Downtown Salt Lake City, Saturday night.
Balancing lime twists and hand-tossed pizzas, our waiter bustles from table to table filled with mothers, sisters, grandmas and children. It’s the Priesthood Session of General Conference where every Mormon male over age twelve puts on a shirt and tie to hear the Prophet’s counsel while the women do as they wish. Stores hold “Ladies’ Night” parties and extended families gather. I’ve had plenty of years when I just stayed home with the little ones and did the laundry, but these days we drive downtown and settle into their favorite restaurant.
Scanning the menus, Gabriel, Mary and Xander order quickly then dive into the crayons and the coloring books on the table. Eating out with the the littles is a pleasure and I usually get giggly and silly, coloring pictures on napkins and cracking lame jokes. But tonight I am worn and tired.
Fighting the impulse to check my phone for messages or emails, I lean against the padded booth and watch their blond heads bob as they connect the dot-to-dots, unscramble secret messages and fill in Suduko boards. At eleven and a half, it’s Xander’s last conference outing with us. Next time he’ll join the big boys in their own tradition– sitting in the padded seats at the Joseph Smith Building and going out to Dodo afterward for smoked turkey sandwiches and thick slices of pie.
As we wait, I contribute my blue Os to countless games of tic-tac-toe and quietly enjoy their cheerful chatter. I feel a bit guilty for my lack of spunk until Xander looks right into my eyes saying, “It’s just so fun to be with you mom.” Contentment spreads across my shoulders and trickles down my back.
I’ve decided that conference weekend rivals Christmas Day for sheer familial bliss. Our pace slows as we watch eight hours of televised messages. Crepes are always on the menu, filled with strawberries, Nuttella and cream for breakfast; ham, swiss, spinach and mushrooms for lunch. The entire bucket of Legos is dumped on the floor for two days as the boys piece increasingly intricate creations.
Sacrificing his fingers, Stefan helped me cut out a quilt for Mary’s bed while she scavenged the scraps for doll pillows stuffed with Kleenex and held together with tape.
Erik takes advantage of the lull by catching up on a week’s worth of shirts. He’s not mad, that’s just his ironing face.
Between sessions we alternate between long walks, more Legos and listening to Gabriel read Harry Potter out loud.
It’s eight-o’clock, Sunday night– time for Ben to head back to Provo. He sits on a barstool at the end of the counter a plate of decadent caramel bars at his left hand, his giant blue laundry bag full of freshly washed and folded clothes beside him (his doing, not mine). Nothing extraordinary is going on, just the rumble of Hans washing dishes, Gabriel chasing Mary around the room, a loud discussion between Xander and Stefan…
I smile at Ben and he shakes his head, “I don’t want to go.”
A few heartbeats later he walks out the front door in flurry of hugs and ‘see you soons.’ And I am glad, grateful, that home is such a sweet place to leave.