We had just gotten back from a week on the road, and after driving straight through the entire state of Kentucky--taking advantage of the fact that little Angelica was still napping--by the time we arrived in Florence for "one last stop" before heading home we were...wiped...out. Hubby suggested Olive Garden and I said Why not? So there we were, corralled into a corner booth a couple hours earlier than the standard Friday night rush, and I couldn't have been happier to be somewhat hidden, sweaty and casually clothed and just generally feeling unkempt after so many hours as a road warrior. And a very hungry one, at that.
Minutes after we arrived, we noticed that in the next booth was another family with a little girl, a sweet and gregarious little blond girl with glasses, probably about four. She noticed us and was delighted to see that we also had a little one in tow. Angelica, shy at first (what a deception!) observed with guarded interest as the other little girl pulled out all the tricks to get her attention, waving, asking her name and my name, jumping up and down and making silly faces. As I watched it all play out, a slow smile played on my lips until I was finally feeling relaxed and less self-conscious. I waited to see my daughter's reaction, and I knew it was coming.
It came. Angelica's joy finally let loose and all timidity was gone in a flash. She squealed, she jumped, she mirrored the other girl's faces and movements. She made her own faces, and the other girl obliged by imitating them as well. My husband and I laughed. The other parents, however, were not so endeared. "Honey, stop jumping! You're bigger than her". "Turn around, because I want to color with you". It seemed like they got more desperate as the time went on, to try anything to get their daughter to leave ours alone. At one point I said "It's okay, they're just playing". I looked around, there was virtually no one around us. There was a booth across from us with three adults, none of which seemed to notice us. The servers laughed as they approached our tables. I thought, Are the other parents the only ones bothered by this? They were two little girls, entertaining each other while waiting for food at a restaurant, a seemingly natural and amusing activity. For us, the fatigue and tension of driving slipped away as we watched them in action. Although the other girl's father didn't seem to share our point of view, at one point he did joke: "Dinner and a show anyone?"
The food came and we all ate, save some distractions from the younger crowd and soon the other family was leaving. Seemed they couldn't leave soon enough, and as they walked by our booth neither parent looked at us as the little girl and Angelica said their good-byes. I felt saddened, since it had been a pleasant experience for us. Had we ruined their dinner out?
Then my husband reminded me of a pre-baby trip we were fortunate to take to South America. We were staying in a hotel near Iguazu Falls and met an Argentine couple in the game room. Even though at first I wasn't drawn to them--thinking Argentines are sooooo loud!--soon they struck up a conversation with us and by the end of the evening, we were sharing music CD's at drinking mate together, while asking people to take pictures of the four of us. We remember them fondly, and always say that we'd love to go to Argentina some day to visit our friends.
We thought back about the hotels we had been at during the last week of traveling to South Carolina. Nice people, yes. Some shared conversations, here and there. Yet I started thinking that Americans tend to prefer sticking to themselves in similar situations. Was it cultural? Americans don't want to get involved with "strangers"? Too unsafe. We insist on maintaining our personal space.
Fortunately I had another serendipitous moment the midst of those negative thoughts. After the other family left, I realized that an older, African-American gentleman (who I thought wasn't paying attention to us) at the booth across from us was listening intently as Angelica sang "Baa Baa Black Sheep" to herself. He applauded her effort at the end of the song, and then launched into his own version of the song, much to our surprise and delight, pausing to check with me about the words, and then making up his own lyrics anyway. From across the way, he then asked what Angelica's name was, and continued to heap loving attention on her. Periodically he would come out with another made-up song: "I'm a big girl now, I'm a big girl now, I pay the bill, yes I'm a big girl now" as she gave the credit card to the waiter, followed by the same chant with "I'm leaving now" as we stood up to go. We took Angelica over to say goodbye and blow kisses. and I noticed his shirt: World's Greatest Grandpa. I said that it was a very appropriate shirt for him!
That greatest grandpa made my heart expand. He didn't have to show such kindness, but it just seemed to flow out of him naturally. He didn't care who heard him, and neither did I. And now I am reminded that these moments happen wherever and whenever, not only while traveling abroad. And to put it all in perspective, the other family was doing what they thought was best, too. Maybe it is better that children don't bounce around on restaurant booths "bothering" the people around them. I understand that.
Perhaps I'm too leniant, myself. It might be a good idea to nip this kind of behavior in the bud while she's only two. But honestly, a little booth bouncing doesn't bother me. I (not so) secretly like watching those kind of spontaneous acts of joy come about: while traveling, in a restaurant, at the community pool. Could it be that I, the introvert, live a little vicariously through my daughter's unabandoned interactions?
I think the greatest grandpa would sing to that.