I turned my back on him for an instant and he was gone. I didn’t hear a sound. Except the other customers at REI. But I knew where he’d go. It’s not hard to plot a 2 year old’s path through a camping gear store. When he wasn’t in the tent, I found him playing in the hanging forest of sleeping bags. We looked for boats, climbed on the boot testing rock; and stopped when Ray, who was working in shoes, said to stop. Then checked out and headed to dinner.
I was thinking pizza. Kids will eat pizza because it’s just hand-held spaghetti. But the freeway exit closest to Blind Onion Pizza was closed. I decided to try an unknown quantity: In-N-Out Burger. Unknown because he hasn’t ever really gotten into cheeseburgers. He likes cheese, and sandwiches and meatballs, so I called a cheeseburger a “meatball cheese sandwich” to improve the likelihood he’d eat it. It was still a risk. Dude night could be fight night…
We went in, he looked around and ran to the counter, I ordered a #2 plain for him and a #3 for myself. I let him hold the cups. I got him a few ounces of lemonade. He tasted it, made a squinty face at the tart sweetness and said, “it’s good!” A little girl in the next booth said hi, her mother apologized. But she needn’t have. On dude night, it’s good to get a little attention from the ladies.
We got our food, and I handed him his burger and he took a bite. Then, to my surprise, another. Then another. He let it go long enough for me to take it out of the paper wrapping when he started nibbling bits of it with bites of burger. He dipped some fries and drank from the straw. Stood up in the booth, sat down, got food all over his face, flirted with the girl in the next booth.
We left when he went down to crawl around the floor under the table. Dumped the trash and left by the side door, which he didn’t even notice was there, effectively opening a portal into a completely new world oriented 90 degrees from the one we had left when we entered the restaurant.
It was just a simple fast food meal. There was nothing remarkable about it to him. The world, to a little boy, is one endless string of awesome things intermixed with bummer things and naps. Some awesome things stand out like a train ride, or a day at the beach. But that simple moment shared with his dad over burgers for the first time on a cool October evening isn’t going to be one of them for him. At least not for another 30 years or so.