Eating in the dark with chopsticks
.........Is very difficult. Love Chunks and I were on our way to pick up our darling daughter Sapphire from my parents' place after three days holiday with them.
As all parents of school-aged children know, coordinating care throughout the school holidays can be about as tricky as getting Paris Hilton to wear a polo neck. LC and I realised a while back that even if we two never got to have a day's holiday together, we still couldn't cover all of Sapphire's days off. We get eight weeks leave in total and she gets a whopping thirteen weeks.
That's where my parents come in. They're classic SKIPees (Spending their Kids' Inheritance) and thus we have to book their services in advance. Otherwise they could be off to New Zealand, Greece, the Flinders Ranges or houseboating on the Murray river. They also have to juggle their longstanding commitments to Probus (apparently a kind of Rotary for Wrinklies, despite the unfortunate-sounding name), Country Women's Association choir practice, working in the LifeLine second hand goods store, playing golf, learning how to play competitive bowls and eating out at any hotel that features a smorgasbord.
John and Pauline were happy to have Sapphire for the week. In fact they were eagerly looking forward to having her all to themselves. All kinds of activities were planned including the obvious - 'Ice Age 2' and 'Eight Below' at the movies and trip over to Granite Island. They also booked two reading and craft sessions at the local library and took Sapphire to the whale museum.
She was also their willing (and chatty) escort to the Grosvenor pub's 'Tuesday Night Roast', Cafe Primo's 'Schnitzel Celebration' on Wednesday and eagerly joined the church social club at the Crown Hotel for 'Friday Night Feasting'. Luckily she took her bike and scooter with her because Grandma was making her famous little cakes and needed the wisdom of the six year old grandchild's culinary experience.
Love Chunks and I missed her terribly. At first we looked at each other after she'd driven off with Grandma and did an 'Oh What a Feeling' impersonation - "Yee Hah! We can do what we want, when we want! Let's go out to a restaurant that doesn't feature nuggets and chips on the menu!" Which we did - three nights in a row.
What dampened our long-forgotten feelings of childless freedom was, well, the child. Our house literally resonated with her - any second we expected to hear her little voice singing from her bedroom or to see the dog trot in with an array of flowers, scarves and beads hanging around her neck. Her toys were in every room and spoke volumes about her interests, her fun and her loving nature. Maybe that's why we went out: the house felt too empty without her....
At the restaurant, we were even worse. All parents have a moan about never having enough time or energy to be alone together and have some decent conversation (among other things), and, after a few moments of surveying the menu, Love Chunks' first stab at breaking the silence was, "Gee I miss her."
"Oh me too! You know, she did a really funny thing the other day when she....." and thus went the discussion for the rest of the meal. We talked about a few other things like what we'd do if we had the money to properly renovate the house, or what sort of car we'd get but they too were connected to Sapphire. The house needs extra space for her activities and the car, well we wonder if it's too old and unsafe for her to be in now.
So, by Friday night, we both got home from work as quick as we could. We knew that she was with my parents at the Crown Hotel for dinner, but figured that the 110km drive would allow us to grab a takeaway and be there in time for them to get home. And that's why we were sitting in our car in a sidestreet off Portrush Road, the windows getting increasingly steamy due to the freezing rain outside and our boxes of takeaway noodles inside.
"Why oh why did you get chopsticks when you knew we'd be eating in the car? I could have been driving and eating, but no, I'm sat here in dark with shreds of onion plopping on to my trousers..!"
He was right, but I took umbrage at his accusing tone. "It's not my fault - that's what they gave me. I'm sure you'll live - just lean right over the box and shovel it straight into your gob - it seems to work for you at home."
He snorted and poked me in the ribs with a chopstick. I squealed and reactively squeezed the box too hard, causing sticky sweet and sour sauce to ooze over the sides and drop onto my brand new jeans.
"You're a funny one," he said, smiling at me. "Let's go get our girl, shall we?" He dropped the empty box on to the floor and put the keys in the ignition.
"OK," I said, still pretending to be offended, "but you might want to take out the coriander from in between your teeth. It might be dark but it's not that dark."
"MUM! DAD!" Sapphire yelled as she climbed out of Grandpa's car and ran towards us. "Look at the swan we made out of a serviette!" We two grown ups might have been sticky, covered in spilt noodles and reeking of garlic sauce, but god, it felt so good to be her parents again.