Friday, January 20, 2012

Learning about diversity, one sake bomb at a time

You just never know when and where you’re going to learn a lesson.
I recently took Cooper and Katie to dinner to celebrate their awards in our school’s PTA Reflections contest. Cooper wrote a poem, and Katie wrote a poem and created a pastel drawing, all on the topic of diversity.
We ate at one of those Japanese restaurants where chefs slice and dice and cook and serve right there at the communal table. I started to feel a little uneasy about the choice as we walked to our table with randomly assigned companions.
They were three couples. The men wore shiny shirts that matched their shiny hair.
The women had tall, teased hair, balanced by impossibly tall shoes. Their outfits, in defiance of the cold wind outside, revealed a lot of skin. One of the women wore more eye shadow that night than I have worn cumulatively in my entire life.
They were obviously celebrating in a more adult fashion than my children and I, and I was unsure that we were a good fit for a two-hour, interactive dinner.
But, as Katie wrote in her diversity poem: “No one looks the same, and that is good.”
After the nine of us were seated, a waitress took drink orders. Two soft drinks, one tea, six refills from the bar.
We quickly learned that one of the men was turning 30. One of the women shared with the group her favorite gift from turning 30.
It is the kind of gift that can’t be described in a newspaper intended for a general audience.
At this point, I feared that years of deliberate, careful parenting would totally unravel around a teppanyaki table. And it was the point at which I employed the tried-and-true parenting technique of distraction.
Cooper and I discussed the merits of steak and shrimp vs. chicken and shrimp. Katie colored her paper menu/hat and placed it on her head. While we practiced our own brand of silliness, I stole longing glances at a nearby table filled with mild-mannered folks who didn’t seem to be discussing R-rated activities.
The 30-year-old birthday boy borrowed Katie’s hat. His girlfriend took pictures. We all laughed.
While the chef prepared fried rice, our tablemates told a couple of racist jokes, and I worked on more distraction.
And I thought of more of Katie’s words: “You shouldn’t make fun of people or laugh at them by the way they look. You could hurt their feelings and make them so sad.”
The waitress delivered six sake bombs. My children were enthralled by the process: Place chopsticks parallel across the top of a glass of beer, balance a shot glass atop the chopsticks, pound the table, then watch the shot of sake fall into the beer, making a fizzy concoction intended for immediate consumption.
One of the men slammed his, pointed at Cooper and hollered, “This is the life!”
Wide-eyed Cooper took another sip of Sprite.
Ambient noise mostly camouflaged the colorful adult language from their end of the table. The kids and I had plenty to discuss without homing in on their conversation.
When dinner was over, we all sang “Happy Birthday,” and Katie’s hat was employed for another photo.
Bills were settled, we said goodbye and walked into the cold, dark night.
As we neared the car, Cooper remarked in trademark deadpan, “Those were some interesting people.”
In that moment, I realized that years of parenting can’t be destroyed by one night with a few slightly wild tablemates. In fact, it offered an opportunity to discuss our family’s values — like tolerance and moderation.
And in that moment, I was reminded of the opening lines of Cooper’s poem: “Diversity makes this world richer.”
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at


~Conia said...

"One of the women wore more eye shadow that night than I have worn cumulatively in my entire life." Too funny!

Julianne said...

I love this one, Tyra! Great job. . .