Several years ago, in an effort to mark the occasion of Father’s Day, I booked a table at a café for my family of four: the father (my husband) and our two young children. With our children so young, we didn’t usually go to cafés. As we entered the bustling dining space, I remembered why.
The pram can’t move between tables, we must fold it up. I remove my sleeping child and cradle him as I move to our table, covering the child’s head with my hand to avoid it knocking over glasses or bottles on our way through. My husband folds the pram. Finding there is no place to store it once folded, he hauls it across the room and stores it awkwardly underneath the table. We sit. In the non-child friendly space, I am on high alert. I catch forks before they crash to the floor, settle saucers and cradle the glass as my daughter brings it to her lips.
A young man sits across from us. With the busyness of the café and the queue outside, it seems almost glutenous that this solitary young man would occupy a table fit for four. He sits with a half-drunk mug of hot chocolate. There is a small gift bag at his feet. He looks at his phone and turns to look at the door.
My three-year old daughter requests an egg. I look at the menu.
“May we have a fried egg please?”, I ask the waiter.
He replies, “You will have to order one of our dishes that comes with an egg”.
I look at the menu and order a $20 plate of eggs benedict knowing that the egg is the only thing that will be eaten.
“No hollandaise sauce please”, I request.
I breathe deeply. The baby awakes and starts to cry. Other tables glance over, the peace of their breakfasts broken. My husband’s head disappears below the table as he struggles to reach the nappy bag he has stored there.
“Where is my egg?” my daughter asks me.
“It is coming darling, they have to cook it. Can you please be patient? What does patient mean?”
I breathe. My husband emerges with the nursing cover. At the sight of it, the baby’s cry is interrupted by an anticipatory lip-smacking. I throw the ring of the nursing cover over my head and drape the fabric over my son. Covered by the cloth, I lift my top, unclip my bra and expose my breast. In an innate gesture intentioned to make the milk come faster, my son uses his little fists to beat at my breast. I pull him close to my body and feel his latch. Silence. Calm. I breathe.
A waitress approaches the young man.
“Can I get you anything else?”
The young man looks at the door.
“I am sorry” I hear him say.
I look again at the gift bag on the floor. The hot chocolate, now finished, leaving brown sticky marks on the white mug. I will the waitress not to clear the mug. As if entranced in the same story, she leaves it uncleared.
The eggs benedict arrives, covered in hollandaise sauce.
“I don’t like that yellow stuff” my daughter grumps.
“Here”, says my husband, “we will scrape off the sauce and turn it over.”
“I know the yellow is there. It is yucky.”
My husband pulls a knife and fork form the silver bucket in the middle of the table and begins to eat the eggs benedict.
“Do you want some?” he asks. I indicate no.
The young man again looks at his phone and at the door. Eager diners waiting in the queue peer hopefully at the table he occupies. A waiter shimmies past with a pile of plates and collects the empty mug of hot chocolate. The young man looks at the queue again. He gets up. He picks up the gift bag from the floor.
“Sorry” I hear him telling the waitress.
He walks out the door. As he passes by the windows of the café, his face is red blotchy, his eyes blazing.
My son drops off the breast, content and happy. Under the nursing cloth I pass him to my other arm and offer him the other breast. He takes it and continues guzzling.
A large group is ushered into the café and the energy of the room is focused on pulling tables together and moving chairs while the group awkwardly negotiate their places around the table. The waitress comes with a cloth and wipes down the table where the young man had sat. She calls over an older, round-looking couple to sit at the table. They look out of place. The man picks up the menu. The woman is speaking with the waitress.
“He just left” says the waitress.
The woman looks around onto the street outside. She picks up her phone and makes a call. She makes another call and then another. The waitress comes back and the man orders breakfast. He indicates to the woman to ask whether she also wants breakfast. She nods. The woman makes another call on her phone while the man looks around the room.
“Drama Queen!” I hear him say.
My husband wipes his face with a napkin, yellow streams on the plate the only remnants of the eggs benedict. My son is asleep. I stick my pinkie finger into the side of his mouth and pry him loose from my breast. I reclip my bra, lower my top and pull the nursing cover over my head.
“Right, shall we go?” my husband asks.
I nod and my husband begins collecting all of our belongings scattered across the table. I let him pull the pram out from under the table and lead our daughter towards the door. I gently slide out my chair and use it to push myself up to standing while cradling the sleeping child. Again, I cover the child’s head as I navigate between the tables. As I pass by the table where the young man had sat, I see the couple eating from large plates, piled high with their breakfasts and sipping coffee from white mugs.
I walk out of the café to find my husband and daughter with the pram unfolded, ready for the sleeping baby. With the gentlest of movements, I lower the sleeping child into the pram and extract my hand from under his body. My husband is ready with a rug to cover our son, he tucks it in the sides so as to give the child the false impression that he is still held. I hold my daughter’s hand as my husband releases the pram brake and we walk together, away from the café.
Several years later, I am lying in bed in the morning and that memory comes to me in crystal clarity. I can taste the exhaustion of that time in my life, the operational fatigue of spending every waking minute in service of two small humans. But I can also taste the love of that small moment. The contrast of my experience of togetherness with the fractured experience of the other family, teaches me something about my present life experience. Even though at the surface, my life feels stressful and crazy, below that surface, is a life to be wholly appreciative for. I don’t want to live my life at the surface. I want to live deeper.
When I am still and let the stressful thoughts stop. I drop deeper. Into the space below the stress, to the well of love that lives there.