Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Need Machine

“I’m so bored,” Cleo Junior says, drawing the last word into a five-syllable whine.

It’s Becky’s birthday and we’re waiting for her mother so we can be seated at Benihana. It doesn’t matter that Becky’s father just took Cleo Junior behind the restaurant to look for fish in the Bay, and Becky and I just took him out back to look for fish, and I took him out to see the gardens, walk the railing, call Becky on my cell, and watch the diners through the floor-to-ceiling windows (although staring at people while they eat should not be encouraged, so we stopped); he takes every opportunity to let us know how profoundly bo-or-or-or-ored he is.

Really he’s upset that the world isn’t revolving around him, but around waiting for his abuela (we have reservations but they won’t seat an incomplete party). He also wants to break open the art kit which his bisabuela gave him earlier in the evening. We were expecting to be seated right away and for the “show” of the chef preparing our meal right in front of us to keep Cleo Junior entertained, so we didn’t bring anything to entertain him. The art kit is filled with tiny pieces, paints, glitter tubes - nothing we want opened in a busy restaurant.

Asking Cleo Junior to wait patiently for the chef show to begin is like asking a dog to meow.

I’ve heard children described as need machines. I’ve also heard it’s like having a tiny, cantankerous old man demanding constant attention. Waiting at Benihana, Cleo Junior is more like the latter, but with a severe case of Alzheimer’s thrown in. The second we stop doing, Cleo Jr. forgets everything that happened the prior second. His boredom is immediate, and total.

Driving with him to Orlando was a similar experience, but Becky and I managed to turn “are we there yet?” into a game. We made him realize how silly it was to keep asking, and a sly humor crept into his tone, making us all laugh. For a five-year-old, he’s got great comic timing. Waiting to be seated when Cleo Jr. is tired and hungry, there’s no way to bring him into the joke. You’re tired and hungry yourself. You want to laugh. You want to cry. You want to scream.

More to the point, you want to forget yourself, grab him hard, and shake him silly, yelling that he needs to stop whining before you give him something to whine about.

Finally being seated brings relief – something new! But although we take up six seats, they hold our meal until another party of two can fill the eight-top. When Benihana finds a couple, they have a problem with a coupon they've printed off the internet. Now we want to give the waitress, the manager, even the couple the old grab-n’-shake.

“We just entertained a five-year-old for an hour waiting for a table, screw the stupid coupon and give us alcohol, NOW.”

The look on Mini Cleo’s face when the chef arrives and starts dancing food over the flat-top? Priceless. He’s slaw-jawed, delighted beyond measure, wide-eyed with amazement. He’s laughing his face off. He’s got a toddler’s crush on chef Miguel.
These are the moments we love having him as the center of attention. He reminds us what it was like to discover everything for the first time. We remember the wonder of a volcano made from onions, of flipping shrimp tails and rice bowls.

Other tables smile at us, thinking to themselves, what a sweet boy. Looking at a five-year-old laugh over Benihana, it’s impossible to be cynical.

Cleo Junior barely touches the food, but at least he’s not bored.


  1. lovely post. Meant to comment on it at the time but forgot for some reason but this is loveley.........

  2. Thanks, Al.

    This post meant a lot to Becky, which makes it one of my favorites.