If I’m not mindful, I can get into a rut with food. I buy the same things, I prepare the same quick meals for my kids (taco night again, my pretties . . . ), and I pack the same lunches. We even frequent the same restaurants. It’s the equivalent of a culinary Groundhog Day.
Recently my daughters had evening plans, which allowed me the rare treasure of a night alone with my son, Luke. (It was a weekday, so he was willing to acquiesce to a dinner date with his mother.) I picked him up from practice and told him to clean up and be ready to roll.
When he came downstairs, I had one of those moments, a double take of the heart. My beloved boy, the one who used to fit in the crook of my arm, sauntered into the room at fourteen years old and more than six feet tall and 190 pounds. Normally clad in clashing colors of Nike Dri-FIT fabrics, he shocked me by showing up in jeans, boots, and a very nice Ermenegildo Zegna sweater that he had clearly pilfered from his father’s closet. I closed my lower jaw and said, “Wow. You. Are. Really. Handsome.” He flashed me his new grown-up smile, sans braces, and said he was, as always, starving.
When Luke was little we lived in the south of France. He loves the tales about our time together, the good old days before sisters, when he was the chosen only child. I remind him about how he cut his first teeth by gnawing on the end of a baguette. I tell him how he loved the beaches with stones instead of sand, and how he enjoyed going to the outdoor markets and pointing at all the gorgeous flowers and produce, asking the name of everything. He is mystified that he could understand French and English interchangeably. Luke was my main companion, since his dad traveled constantly, so we had an endless stream of chatter between us—his baby talk and my fledgling French. He was my dinner date at some fabulous restaurants and countless charming cafés. I try to explain how Sunday lunches lasted the rest of the day and no one, including him, was ever in a hurry for them to end. I have the fondest memories of things he can’t remember, and I try to recount them often and well so they come alive for him (and stay alive for me).
I decided to honor our shared past by taking him to dinner that night at Justine’s, the popular brasserie on the east side. I should state that dining with Luke is not like taking an ordinary kid to dinner. He likes to try things, a lot of things, so bring your palate—and your wallet. He ordered the steak frites, which is a giant rib-eye with butter sauce on top of a pile of fries. He had two loaves of bread dipped in olive oil while we waited and I sipped a nice Bordeaux. I had the Coquilles St. Jacques Basquaise, scallops that reminded me of the many lunches we shared along the Côte d’Azur. But now, instead of sitting in a stroller or a high chair and waiting for his mother to cut his meat, he holds the door for me.
I admit to taking full advantage of the situation. Having dinner alone at a restaurant with my son means he has to talk, ideally engage in dialogue involving multi-word answers and the posing of questions. He can’t stare at his phone, resort to derogatory banter with his sisters, or hurry to clear his plate and head back upstairs. I asked him all kinds of questions, and he asked a few in return. He scoured the dessert menu, and much to my delight chose the crème brûlée (I got one tiny bite and he inhaled the rest). We talked about memories from Europe and dreams for future travel adventures. He made me laugh and made me think. I looked at him with fresh eyes, thinking that he might one day be a decent date for someone after all.
The point of dining, after all, is not just addressing the hunger in our stomachs. The act of sharing good food, ambience, and conversation feeds the hunger of the heart—the deep desire to connect and spend time with the people we love the most.
Illustration by Joy Gallagher
by Joanna Steblay
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by James Ruiz
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