Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Lunch Date and the Nearly Broken Promise


Two weeks ago, I used my lunch hour to drop off a too-large-for-the-bus art project at school and stayed to have lunch with Cassandra in the school cafeteria. I asked Alex what day in the next week he'd like me to have lunch with him, and we decided on Friday.

Last Friday, I was running errands over the lunch hour with absolutely no memory of making that lunch date until it hit me out of the blue. Unfortunately, I don't have a brain that alerts me before I'm going to miss something. No, my brain alarm goes off when "HOLY CRAP YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SOMEWHERE ELSE RIGHT NOW". That's useful.

Sometimes that alarm means a mad dash (and questionable driving etiquette) to get somewhere only fifteen or twenty minutes late. In this case, though, that wasn't an option. The kids get only about half an hour to eat lunch before they're ushered outside, and I was across town. I probably wouldn't have even made it to the lunchroom before Alex went outside.

So I spent the rest of my afternoon feeling pathetic, and apologized to Alex when I got home that night. I had considered stopping at Subway to take home the cookie he was looking forward to sharing with me at lunch, but I knew that Friday dinners are usually eaten at restaurants with ice cream or shakes as dessert. It turned out just as well that I decided not to, since he had a special presentation in one of his classes that included a couple of snacks for the kids attending.

This Tuesday, I asked Alex which day I should come to lunch, and he said Wednesday. Part of me wondered if that was so that if I screwed up again, I'd have two more opportunities to try again.

I made a note on my Google calendar, put a Post-It note in my bag with my wallet and keys, and wrote a reminder on my cubicle white board. I couldn't blow this again.

Today when I got to school with my standard lunch-date bag of Subway, I waited for Alex's class to come downstairs for lunch. I had made sure to ask him this morning which set of stairs they use, and I wanted to be there plenty early so I wouldn't have to try to find him in the crowded cafeteria. Especially these days, when individual kids are obscured in a blurry sea of winter coats and hats.

Alex was second in line when his class came downstairs, and he was rubbing his eye. As I said hi and fell in step beside him, he leaned his head into my side in a way I understood to mean he was a little upset about something. I imagined it was something that hadn't gone his way this morning, or some interaction with a classmate had upset him. He wasn't crying, but I could tell something was bothering him enough to make him hold back the tears. I planned to ask him if he felt like talking about it as soon as we sat down, or if he wanted to wait until tonight so it wouldn't be in front of his classmates.

As we found our table, he told me what was bothering him: "I thought you weren't coming again." I felt like I been punched in the stomach; I had no idea that I was what he had been sad about.

Because I hadn't said specifically where I would meet him, he thought I'd be outside his room. I usually wait somewhere between their classrooms and the cafeteria, and I thought the foot of the stairs right in front of the cafeteria entrance made sense. So it was really just a simple misunderstanding, and one that didn't even last that long. It can't have been more than five minutes from getting their winter gear on and lining back up upstairs to the time they came down, but I can't imagine what he was thinking for those five minutes.

I know there will always be times when I make my children angry with me, whether it's for insisting they pick up their mess, help with a chore, turn off the TV, or finish their video game time. But I honestly didn't expect to cause them such disappointment. Not at this age, anyway. Perhaps when they're teenagers and realize I'm not Superman, but not now.

Even though today's lunch worked out and Alex seemed to get over things quickly enough, now I can't stop wondering what he was feeling last week as it dawned on him, "Daddy's really not coming today."

Parenting is hard. Especially when you're not Superman.

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