Thanks for Restaurants, Bananas and Plumbing

My kids Belle and Joe and I were out to dinner with a friend and her kids recently when my friend’s five year-old daughter, Zoe, looked up from her food long enough to proclaim in her sweet little-girl’s near-whisper of a voice, “This is the finest restaurant I’ve ever been in.”
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My kids Belle and Joe and I were out to dinner with a friend and her kids recently when my friend’s five year-old daughter, Zoe, looked up from her food long enough to proclaim in her sweet little-girl’s near-whisper of a voice, “This is the finest restaurant I’ve ever been in.”

That spontaneous utterance, at once so sincere and so completely naive, made me laugh out loud. We’re talking about an approximately-four-dollar meal she was eating, in an establishment that sits squarely in the “family” category, at a booth crowded with two adults and six children ranging in age from two to nine.

“Now there’s somebody who’s easily pleased,” I thought. I’d been sitting there thinking that the service was kind of slow, and the soup was barely warm, and it was too noisy (thanks partly to my own children) to have a good conversation. I wasn’t thinking it was “fine dining,” in fact it couldn’t have been more run-of-the-mill.

Maybe Zoe won’t be so easily pleased by the time she’s my age. She’ll have been to restaurants better than that one, I guarantee you, and surely that’ll raise her expectations for restaurants as it simultaneously lowers her satisfaction with them. But I wonder if the experience we gain as we go through life has to mean we all end up spoiled. Perhaps you don’t have to be five years old to take a look around and feel lucky.

I have a colleague who confided in me once that whenever he takes off in an airplane, he looks out the window at the ground falling away under him, and, as he considers the idea of 400,000 pounds of metal in air can’t help but think, “This is unbelievable — this is amazing .” This man is a little like a five year-old, in the best kind of way. He actually appreciates the fact that airline travel is a true marvel even when it’s evident that all the other adults on his flight not only take it for granted but probably think it’s a pain in the rear.

Now that it’s time for Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about the stuff I take for granted, or just don’t think is special, and perhaps ought to be happy for. I already know I’m grateful for the big things; family, friends, food on the table, etc., but what about the supposedly commonplace? Just listen to these few examples.

• Bananas don’t grow anywhere near here and yet they’re at the store in our neighborhood every day of the year. Wow.

• Television. Needs no description. Amazing.

• I almost feel guilty about this one, but someone will come pick up a letter and take it to another person’s house for me for only 41 cents, even if they live on the other end of the country.

• We have plumbing in our house. When I try to picture our lives without it . . . uh, not pretty.

• The library we go to has half a million books and you can borrow any one of them — get this — for absolutely no charge.

I could go on, but you see what I’m saying. There are so many everyday things we tend to under-appreciate, but a lot of them are quite wonderful, and a few of them are outright stupendous.

But I almost forgot to mention family restaurants. They don’t get upset if your kids are a little noisy. They cook and serve you the nutritious meal of your choice for around five dollars. And after you leave (I love this part) they do all the dishes for you. They really are, as little Zoe’s already remarked, fine.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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