I couldn’t believe she wanted to hear it again. As a matter of fact, she tried to convince me that I’d never told any of it to her before, which certainly wasn’t the case. You know those moms who tell their kids the same stories from their childhoods again and again? Well – yeah, present and accounted for. But she was eating it up. She had to hear every last detail.
So I told her – yet again – how every single Saturday morning throughout my youth, my mom and dad and I would pile into our car and go to the Donut Shop for breakfast. It turns out that it wasn’t actually called the Donut Shop, but that’s the only thing we ever called it, so there you have it. Every single Saturday, I told her, I would order a cheeseburger for breakfast. No bun, just a cheeseburger. She laughed – just like she did the last time I told her the story. And I couldn’t really defend it this time any better than I could last time. A cheeseburger for breakfast is relatively preposterous, after all.
She asked – yet again – about the seating. No, I don’t remember there being any tables, though there might have been. Yes, there was a long rectangular counter that surrounded the open kitchen. Yes, the stools spun around. Yes, there were four coveted seats in each of the two windows and yes, I felt like royalty when we happened to sit in them.
I told her – yet again – how after finishing my cheeseburger, I’d order a powdered donut for dessert. Yes, breakfast was followed by dessert. Uh huh. Welcome to my childhood. I told her about how the owner would bring the powdered sugar tray over as soon as the last donut was served and how he would then dump the leftover sugar on my plate. As I said it, my teeth ached with memory. I told her how my dad would order a Twirl – an enormous mound of cinnamon sugar and butter and glaze, showing her its girth with my hands spread apart to the approximate size of her head.
I told her how when we left the Donut Shop I would take my allowance – my precious twenty-five cents – to the variety store next door. I told her how I would stand in front of the candy counter, clutching my quarter, trying to decide how to spend it. As Katie marveled that twenty-five cents could buy anything, Luau was busy doing the nutritional math in his head – cheeseburger to donut to candy. Yes, dear, I know – breakfast of champions.
So how I didn’t make the connection, I don’t know. How I didn’t understand why it was suddenly so important to me this weekend to get us all up and out of the house, into the car and off to a local greasy spoon for breakfast, I don’t know. But I didn’t. Because as we all know, when we’re so busy tending to the trees, the forest sometimes eludes us.
But there we were – Katie enamored with the idea of going out and Brooke begging not to leave the house. Katie pleading, “Please, Mama, we NEVER go out for breakfast” as Brooke simultaneously whimpered, “We would stay home. I want to stay HOME.”
And there I was on the floor of Brooke’s room, trying to convince her that it would be FUN. That we would bring her headphones and her magnetic dress-up dolls and that she would eat PANCAKES – her favorite! And there I was, managing to convince myself that it was important not to give in to her, that she would have to learn to do these things – and that somehow, this wasn’t about me.
And there was Katie, trying so hard to make it work – running into her room to find her Game Boy and loading it up with the Dora cartridge for her sister. There she was, leading the cheerleading section, supporting her little sister with every tool she had.
And there we were at the table with Brooke in her headphones, loaded to the gills with our tools and strategies, none of which was working. There we were in a panic as the waitress came by to offer coffee, knowing that if the baby somewhere in the back of the restaurant kept crying so loudly then Brooke would keep screaming her tortured response and we simply wouldn’t be able to stay.
And there we were, minutes later, making the decision to run for it without ever having ordered a thing. There we were, wheels flying off the wagon as we paraded our family through the restaurant, nearly running for the door. There I was, wanting to shout at everyone who so much as glanced our way, “YES. THIS. IS. AUTISM.”
And there we were on the sidewalk, where I was still unable to soothe my girl. Where I walked her to a park bench and tried desperately to convince her to listen – to hear the quiet that now surrounded us. There I was, incapable of reaching my baby, of easing her pain, of finding a way in to prove to her that she was safe. There I was, smaller than the demons yet again.
And there I was walking back to the car with Katie, listening to her quietly pouring her feelings out onto the sidewalk. There I was telling her that it was OK to be angry. That it was OK to be frustrated. That yes, I understood her disappointment – that I felt it too.
And there we were in the car, driving home. There I was trying to hide my tears from my girls. Wanting to melt into the seat. Or kick in the windows. Wondering what in hell we were doing.
What was it that I was chasing? Why on earth was I choosing this – THIS – to shove down her throat?
Eating out is hard for my girl – really hard. Restaurants are loud and unpredictable. There are crying babies and weird lights and funny smells and scary bathrooms and well – she’s learned to tolerate them when she needs to, but she’d never call them fun. And here she was, first thing in the morning, catching breath after jagged breath – for what? For a breakfast out?
The pieces were all there. The Donut Shop. The variety store. The cheeseburger and the powdered donut. The stories to tell their kids thirty years later. The easy picture of family life that it all represented. Yes, that was it – it was the ease that appealed the most.
And there I was, trying (and failing) to keep it together as I admitted to myself that sometimes – just sometimes – I really want the kind of life in which families get up on a Saturday morning and go to the damn Donut Shop.