Parents have to deal with change too.
|My wife, Tara, hugged Brittany one last time and saying nothing, got into our dark blue minivan. One of the most difficult days for being a parent had arrived. We all realized it. I turned to Brittany and I hugged her tight. I smiled down into those all too familiar blue eyes. The same eyes that hours before, lit up at the mere sight of her new college dorm room. After eighteen and a half years of being her daddy, all I felt was -- my heart breaking. Things would not be the same.
Tara stared vacantly out the passenger window, tears streaming down her cheeks. I had no words to console her. I held back tears of my own, as we wound through the country roads toward home.
“Tara,” I said as the wheels hit our driveway.
“Yes,” She responded with a far away look in her brown eyes.
“Would you like to go on out to eat?” We both need to get our mind off this.
“Yeah. That would be nice. Thanks Jim.” She reached out her hand and squeezed mine.
So, we drove to Bill's Steakhouse, my wife’s favorite restaurant, and we shuffled in the front door, where a chirpy attendant stood. I couldn’t help thinking she resembled Brittany. I glanced my wife’s way, and she hid her eyes, looking down and away.
“How many?” The greeter asked. Her shoulder length hair lay braided upon her uniform lapel. Her genuine smile and voice both had a certain bounciness – a very good greeter.
“Two,” I stated.
“Fine. I’ll see what we have available. Do you care for a booth or a table?”
“Booth,” My wife piped up. She hated to sit at tables.
The greeter stole into the dimly lit room to scout out an open booth. The restaurant was a little over half full, with a myriad of diners. An elderly couple caught my eye, as they dined at a booth in calm perpetuity. I wondered whether we would end up like them. Sure, we still had our son at home, but when he left… well … I tried not to dwell on that. My eyes then wandered to another table where a young couple with their three kids waited on their food. The mother anxiously eyed the kitchen doors while she established a perimeter for her middle child, likely about three years old. Hmmm… A booth would be better there.
“Follow me,” The cheerful young lady said, grabbing two menus from the podium behind her.
We roamed through misaligned tables, dutifully following, until she stopped at a corner booth. The sun's setting rays cast long shadows across the table top. She laid the two menus down, one on each side. My mind wandered to our honeymoon and a place called Tolliver's. That waitress placed our menus on the same side.
We sat down in front of our respective menus and soon became engrossed in the entrees presented. I made my selection -- A swiss and mushroom burger sounded good. A tapping sound caused me to look up. My wife’s face streamed with tears -- They flowed down hers cheeks, and dripped on her menu.
“We can’t go back you know. She’s a young woman – a fine young adult. We’ve raised her right. We have to be happy for her. Stop crying.” My eyes began to water. It took great effort to hold back tears of my own.
“I know. I know,” my wife sobbed and held the menu higher so people couldn’t see her. “It’s just that she won’t be part of our daily lives. She won’t be our little girl. She won’t be Brittany. She’ll change.”
“Nonsense,” I lied, “We’ll still see her on weekends and call her. She will still need us. She will always be our little girl.” Shoot, even I didn’t believe me. I knew she would change too. My mother's face filled with horror flashed across my mind as she discovered my new tattoo in my sophomore year at Ohio State. I cringed at the recollection.
“Come on, Jim,” She sucked up some tears and began to hold them back again. “My mother told me about this. She cried for days. Now I know why. I mean, who knows where she’ll end up? Who will she marry? I don’t know what’s going to happen to her. I think I’ll lose my mind. You remember when you left home, and how you changed after that.”
“Whoa. She’s just a freshman in college. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We have to take things one step at a time. I know how you feel. I feel it too. I just can’t stop thinking about a little girl I’d push on a swing, roll around in a blue tub, and play ‘tea’ with. How did she get to be old enough to go to college?”
“I don’t know, Jim. I don’t know.” Her voice trailing off.
I didn’t know what to say to comfort her. She looked… shattered. I fell silent and went back to looking about the room.
The younger couple had their food delivered and the mother looked relieved and yet unsatisfied, as she managed the chaos of who had ordered what. The elderly couple were finishing up and appeared to accept the complementary coffee offered by their server. Then I spotted another couple with what appeared to either be a young adult daughter and son, or a young married couple. After some study, it wasn’t hard to see the young lady was the spitting image of her mother. By their actions I guessed a son-in-law or boyfriend. The father scrutinized him periodically with a hard look, and a few poignant words to go along. I had to smile. That could be me over there. With that thought, our waitress popped into our view.
We ordered our entrees and drinks as my wife kept her nose in the menu. She didn’t want the waitress to see her red eyes. Lucky I made up my mind so quickly. My wife's voice stumbled out her order as the waitress wrote down the details. In no time she had our drinks placed before us. Since the waitress broke the silence, I decided to try to talk to Tara once more.
“Tara. Yes things will change. Yes, Brittany won’t be the same little girl we know now, but we’ll adapt. We’ll get used to it.” I was trying to convince myself just as much as I was her.
“I hope so,” she stated. “I just didn’t think it would be this hard. My sister, Stephanie, couldn’t wait for her daughter to leave so she and Bobby could remodel her room. I guess I’m not like her.”
I laughed. “Bobby said she bawled her eyes out.” Sometimes I thought Stephanie and Tara were joined at the hip. They couldn't go through a day without calling each other.
“Really?” She looked up into my eyes.
“Really.” My wife lightened up a bit, and I took a big gulp of tea. My wife rarely sulked or felt sorry for herself, but this -- This hit home. I could tell Tara was mulling this over as I saw a faint smile cross her face and recede.
"I guess I never knew that. I think I'll give her a call." Tara's eyes lit up a bit. Misery loves company.
"Fine. I'll just sit here and eat all alone," I said matter-of-factly.
"Ok." She flipped out her phone and started pressing buttons. Hints don't work when you've been married twenty-two years. After pressing a couple of buttons, a terse frown appeared on her face. "I think she has her phone off." She kept trying anyway.
I watched as the elderly couple finished their coffee. The old man sifted through his wallet for a couple of ones to throw down for a tip. All the while the old lady struggled to put on her overcoat. She grimaced in pain a couple of times. I felt bad for her. Arthritis I guess. The middle-aged couple with the young lady and boyfriend were in a heated exchange over something. The mother pointed an accusatory finger toward the boyfriend...
"Wha...? Oh, sorry honey."
"I couldn't get through to Stephanie. Why do you keep staring at those people?"
"Oh, just wondering what their situation is." I stated and sipped some more on my tea. Just then the elderly couple toddled past. Her arm wrapped in his. You could tell, while they didn't have much to say to one another, they needed each other.
"Do you know them?"
"That old man and woman."
"No. I was just watching, while you contacted Stephanie. I had to pass the time somehow. Aren't they sweet?"
She glanced over and watched them exit. "Yeah."
Our entrees arrived with the typical fanfare. The waitress filled our drinks and asked, "Do you need anything?" I shook my head as I took my first bite. I couldn't help think, Why do they always ask that right when you are taking a bite? For the next few minutes, we modeled the elderly couple and ate in quiet recluse from the rest of the diners. My eyes once again wandered.
The middle aged couple with their daughter and boyfriend wrapped up their meal. A take-home box sat on the corner of their table. They were all smiles -- fake smiles. The kind that seem plastered on a face, but without any real emotion. They stood. The middle aged man grabbed both checks. The boyfriend started to say something, but thought better of it. Better not rock the boat. The young couple with kids also seemed to be wrapping things up. They waited for the youngest to gnaw a french fry. The pile of fries in front of the toddler told me they might have a long wait. Been there. Brittany was famous for her slow eating as a child.
"Are you ready?" Tara's mood improved. She smiled and appeared more relaxed.
"Oh. I'm about done." I took a couple of large bites to prove that I was progressing. I guess Brittany got it honest.
Tara's smile became broad and toothy. "You and Brittany. I swear."
I shot a look at Tara. How did she know?
Tara's empty plate contrasted mine for a while as I tried my best to down the rest of my sandwich. I spotted the middle agers at the checkout. I guessed they got tired of waiting on their server to pay. The boyfriend held hands with the daughter. Their eyes sparkled as they looked at one another. Young love.
The waitress flipped the bill face down onto our table. "Was everything ok?"
Tara had her credit card out and handed the bill and the card back. "Yes. It was fine."
I took my last bite. Glancing over, I watched the baby still gnawing on the same french fry. I couldn't help but grin.
After paying and putting the tip on the card, we strolled to the exit. I looked back at the young couple. The mother and father refereed between the two oldest.
The cold air caught us off guard and we quickened our pace to the car.
"That's was nice," I stated.
"Yes. I'm glad you suggested it. Brittany is gone now. Out on her own."
"She'll still need us, Dear. I'd hardly call her gone."
At that moment, Tara's phone buzzed and an odd ring-tone sounded. Tara fished the phone out of her purse and glanced my way.
A text message scrolled across the screen. "I love you mom. Brit."
Tara's mouth fell open. "You."
"You got us texting on our phones."
"I figured it would be a good way to keep in touch with Brittany. Change doesn't always have to be bad you know. We can change too."
Tara unbuckled and hugged me. I couldn't help to think, Farewell my child, you've grown up today. My mind still fresh with the image of a baby gnawing on his next fry, while his mom and dad waited. I wondered if they realized just how long that would be?