My son is 18 months now and I have to muster up enthusiasm every time he sees an avian and blurts “Bird!” (which sounds a bit like “beeeuuud!” right now). Mostly because it happens about twenty times in the three hours I get to see him each day. :/
Thanks. Do you have the book Every Friday…it is great and it is a Father/son breakfast ritual date thing…not father/daughter, but pretty close. Thanks again for the nice comments and for taking the time to read.
The pleasure was mine, entirely :). I do not have that book but, since every 10th day of not giving Mommy hell while I’m at work is “buy a new book day” and today is the 21st, we’ll take a look for it tonight.
Here’s a link to it…
Wonderfully expressed Rachel!
After my parent’s divorce my mother and I never had dinner together at the table. It was just grab something & go. Now I really cherish dinner at the table with my daughter. I love cooking for us and talking about what happened that day or what we’ll do the next day. Lately, as the weather’s been getting nice & we’ve had the door next to the table open, breeze blowing in the kitchen I think, this is IT.
Gosh, that reminded me of an adorable little girl for whom I used to babysit. Besides storytime, I remember mealtimes with her. I’d make her dinner on the weekend evenings her parents went out. She hated peas (which her mom insisted she eat), but she’d keep her end of the deal to eat at least five. She sat there with her little plate and fork and neatly nibble. And the remaining peas stared back at us both.
There will be more days ahead for you two–which your son will certainly remember.
Oh man. Kids and French fries. There’s nothing better. Except maybe chocolate cake and kids and a trip to Disneyland, or a hike in the mountains. Ah, kids. Love ’em.
My youngest said he would perform while I recited some poetry this weekend… Kids, they make us look good.
Thanks for a trip to the museum and French fry heaven.
Ah, man, this used to be Friday nights… the one night a week my parents would bring home McDonald’s for my brother and I.
Damn it. Nostalgia!
Nice one, Rachel.
Oh, you break my heart Rachel!
I’m very much a Daddy’s girl. Of course I’m also a Mommy’s girl.
Which is to say that I love my parents. More, I like them. And knowing you, one day I’m sure your son will feel just the same: lucky lucky lucky to have you.