We’re sitting at P.F. Chang’s Chinese restaurant studying our menus. Rick and I have a new rule that we order for the boys with their input, but they have to split their entrée.
“How about fried rice and chicken?” suggests Rick.
“Can’t I get my own?” pleads Ayalkbet.
“No,” says his Dad.
We’ve started this rule because typically the boys don’t finish their meals and it is a waste of food and money.
I decide I like the atmosphere at P.F. Chang’s. We’re sitting on a cozy bench and the walls are painted a warm, reddish-orange color. The restaurant is situated in a bustling shopping area and I’m inspired to talk about a Christmas wish list.
“Here’s some Christmas ideas for Mom,” I announce.
“I better get a pen,” says Rick, smiling.
“I’d really like a cappuccino machine or a cheese fondue maker. But what I really want the most is some ghost-busting equipment.”
“How do you know there are really ghosts?” asks my husband.
“Pop, there are!” blurts Yakob.
“I just think it would be fun to look for ghosts at some of the haunted Civil War sites. And I’ve always wanted to spend the night in a haunted bed and breakfast.”
“You’re not scared of ghosts?” asks Ayalkbet.
“No, they just want to be understood. We can help them communicate their needs,” I say.
“Yeah, they’ll let us know by throwing things at us,” says Rick.
“Well, I want a Ping-Pong table and another guitar for Rock Band and some games for the play-station, and…” explains Ayalkbet.
Yakob interrupts his brother with his own wish list.
While listening to his litany of requests, I take note of the woman eating alone next to us. She’s dressed slovenly in sweats and her hair is messy. I know that she can hear our conversation and I feel ashamed. Nothing on our wish lists is inexpensive.
“We need to get involved in some community service,” I say. “When I was in high school we delivered food for Christmas dinners and gifts to families who didn’t have anything. Sometimes they didn’t have glass in their windows and used plastic. Maybe we can get involved through a church.”
“That would be good,” says Rick, eyeballing the mounds of food being delivered. Steam rises from the boys’ fried rice as the waiter sets it on the table. My vegetable lo mein appears to be short on vegetables until I place some noodles on my plate and see that they are mostly at the bottom.
Toward the end of our meal, Yakob leans back in his chair and pats his full belly.
“Yakob is full,” he announces.
The lady next to us is slowly savoring her soup.
Before we leave Rick asks our server for two to-go boxes as there is, despite our entrée-splitting tactic, still lots of left-over food. I wince at his request. I hate using Styrofoam, yet wasting food is bad, too.
Traffic is heavy as I navigate our car away from the shopping district. It seems that despite the recession people are determined to shop. I recall the recent story of the Wal-Mart worker being trampled to death by overzealous shoppers looking for deals. I think about saying something about this, but then Rick asks if we have the to-go boxes.
“I didn’t pick them up,” I say.
“I think we left them on the table,” adds Ayalkbet.
I slow down, but decide it is too late to turn around.
That night we make simple and inexpensive bean burritos for dinner and watch a movie with a sweet message. In the film, “Orange County,” the protagonist thinks he needs to go to Stanford University to become a great writer, but realizes in the end the best stories are found at home with his loved ones.
I decide what I really want for Christmas is more evenings like this, evenings spent at home, making meals together and just being.