Otto and Monkey greeted me at the airport with flowers. Of course. I scooped Monkey up into a hug and nuzzled his neck as he squeezed me and chanted, “Mama! Mama! Mama!” I set him back down and hugged and kissed Otto, and then Monkey yelled, “GROUP HUG!” and we picked him up between us and embraced again. When we pulled apart and put him down, several folks standing around us were smiling and chuckling.
(If you are ever down, the place to be is right at the top of the escalators at the Atlanta airport. You can’t be sad while watching loved ones reunite.)
We went out into the evening (94 degrees outside at 7:00 p.m.! WELCOME BACK!) and loaded up to head home. Otto and I held hands and Monkey detailed his latest exploits in his Pokemon game as he played his DS.
During a lull in the conversation, Monkey cheerfully announced: “I’m makin’ babies!”
“EXCUSE ME?” I replied, perhaps a tad too loud.
Otto chuckled. “You know, that’s EXACTLY what I said the first time he said that.”
Monkey giggled. “On the GAME. I’m making Pokemon babies. I’m laying eggs!”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay, then.”
We stopped about halfway home at a diner, so that we could have some dinner. There was a basket of individually-wrapped cookies by the register when we came in, sporting a “3/$1” sign, and Monkey walked the distance from there to our table chirping, “Cookies! I! Like! Cookies!”
Our waitress—a good-natured woman who appeared to be a little younger than me—smiled at him and winked. “Are you going to have a cookie?”
“YES!” he answered, completely game to wish one into the space in front of him at the table. “They are three for one dollar!”
“Well, you can have one,” she said, as his face lit up, “After you eat your dinner. Okay?”
“Okay!” he agreed.
“And if she buys it for you,” I added with a little grin, elbowing Monkey and gesturing at this woman who was promising my kid dessert.
“Oh, I’ll buy him a cookie,” she said. “Not three, but I’ll buy him one. After he eats.” Monkey bounced in his seat, happy to have met his new best friend. Otto and I exchanged glances.
“You don’t need to do that,” I said to the waitress.
“Nah, I do it all the time!” she said. “It’s no problem! How old are you, sweetie? About ten?”
Monkey sat up a little straighter, feeling important. “Nine and a half, actually,” he told her.
“I thought so,” she said, nodding. “Going into… fourth grade?”
“Yep!” he said, bouncing a little on the booth seat.
“I used to teach school,” she explained to us. “I just love kids. And I can tell he’s a good one.” She winked at Monkey again and he beamed.
She was a talker; by the time we’d ordered our food, we learned that she had a 16-year-old daughter and an infant grandson. It may have been the first time the “bless your heart” southernism popped out of my mouth completely devoid of forethought or irony. She also had another daughter Monkey’s age.
“You have a lot of girlfriends?” she asked him, back at our table mid-meal to see if we needed anything.
Monkey looked horrified, and shook his head so fast that his hair whipped around. We all chuckled.
“He’s a little too busy to be into that yet,” I explained, and he nodded into his french fries.
“Aw, I can see he’s a really good kid,” the waitress said with genuine fondness. “And he’s just beautiful. Those eyes! Those lashes! He’s gonna be a heartbreaker. But I can see he’s a good boy. And so well-behaved! I bet he’s not a moment’s trouble. Is he always this good?”
I put my arm around him and said, “Well, his sister is away, and he’s enjoying playing only child.” Monkey bounced and nodded in affirmation. “But for the most part he’s pretty good, yes.”
“I could tell,” she said. “Let me go get him that cookie.” She came back with a chocolate chip cookie and put it in front of his plate. “When you’re all done with your food,” she reminded him.
“Thank you!” he said, cramming the last of his fries into his mouth.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I said to her.
She waved her hand. “He needed a cookie,” she said. “He’s a good boy.” I couldn’t help smiling at her; she was warm and relaxed and not at all what I expected in a woman my age who was already a grandmother, and working in a diner to boot. “Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “My little girl had that grandbaby to give my mother a reason to live—it wasn’t long after my father died. My mom was lost. And then he was born and she picked right up again. It all happens for a reason.”
Finally it was time to go, and I took out my wallet. “I’ll get it,” said Otto, frowning.
“I know you will,” I told him, “But I’ll get the tip, k?”
We got up to leave. I left $10 on the table, and Otto paid at the register. On the way back to the car we giggled over the possibility of the waitress’ patter about her family being completely made-up; what if she was just a childless con-artist? I doubted it, but we agreed that if it was a con, she probably still deserved the extra money.
Back on the road again, Monkey piped up from the back seat: “Mom! What’s the best part about coming home?”
I pretended to think about it for a moment. “Everything!” I said.
He laughed. “No, if you had to pick JUST ONE THING, what would it be?”
This time I really did have to think. “I suppose that would be sleeping in my bed again.”
“That’s my favorite part, too,” sighed Monkey.
“Your favorite part is sleeping in my bed?” I asked him, feigning offense. “What exactly has been going on here while I’ve been gone??”
This sparked a long line of conversation about who would sleep in which bed, when, and each suggestion was sillier than the last. Monkey felt certain that Otto and I should go sleep in his little bed and leave him our king bed. Heh.
A little while later, Monkey had grown quiet, so I turned around and craned to see him in the darkening car. “Are you…” I looked again. “Are you sitting there with my sweater over your head??” I asked him. He was wearing it like a burka. He didn’t answer, and I wondered if he’d fallen asleep.
Otto looked in the mirror and chuckled. “I think he is,” he said.
A few seconds passed, and then a tiny voice said, “I am!” and then Monkey burst into laughter, so delighted with his funny self.
“Well this is just perfect,” I finally said, as we neared home.
“No it’s not,” Monkey corrected me. “Tomorrow when Chickie comes home, THEN it’ll be perfect.” I had to agree.
And in a few hours, it will be.