Nearly every Friday night, our clan heads to our local Japanese-slash-Korean restaurant for dinner. It’s a relatively small place whose primary business is take-out. The dining room (even calling it a ‘dining room’ is a little grandiose) is therefore usually fairly quiet, especially at our early dinner time.
This past Friday, the girls and I decided that we wouldn’t let Daddy’s absence keep us from our Friday night routine. Closer to the truth, Mama decided that Daddy being away wasn’t gonna force her to cook, but why split hairs?
Armed with the safety net of Brooke’s iPod and earphones, we piled into the car and set off for the restaurant.
As always, our waitress, Winnie came over to greet us. As always, she brought a tattered bag of assorted crayon stubs over to the table before anything else. As always, Brooke reached into the bag and grabbed the red one. As always, Winnie asked Brooke what she would like to eat. As always, Brooke said, “Meeeeeeee I have chickenandricepleeeeeeeeease?” As always, Winnie asked what she would like to drink. As always, Brooke responded, “Meeeeeeee I have water pleeeeease?” As always, Winnie smiled and cheerfully said, “Good girl, Brooke!”
I love Winnie. And not just because she brings me spicy scallion pancakes that I don’t order (they don’t have any calories if you don’t order them. I read that somewhere.) or because she asks the sushi chef to leave the wasabi out of Katie’s tuna roll even when we forget to ask.
No, I love Winnnie because she adores my girls.
I love her because she makes a fuss over each and every picture that Katie draws for her and tells her that it is ‘even better than the last’ (or the last or the last or the last). I love her because she teaches the girls the names of the colors in her native Chinese. I love her because she faithfully and enthusiastically plays her part in our ritual every week. But most of all, I love her because she unconditionally accepts Brooke.
Not once has she looked oddly at my baby or questioned why she speaks to her the way she does. Not once has she asked why she wears her headphones when it gets too loud or why she sometimes shrieks in response to a child’s cry. Winnie’s smile has never flinched – not for a second – no matter what we’ve thrown at her.
As we got up to leave on Friday night, Brooke ran to Winnie and wrapped her little arms around her waist in a hug. Winnie’s face lit up, thrilled to have some Brooke love – even in the middle of the restaurant.
With a smile, I walked over to take Brooke’s hand and lead her outside. I was standing about a foot in front of them when – quick as flash – Brooke made her way around Winnie and hugged her from behind. Winnie looked behind her and laughed. I reached out for Brooke’s hand. Before I knew what was happening, Brooke had reached out, grabbed BOTH of my hands and pulled me into an awkward hug with Winnie. “We made a Winnie sandwich!!” she yelled.
Before I had time to catch my breath and register the fact that I was standing in the middle of a restaurant wrapped in a wholly unexpected embrace with our waitress, the impact hit. Any space that may have kept us at least minutely separated a moment before was long gone, along with my wind.
Katie had come running up behind me, wrapped her arms around all of us and yelled out, “Mama, now you’re the cheeeeeeese!!!”
Nose to nose, Winnie and I laughed so hard we nearly cried.
As we finally walked out I laughed at the absurdity of it all. And thought, “Wow, I really should have given Winnie a MUCH bigger tip.”