Well I told you all after my experience at ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that Small Elephant (Mrs. Gore’s parturient – yes I just looked up ‘pregnant’ in the thesaurus – alter ego) should either get out more often or be kept at home behind lock and key…
Unfortunately, my zookeeper took me on another outing on Thursday that very well might have subjected the entire family to embarrassment…especially now that I will be publishing the account in my very modern and wildly popular diary.
I have been an idiot at scheduling and remembering appointments lately, and found out four days ago that I had scheduled back-to-back doctor’s appointments for Gideon and me at 9:00 and 9:20 on the ONE day that Mr. Gore could not accompany us. I was left with the following options: cancel the appointments and reschedule, leave Rebekah with her Grandmother and take Gideon alone, or take Rebekah, Grandmother and Gideon to the doctor with me. Canceling would involve picking up the phone, taking Gideon alone would be risky indeed (for many reasons), which left me with the third and final option: a family field-trip to the doctor.
It is impossible for my Mom and I to go to the big city without stopping somewhere for food and coffee. On the phone Wednesday night we longingly bandied about the idea of going to Cracker Barrel, but decided it would take too much time and settled on Panera Bread instead. We were trying so hard to be good girls and not spend the entire day in Tulsa. However, our plans quickly changed when I mentioned to Gideon that after our appointments we would be going to the place where he likes to eat muffins…
“My new favorite store??” he proclaimed with boyish excitement. “The one with the wittle checkers?” It took me a moment, but then I understood what he was saying…the store with the little checkers…Cracker Barrel! His zeal was all it took for Mom and me to decide that Cracker Barrel was completely worth the time. And secretly where we both wanted to go all along!
Gid was a gem of perfection at the doctor, tripling my joy at our prospective jaunt, for no one loves a well-deserved reward more than Mrs. Gore. However, on the rather lengthy drive there, he began dipping his toe into that dangerous realm where whining, stubbornness and tantrums reside, and that region that my 4-year old controls underneath my ribcage, the one that tenses up when it smells a storm brewing, began to clench in consternation. But I had my eyes set on the prize…to Cracker Barrel I marched, all while doing my best to keep the male occupant of the backseat from throwing his reward out the window and punishing all of us in the process.
We made it before the dam broke, barely, at 10:00 on the button, and I was so pleased upon arriving there to see that, even though it was just the four of us, they were prizing us with the big round table near the front of the restaurant, the most snug little set-up in the joint where we could look out over all the other patrons while enjoying our own private little corner. I feel safe there, with plenty of room to enjoy my apple butter and coffee, with plenty of floor space for my kids to throw food and those little Cracker Barrel game pegs on, surrounded by walls on two sides, a walkway on the third and only one other table on the last. (Meaning there would be only one table of people to apologize to for ruining their meal by sitting in their vicinity.)
Now before I go on, to help you fully grasp the hilarity of the scene I am about to describe to you, I must backtrack for a moment to another Cracker Barrel outing just over four years ago, one so very antonymous (yes, I just looked up ‘different’ in the thesaurus) from this day.
…I was unknowingly in the very last stages of my first pregnancy (Gideon was very kind to come two weeks before his due date!), and I was also unknowingly depressed. Not dangerously so, nothing worth prescribing or even being concerned about, but it didn’t dawn on me at the time that my constant desire to sit on the living room loveseat day in and day out was a bit unusual. My Mom would try to entice me to partake in some activity other than curling up there…”Would you like to read?” No. “Do you want to watch something together on TV?” Mmmm, not really. “How about a magazine?” I’m fine. “Can I at least turn the light on?” If you want. Again, I wasn’t morose in my attitude. My shoulders weren’t even slumped. I just couldn’t think of a thing I wanted to do. And then she’d ask the question that I could vehemently, rather than lightheartedly, answer. “Do you want to go somewhere?” Heavens NO!
You see, I was so painfully self-conscious throughout my first pregnancy. Those intended-to-be-funny comments from well-meaning folks like “Are you sure there’s only one in there?!” or even the less offensive “Boy, you’re really showing!!” just nearly did me in, and I had heard enough of them in the seven or eight months before this day to wish only to stay confined in my home where no one could see me, no one could ask me questions about the body that was so unfamiliar to me, and no strangers could intrude on and trample my nearly nonexistent self-esteem. I was done with the human race, just biding my time on the loveseat until my personal labor day. In the dark.
But apparently my Mom had had enough of the hermit’s life and somehow, against my better judgment, managed to get me out of the house for an outing to Cracker Barrel. I voiced my silly concerns. “No one will even notice you!” she cooed, and before I knew it, we were standing in line for a table. The young host on duty was bending down to retrieve our menus, and upon standing up, laid eyes on the mass of flesh that is Small Elephant. His eyes grew alarmingly huge and the first words out of his mouth were seemingly a declaration meant for the entire restaurant to hear. “You are pregnant!” he blurted out. I gave him a passingly polite smile and nodded, hoping we could move on to another subject, like where our table would be. Nope. He just had to go on. “No, I mean, you are pregnant!” he exclaimed. I gritted my teeth, trying to school my emotions and control my response. “Yep, I’m pregnant alright.” I replied, inwardly pleading for him to leave me be. Nope. Again, he just had to go on. All the way to our table. Ending with my favorite: “You’ve got to be having twins, right? There’s no way there’s not two babies in there!” I felt like every eye was on me and every ear was tuned in to the loud conversation I did not want to be having, but I managed to keep my kindness intact and he finally left us to move on to the next customer. “No one will notice??…” I asked Mom, who offered me a hundred apologies. I was so mortified and ordered something pitiful like two biscuits and a glass of juice and swore I would never leave the house again until my water broke…
Oh! What an uncomfortable memory, albeit laughable…but where were we? Oh yes, four years and two children later at that huge round table at the front of the restaurant…
I took the very center seat on the backside of the table, my gaze encompassing the entire room of customers. Gideon was next to me, who was next to Grandmother, who was next to Rebekah, leaving the remaining half of the table empty. We could have fit at least five or six more people next to us!
Now you all know that whether your children behave as angels or not, a meal spent with humans under a certain age is just harried and chaotic. You’re perusing the menu not only for yourself but for them, you’re passing out crayons and peg games, you’re removing everything from their little hand’s reach including sharp utensils, the salt and pepper and the container of sugar packets, and you’re trying to think for five seconds while they are demanding to be seen and heard. My children were behaving quite nicely (i.e. not laying in the floor…yet), but my hands, arms and brain were all flying, in mostly different directions. All while trying to doctor up my first cup of coffee just perfectly before it got cold.
But do you see what the great thing is, so different from the scene I described above? Not once did I give a second thought to what the rest of Cracker Barrel was thinking about Small Elephant. I wasn’t trying to cover up my giant midsection. I wasn’t assuming that every eye and every thought was on me. I wasn’t wishing I was at home on the loveseat. Mostly because I’ve gotten over myself since becoming a mother, realizing that nobody cares. And also because I don’t have the time to care. It’s wonderful. Self-esteem isn’t low; it’s just not even needed anymore and has been thrown in some forgotten and misplaced box with my mustache bleach and Kiehl’s acne spot treatment.
We ordered our food, and steadily kept a decent level of good decorum at our table, although Gideon was really itchin’ to go and play with that whole section of toys in the room next door. He wasn’t being bad, persay, but he made me work for it. Hard. And Rebekah, leaning back in her highchair with both feet on the table, kept squawking out orders at her Grandmother while batting her eyes at the unfortunate ladies at that lone table next to us. And she was so very determined to hold her own drink with her own hands and drink out of the big girl straw rather than the safe and boring sippy cup I brought for her, meaning my Mom was on constant watch for a major milk spill.
There has to be a way to describe what we were doing, Mom and me…holding down the fort…keeping the dogs at bay…in other non-cliche terms, trying to pretend like we were having a leisurely meal while frantically working at it. She looked at me at one point and laughingly said “Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?” We simultaneously answered. “The coffee.”
Thank God the food came, and I immediately noticed something different. Now I am a diehard defender of Cracker Barrel, but I will admit that sometimes their food, while always decent, is not always great. I don’t care…I’ll pay $8 for the coffee and the ambiance! But today…the food…was p.e.r.f.e.c.t. The butter was soft, the bacon was thick yet pliable, the eggs were steaming and well done, and even my little jar of syrup was hot. It was like we hit the chef jackpot! My eyes lit up at the feast before us and I quickly began divvying up the plates, cutting up eggs and bacon for Rebekah, passing out Gideon’s yogurt, muffin and bacon, buttering my french toast, all in eager haste lest this golden opportunity of savoring a feast of perfectly hot and delicious food slip out of my grasp. I looked like that crazy Muppet chef, arms and knives flailing, chop chop here, butter there, a sprinkle of salt, a quick prayer and…let’s eat!
And was it ever delicious. For a few blissful minutes, maybe even six or seven, Gideon was completely occupied with his yogurt, his granola and his muffin. Rebekah, too; granted, she kept trying to shove scrambled eggs in Grandmother’s mouth, but for the most part, we were able to enjoy our food. But all too soon Gideon uttered those dreaded words: “I’m full.” How a child can be full before their grown-up counterparts can even get through the first biscuit is a mystery, but it is to be expected. Time in a restaurant with a little boy is something like dog years; for every minute we normal people experience, they live seven. So we had only been there for a short time, but Gideon…well he had been sitting for at least three hours. He was done.
I did some quick thinking and finally told him he could go right across the walkway to where two rocking chairs were set up around a game of checkers. He happily did my bidding and began building a tower of checkers, allowing us womenfolk to return to our meal. But I soon noticed a big problem. He was stationed awfully close to the kitchen entrance/exit. Which meant that the three times he ran across the walkway to tell me something, he almost collided with a waitress carrying a huge tray of food; it was uncanny, their timing, as if the wait staff and my son had conspired together to give me a very premature heart attack. I frantically scolded him to watch where he was going and to stay put. But then his tower fell, which in turn caused him to fall into the floor in a conniption. I talked him through it and he went back to try again, soon crumpling up on the floor again in absolute despair. Three times.
My Mom must have seen that I was about to crack. She shoved her last piece of ham in her mouth, threw back one last drink of coffee, and like an angel from heaven, whisked both children out of the restaurant to go play with toys.
Alone. I took a deep breath and looked around me, holding court with no one at the head of my sizable table, reining like the Small Elephant Queen over the whole of Cracker Barrel, a feast of still warm food laying before me, a fresh cup of piping hot coffee in my hands. A delighted smile slowly spread across my face and I began to laugh; this is when I truly began to marvel at the difference in the woman I was today compared to the self-conscious girl of four years ago. The position of our table, and my seat in particular was something akin to a stage. I could have waved and every single person in the restaurant might have waved back! And I could have cared less!! Obviously…I was sitting there chuckling like a crazy person. And then…then I began to eat…
And eat. And eat. And eat.
I ate until I could eat no more, finally stopping, not because I was full, but because there was nothing left to eat. I ate…everything.
At one point, our waitress even asked if she could take a plate that had only a half a piece of bacon left on it. My hand shot out to claim it and I actually said “No, no, no…”
The Elephant Queen had spoken. The Elephant Queen was still hungry. And the Elephant Queen made it exceedingly clear that none of those plates were leaving her table until they were starkly and gloriously empty .
When I was finally finished (remember, I wasn’t actually stuffed to the brim – I could have eaten more) and regally rose from my throne, this is what was in my tummy along with my unborn baby girl. Brace yourselves…
Three-and-a-half cups of coffee. Two scrambled eggs. Four (that’s right…four) pieces of french toast. (Did you hear that? I ate FOUR pieces of BREAD in one sitting!). A small bottle of syrup. Gideon’s leftover yogurt and blackberries. A glass of water. And here’s the kicker…six large pieces of bacon.
Call it impressive. Call it disgusting. But any way you slice it, it was funny.
I licked my fingers, said goodbye to my new waitress friends (I hadn’t had the leisure time to actually talk like that in a long time!) and walked, utterly satisfied, into the next room to reclaim my children and the chaos that, thankfully, usually keeps me from eating an entire table full of food. It was back to the grind, as in minutes I was escorting Gideon to the handicap stall in the bathroom for some sobering discipline and soon thereafter chasing Rebekah down the sidewalk before she ran straight into the street…
But for a few minutes there, I knew what it was to be at rest. No responsibility, no self-consciousness holding me back from eating as far as my stomach might take me, and not one lick of embarrassment at my (perhaps) over-indulgence. In fact, I rather enjoyed putting on a show for the good people of Cracker Barrel. Which leads me right back to my initial conundrum…
Small Elephant needs to get out more often.
Or maybe be kept at home behind lock and key.