Cherishing a table set for two

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It was a rather normal Monday—temperatures in the upper 40s, overcast, the usual hustle and bustle that one would expect from shopping one week out from Christmas.

But yet it was a rare Monday for me in that I only had one child in tow—the littlest Elkins.

You see, due to our middle child falling prey to illness last week, I was officially pushed a week behind on Christmas shopping. And now, since our children are only getting older and wiser, I can no longer simply shop for them by distracting their attention, then shoving their gifts in the undercarriage of the buggy. So I took with me the one I thought would have no clue. The one that I assumed would forget what gifts were tossed in the trunk, veiled only by a thin layer of recycled plastic that reads, “This bag is not a toy.”

But I underestimated the intellect of my 2-year-old, and when he pointed out what in the buggy was his and what belonged to his brother — and then, looked me dead in the eye, without blinking and said, “I no keep secrets” — I knew we were in for trouble. And now I am wondering if this was really all a hoax to begin with, and the queen bee had sent in her drone to check on the goods.

Well played, children. Well played.

It was drawing in on late afternoon, and my super spy was hungry, so we settled in for a cheeseburger and fries at one of our favorite burger joints. You see, that’s the thing about the third child. The first child eats homemade baby food, only sits in a buggy with a cart cover, and has no clue what French fries taste like. By the time the third child comes along, he thinks honey should be drizzled on everything, he wears a Batman shirt for days on end, and half the time I forget to put shoes on him. In public. Oh, the humanity.

But there we were, just me and my youngest (Wearing shoes. Both of them, thank you very much…), eating our lunch, taking pictures of ourselves and laughing at how silly our faces looked, and waiting rather impatiently on our food to cool, when I noticed her. At first it was slight, but I was very aware of her watching us. She was several tables down, in a large group of bikers sporting leather vests and worn bandanas, just stopping in for a quick bite before they hit the road once again.

I could not help but be rather perplexed by her, wondering what she was thinking. Usually, when it is me, plus three small ones, I get lots of stares and a host of comments. But today we were at a table for two, calmly dining. Is she staring at the ketchup smeared on my child’s face? Is there ketchup smeared on my face? (Probably.) Is it the huge mess we are creating under our feet? Were we being too loud?

She finally got up and walked toward our table, passed it, then came back and stood next to my side. “That’s a beautiful little guy you’ve got there!” she exclaimed, as he flashed his best toothy grin and continued to chomp on the remnants of his lunch. “I had a son once”, she said. “I had him for fifteen years, and then —“ she paused, stinging back tears, and continued, “and then he was killed in a car accident. Sons have a special place in their mother’s heart. Cherish him. Please.”

And she smiled and left, as I pulled him to my lap, crumbs and all, and let him sit with me the remainder of the meal. I kissed his cheeks, breathed in the smell of his silky, blond locks, and wiped his chubby little hands clean.

He will never remember that day. He won’t remember the tiny red kaleidoscope I bought him that he insisted was binoculars. He won’t recall waving to the older gentleman, sitting alone outside on a park bench. He will never remember how those fries tasted, or how for a few hours that day, we really didn’t need our heavy winter coats. And let’s hope that he doesn’t remember what I bought him and his siblings for Christmas.

But I will. I will remember every moment, every hour of that day. And I will take each kid to eat lunch with Mommy more often. Just the two of us.

Christie Elkins is a Campbell County native whose columns appear weekly on the Lifestyles page of the LaFollette Press. She’s a mother of three and a full-time blogger at www.mywalkwitheden.com