My daughter, Zoey, and I stand inside the small entryway of our beloved neighborhood restaurant, Sylvie’s, waiting for the hostess to show up and seat us.
Zoey, in true six-year-old fashion, fidgets besides me, her tiny bones full of endless childhood energy. Yet in spite of my daughter’s movement, her hand stays nestled in mine, and as we watch the hostess round a corner and head our way, I feel a gentle, familiar tug on my fingers.
“Don’t forget to ask her,” Zoey whispers loud enough so I can hear over the din of the restaurant.
“Table for two?” the hostess asks.
“Yes,” I say, nodding. “But would it be possible for us to sit at a booth?”
The hostess smiles and tells us we are in luck. After leading us to a booth tucked away from the bustle of the room, she places our silverware and menus on opposite sides of the table in standard restaurant protocol and then leaves, telling us our server will be with us shortly.
I slide into the booth bench, but I don’t stop in the middle. I make my way toward the end, knowing what will happen next: Zoey hops up beside me, reaches across the table to turn her place setting around, and then finally settles down next to me, into the place she has rightfully claimed as her own. We spend our meal curved against one another, our conversation and giggles filling in the space around us with love and letting the rest of the world fade away.
Because most people sit across from one another, our side-by-side restaurant seating arrangement may be unconventional. But it’s unsurprising for us, really, because at our dinner table at home, this is how we always sit, too. And there’s a very good reason for it.
Though Zoey is my life—my everything—the time I have with her doesn’t line up in quite the same way. After going through divorce a handful of years ago and understanding that Zoey needed her father in her life, too, only fifty percent of my time is spent surrounded by her sweet laughter, wrapped in her hugs, and listening to her chatterbox ways.
So, with our time cut in half, I’ve been determined to make the most of it. And for us, we decided that our time would be better spent if the physical distance between us was cut in half, too.
Enter side-by-side eating.
The ritual started the first day we assembled our new, white IKEA kitchen table and chairs in our new, practically empty apartment. Zoey would be with me for only two more days until we started our schedule of happy hellos and hard goodbyes and special hugs and handshakes to make those partings hurt a little less.
“Don’t sit across from me, Mommy,” Zoey begged me, patting the chair next to her, the one she so proudly helped put together. “Come sit next to me.”
I didn’t even have to ask why she wanted me to do this so badly, because I simply knew. I pushed my plate across the table and switched seats so that if she wanted to, she could crawl into my lap once she had finished her meal. So that if she told me that she was proud of herself for raising her hand in class, giving her a high five would be easier. So that I could lean over and kiss the crown of her head just because she was there in my orbit instead of across the table, out of reach.
I took the seat next to her because my time beside her now felt so limited. And I took it because I wanted to do absolutely everything I could to ensure the lifelines that connected us from her earliest beginnings would never be severed by a choice I made not to say yes to a simple request of my sweet Zoey. A request that came from the purest kinds of places possible—those of connection and companionship and, most of all, love.
While I can’t hold on to Zoey as much as I would like, I hold on to these rituals we have created with everything I have. Our lives—now so different than they used to be—warrant this importance.
If there was one word to describe my relationship with my daughter, it would be intertwined. We have navigated our new reality remarkably well. We have restructured ourselves into a quiet family, doing the best we can to make our small lives feel as big and rich as possible.
We don’t live in a large house with wide-open rooms. There is no spouse for me. There are no siblings for her. It’s just the two us, living in our little two-bedroom apartment with its simple white IKEA table and chairs—the place we are thankful to come home to at the end of the limited days we are together.
It has become the place where all we want to do is sit next to each other as we eat our meals, shoulder to shoulder. More often than not, we will sit there, our heads tilted toward the other, so close that we become extensions of one another. So close that the voice and laughter that echo from her become mine and the wrinkles that line the edges of my eyes when I smile blur into hers.
Because these simple things are everything, we want for nothing. And it is because of these things that we are infinitely blessed.
So if you come around, and it’s mealtime at our place, or you find us at our favorite restaurant—or anywhere we eat for that matter—you’ll find us side-by-side, feasting on both food and the richness and abundance of our lives laid out before us, spending our moments and creating memories together as best—and as close—as we can.
Visit Corey’s heartfelt series Everyday Nostalgia for more beautiful reflections on her life.
**Recipes for Families, the newest free e-book from Kindred Mom, is full of meal ideas and practical kitchen wisdom from over 20 moms! Click the image below and subscribe to our mailing list and get your own free copy!
Corey Wheeland is a writer, graphic designer, and, most importantly, mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. Wanting to find her way back to herself after her divorce last year, she decided to pursue her lifelong passion for writing. This pursuit manifested itself in the creation of a blog called The Nostalgia Diaries, where her goal is to simplify, enhance, and engage people’s lives by helping them focus on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. Since the creation of her blog, Corey’s writing has been featured on Motherly, Perfection Pending, SheKnows, Red Tricycle, Yellowbrick, Mamapedia, Parent.co, and Chief Gratitude Officer. She’s determined to spend the rest of her days living creatively and colorfully, all the while drinking cinnamon green tea, listening to good music, and soaking up as much sunshine as she can.