It was a Thursday evening. That day that is sandwiched between almost Friday and the days that lingered before it. It is the waiting period after landing on the tar mat after your 4-hour flight, anticipating the waves and the sand on your toes, and the 20-minutes it takes for all the passengers to GET. OFF. THE. PLANE. Yes, it is that 20-minute period where we are so close to Friday, which leads us to the next day, Saturday, that is filled with the pool and riding our bikes. It is the 20-minute period where we feel the tension and the stress from the week. We are tired. Yes, we still have 20-minutes to go.
On this Thursday evening, I picked-up my kids from school and rushed them to our dinner spot. We had a quick 58 minutes to eat dinner and then buzz to soccer practice. And soccer practice would be a catastrophe if there wasn’t something in those bellies. Buddy and Sissy argued over who had the worst snacks in their backpacks (yep, good work Mom). Sissy threw her smelly socks at Buddy, and Buddy immediately wailed a loud scream, “Don’t do that! It isn’t nice!”
I turned on the “Sleep Time” music from my Pandora account. The soothing tones drifted into the car and then harnessed some of the built-up tension in the back part of SUV I chauffeured. I watched my son rest his head next to Aussie’s soft ears and her deep brown eyes. He picked-up his small hand and began to stroke the tip of her ear. And before I knew it, he was ignoring the world around him and focused on his best friend: his dog.
I say a small prayer of gratitude. I look into my driver’s mirror and into my daughter’s eyes in the reflection. She rolls her eyes at me and then says, “I hate sleep time music mom. It isn’t even night-night time yet!” she says with a tone of authority. I smile and I keep driving.
We pull into our dinner place. It is one of three spots where we can eat together as a family. There are not a lot of humans (a big deal). The food is simple and always the same (rice and edamame). We always sit in a booth toward the back of the restaurant. The only new part of our experience at our place is the integration of miso soup – a warm broth with seaweed in it. The seaweed always gets pulled out immediately, so the broth can be enjoyed in small sips from the bowl. This is our place.
And then I hear Buddy’s voice in the back seat, “Mom, I don’t want to go out for dinner tonight.” I’ve heard these words before – many, even countless times. However, I’ve never heard these words at our place – his favorite place.
“Why not, Buddy?” I probe.
“I’m just don’t feel like it,” he protests and then squirms in his seat into a small ball.
“Well, I want to eat here,” wails Sissy, as she unbuckles her seatbelt and opens the chauffeur door.
“No, not tonight mom. I’m not hungry,” I hear from his small voice.
I continue to probe for a few more minutes. He is used to this and so am I. It sometimes takes time to get into a restaurant – to prepare oneself for unexpected humans and loud, clingy sounds. And then he says to me, “I’m embarrassed.”
Embarrassed. Fifty-two scenarios play through my head. Is he suddenly self-conscious of his 9-year old sweaty body odor? Is he concerned about what he is wearing? Did someone say something to him at school? And on …
“Mom, I’m embarrassed because now people will know I’m different. Really.”
I pause. I look my son in the eyes. It never occurred to me that during this 20-minute period of time between Thursday and Friday, and soccer practice, and driving to our place for dinner, that my son was growing aware of his new best friend’s presence.
“Mom, what if people look at me? What if people say things because of Aussie? They will know that something is wrong with me.” he says with his head still buried in his neck and his small hand rubbing the tip of Aussie’s soft, black ear.
“No one is going to judge you,” a small 6-years young voice chimes in from outside the car door.
“That’s right, Buddy. Be proud. Not everyone gets to bring a dog to dinner with them. And, not everyone has an Aussie dog. In fact, I bet people will be excited to have a four-legged friend in the restaurant.” I add to my daughter’s already profound statement.
“Come on Brother. It’s okay.” says Sissy. “I can hold your hand.” as she gestures her small hand toward his.
Buddy emerges from the car with his Aussie dog. Aussie’s big paws hit the pavement and she pushes her wet nose into Buddy’s elbow. He grins and then rubs her head. He says, “Okay. I’ll try this. But I’m scared and I’m embarrassed.”
“I know,” I respond. I hold his small hand and pull Aussie’s hand-less leash over shoulder. Sissy walks to the door, opens it, and then holds it for her brother. She smiles at him. I smile at him and I blow Sissy a kiss. And we walk in, as a family: Buddy, Sissy, Aussie dog, and me. And we feel the struggle and the curious eyes that follow us through the restaurant. We find our booth in the back and Aussie crawls under the table and sits next to Buddies’ feet. He strokes her head and says, “It’s okay, baby girl.” And he repeats it, as if reassuring not just his dog, but himself, that he can do this.
It’s okay, baby girl.
It’s okay, baby girl.
It’s okay, baby girl.
And then we eat our sticky rice. And no one asks us any questions.
We sip our soup. And no one asks us any questions.
We ask for chop sticks. And no one asks us any questions.
And we giggle about some small detail from the school day.
And then we leave our eating place. Just like any other family.
And, when we pile into the car, with the soccer ball rolling into the street, and then buckle up Aussie girl with her dog seat-belt, and close the hatch, and find our water bottles because we all of sudden parched … I watch my son nestle his head into Aussie’s neck and say, “we did, baby girl.”
I pause in this instant – in this 20-minute waiting period before Friday. I pause to soak this in. This is life. This is the rumble we must all live in (as author Brené Brown would say). This is the place in life where we have to feel so that when we do move forward, we know what that moment felt like. I’m grateful my son felt embarrassment and also expressed it. His emotion gave my daughter the strength to lift him up and for me, his mom, to dig a bit deeper. His emotion allowed him to feel something and then recognize that it really wasn’t so bad. His emotion allowed him to understand that nothing is wrong with him. And as he continues to grow and flourish, I hope he begins to understand the perceptions of our world just need some more nurturing about accepting all individuals for who they are.