Do you ever have one of those moments that seems kind of insignificant at first, then seems to suddenly take on some meaning and then before you know it, your brain is turning it over and over so much that you have to go and write it down just to be able to focus on something else?
No? Just me?
The grocery situation in our house is at code “you’re really just better off going out to eat” and since I was alone for dinner, I stopped at Culver’s while running a few errands tonight. At first I pulled into the drive-thru but then I changed my mind and was going to go somewhere else. Then I changed it again, so I decided to go in and get my food to go. (Yes, this is typical behavior for me and yes, my husband is a saint.)
I walked in behind two older gentlemen. I’m terrible at guessing ages but the older of the two seemed to be in his 80’s and was walking with a cane. The other man appeared to be his son so for the sake of the story, that’s just how I’ll refer to him from here out. The son was helping his father to walk along and when I saw him struggling to hold the door with one hand and his father with the other, I jumped in and grabbed the door.
And just like that, it hit me.
I miss the days of taking my grandparents out to eat. Even if it was something as simple as a dinner at Culver’s.
I continued to watch these two as they ordered and the older gentleman joked with the cashier, pulling a handful of change from his pocket and asking her to find the 17-cents needed for their bill. As I observed all of this, I flashed back to the numerous times I would take my grandma out to eat after driving her to a doctor’s appointment or to the grocery store. It wasn’t easy to manage her and her walker along with a baby and then toddler but I just figured out the multiple steps we needed to get it done and did it. I knew the day would come that I would miss it.
I was right.
When I ordered my food the cashier asked if it was for “here” and I smiled and said, “sure.” Just like that, I decided not to take the food home. I felt compelled to stay.
So I sat several booths behind the two men and pulled out my phone while I waited for my food. Soon, their voices carried over to my direction and I could hear the older man telling a story while his son nodded his head and followed along patiently.
For the last several years of his life, whenever my dad and I would say “good-bye” he would thank me for spending time with him. I always thought that was kind of odd.
I understand it now, after watching the two men at Culver’s share the gift of their time with each other.
And then, it hit me that I will never get to take my elderly father to Culver’s on a Sunday night to have dinner. I will never have the privilege of having him hold on to my arm for support as I lead him to the booth and listen to him talk about the medical things that are ailing him or hear him tell a story I’ve heard dozens of times before.
You can probably guess what happened next... I turned in to a blubbering mess right there in Culver’s and had to make a hasty exit to retreat to the safety and solitude of my car for a good cry.
I guess you could say I’m not a person who really believes much in chance. I tend to think things happen for a reason and when I’m in the midst of the most complicated or even the most seemingly simple of experiences, I often find myself wondering, “what does this mean? What is the message I’m supposed to be getting here?”
So as I sat and cried in the car while my custard was melting, I searched for the significance of the moment. I never really eat at Culver’s and if I do, I certainly don’t go in and sit in the restaurant by myself. So why had I done all of that tonight?
The gift of time.
The luxury of growing old.
The reminder that no matter how much we appreciate it and soak it in, we never have enough time with our loved ones.
And suddenly, I knew.
We are on the cusp of a summer family vacation that will include a long road trip. We are a busy family with a hectic schedule and as such, we tend to welcome the slowing down of time that a long drive together brings. So while most people think it sounds awful to drive 18 hours with 4 kids, I am like a kid on Christmas with anticipation for the journey.
But I haven’t had such a great attitude about the drive home. You see, this vacation is going to be spent with my in-laws. They are flying to our destination but decided they’d like to drive home with us instead of flying back.
And I’ll just be blunt: I have not had a good attitude about this “plan.”
To begin with, it just didn’t make sense to my logical loving brain. Our car will seat us all, but just barely and not comfortably. Part of the key to success for long road trips for my kids is that they each have their own corner of the car to retreat to and namely that they not have to be touching each other. With all of us in the car, that won’t be possible.
This plan has meant an entirely new set of logistics for us to work out - now we need a roof top luggage carrier, we’re not sure if we’ll stop along the way or drive straight through (because we potentially have another driver now), and then there is the matter of getting my in-laws to their house, which adds a lot more time to the trip.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if my in-laws had really thought through the ramifications of driving 18+ hours with the 4 grandchildren they had just spent a week with?
I’ve told lots of people about this plan. It’s made for a great story as I made new friends this past weekend and gotten a lot of laughs and good luck wishes. I was trying to adopt a good attitude about it, but I was kind of failing.
I’ll admit it.
But now - message received. It will be ok. It will be precious, special time that my kids will get to spend with their grandparents. Time spent together isn’t always convenient. It rarely happens without effort and even sacrifice. My children may retreat to their rooms and collapse in a frenzied state of relief when we return home and they may be miserable for much of the drive.
But they will always remember the trip, and the time spent together and if we’re very, very lucky - there will be lots of stories they’ll have to tell as a result.