“A table for four?” the hostess asks me.
More than a decade in the restaurant business and I can not resist the urge to smile and say “Three and a half!” while gesturing to the baby. It’s not particularly funny. It wasn’t the first time I said it and it won’t be the next hundred times. We get a high chair and we head to our table. A table for four.
There are four stockings hanging.
When I fold laundry I make a square in my mind, sorting things in to the invisible quadrants: Mom, Dad, Emily & Lucy.
I set the table and in the past few weeks I have begun to pull out four plates (even if the fourth remains far away from the smallest dining companion in an effort to keep her from pitching it to the floor.)
There are four spots in a booth. Four spaces in an average vehicle. Three spots on the couch plus the chair in the living room make four spots to sit.
Four means a family to me. I was raised in a family of four. Four means parenting is never zone defense by design. Man-to-man is my preferred style and two adults and two kids lends itself nicely to this.
Friday afternoon Lucy fell asleep in the car. I pulled in the driveway with forty minutes or so to spare before Emily was to get off of the bus. I thought I would read, goof off on my phone and let her sleep. I rolled the windows down in my car and grabbed a blanket and my laptop from inside. With Lucy tucked in to the backseat and a cool breeze on my face I started to write about how we have four people in our family and that fact brings me a great sense of calm, a feeling of being complete.
Lucy started to wake and I quickly turned my car on, hoping the vibration of the engine would put her back to sleep. In twenty minutes Emily would be getting off of the bus. The radio was on and the news of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary filled my car.
I was waiting for my child to get off the bus. There were twenty families whose children would not come home from school. I had twenty minutes to wait until I could hold my oldest in my arms. School had let out already, I couldn’t go pick her up. So, I waited. With fat tears rolling down my face I waited.
My heart skips a beat when I see her face every day after school. There is nothing so care-free as a child as they toss their backpack to the ground and run up the driveway. I dropped to my knees and buried my face in her neck, breathing in her scent of sweaty kid and cold winter day and cherry chapstick. “Mom, are you ok?”
“Yep. I am. I am ok.”
“You can keep hugging me, but can I just grab a snack?”
We are four. Four is our little family. To the families that woke up a four on Friday and became three, woke up three and became two, whatever your number is now know that Americans will keep setting a place at their table for your children. We will hang a stocking or make a space on our couch. Your children will not be forgotten.