“Mom,” my eight-year old son said as he came sliding across the hardwood kitchen floor Tom Cruise style, “Let’s celebrate Martin Luther King Day by ordering Chinese food.”
For the uninitiated, let me fill you in. From the time Jack was in preschool he thought we were an African-American family. In fact, Martin Luther King Day 2006 he declared his ever-lasting devotion to Martin Luther King.
“That’s fantastic Jack,” I said at the time. “Tell me what you know about him.”
“Well, if it weren’t for him, we Piccirillo’s would still be riding the back of the bus,” he replied matter-of-factly as he handed me the crayon drawing he did in school of our family. He gave Jim a 1970’s Soul Train Don Cornelius afro and raw umber skin. He gave me brick red everything, no neck, and one eye. He made my daughter an odd combination of me and Jim which is to say that he gave her three eyes and plaid skin. Jim was thrilled that Jack gave him hair. In fact, he was thrilled that Jack made him look cool. And let’s face it, you can’t get much cooler than Don Cornelius.
I still have that drawing and all the others that came after. So precious are the memories of those years, and the purity of his belief in the goodness of mankind, that I dreaded there might come a day when his world would no longer be color blind. So when he announced this year that he wanted to celebrate Martin Luther King Day with Chinese food my heart soared with delight. Chinese food! Yes!
“Why Chinese food?” I curiously queried.
“Well, my friends who don’t celebrate Christmas eat Chinese food on Christmas Day so I thought that since you don’t give gifts for Martin Luther King Day, or eat turkey, or watch the ball drop at midnight in the middle of New York City, let’s celebrate like my friends who don’t celebrate Christmas do—let’s eat Chinese!”
As he slid back out of the kitchen the same Tom Cruise way he slid in, I wondered where this little boy came from and wished, as I never wished before, that I could stop time. As a mother we all get swept up in the moments that don’t matter but are powerful enough to continually consume us—getting the kids’ dressed for school, out the door, into school on time, laundry, dinner, scheduling playdates, hosting playdates, avoiding playdates, food shopping, cleaning, supervising homework, bath time, bedtime, oh…and working—that when the moments that matter come along, like this one, they hit us in the heart like a ton of bricks.
When I was 8 months pregnant with Jack I was shopping at Burlington Coat Factory on Route 17 in Paramus. While browsing the claustrophobic baby section an older woman who worked there approached me. I heard her before I saw her. She was about 4’10”and impeccably dressed. Around her neck were strings of silver chains with circular beads that sounded like wind chimes when they brushed against each other. My immediate thought was that her face looked like an ancient gypsy from a Grimm fairytale.
She took the liberty of rubbing my belly and said, “You’re having a boy,” her slight eastern-European accent confirmed her gypsy status in my mind.
“Really?” I replied. “I think it’s a girl.”
“No. I tell you it’s a boy. I know this because a terrible war is coming. This war will last many generations and there will be a need for many men. Your son will be called for this war. Your friends’ sons will be called for this war. I tell you truth.”
I dropped everything in my hands and ran from the store. A month later when I delivered my baby and the doctor said, “It’s a boy!” my initial thrill was replaced with the haunting words of this woman.
And now, as I watch my sweet, sweet boy slide out of my kitchen I know, the way only a mother can, that this time with him on earth is brief. I don’t know what will take him from me, but eventually someone or something will. And so I savor this moment.
“So mom,” he yelled from the living room. “Chinese food for Martin Luther King Day?”
“Yes, absolutely yes. Chinese food for Martin Luther King Day.”