The boy points at the baker’s case full of cake and cookies. His mother gazes with deliberate focus behind the counter, which leads the seven-year-old to tap her face in the direction of the sweets. She grimaces as she pushes the hand down.
For the moment her younger children occupy themselves, but she can only count on them not seeing the sweets for so long. In a preemptive act, she buys three muffins, yet her oldest escalates by raising the urgency of his voice and grabbing her face—which now begins to bear a look of defeat.
In spite of their good fortune, the younger children leave the table to wander. The four-year-old boy curiously explores the coffee shop and its many customers, who are relieved at the end of the Minneapolis winter and delighted by open windows. Her slightly older sister enjoys the opportunity simply to get up and move. Their mother assesses the trajectory of the two, the emotional state of her older, and the fate of the three untouched muffins.
A look crosses her face: What is everyone thinking? After 10 minutes in the cafe, the kids decide to do their own thing. Whatever plan she came in with is no longer relevant. Some panic comes over her: Are my kids behaving? Am I a bad mom?
***I became friends with Amr because he came from Saudi Arabia to improve his English and I wanted to practice my Arabic. After a few months of weekly conversations we got to know each other well.
I tell him I’d like to teach about American culture to Saudi students before they come to the US.
“You’d be good,” he affirms.
“I learned the two most important things about American culture,” he adds. “One, if an American doesn’t answer their phone, don’t call them again right away. That makes them frustrated.
“Two, don’t touch Americans’ babies.”
Walking down another dusty road in a nondescript neighborhood in Marrakech, my friend, Saaid, smiles and greets a young family. Greeting piles on greeting as they kiss one another on the cheek.“How are you? Are you good? Is everything good?”
“Good. How are you? Everything is good. How is your family?”
“Good, thank God. They’re good. How’s your family? Is your mother good?”
“God bless you. They’re good. She’s good, thank God.”
“This is my friend, Rashid.” He laughs at his own joke. “I mean, Richard.”
“Ça va?” He switches from Arabic to French since I’m clearly foreign. “Soyez le bienvenu!” (“Welcome!”)
“Ça va, Allah barik fik” (“Fine, God bless you”) I respond, meeting his French with French, while showing that I’m not entirely an outsider.
My friend looks at the baby in the mother’s arms. “Who do we have here?” He smiles at the two-year-old boy. “You look like your father,” he announces as he plucks away the boy. He plants wet, noisy kisses on the child’s cheeks.
“Do you want a candy?” he asks rhetorically as he unwraps a lozenge from his pocket and pops it in the boy’s mouth.
The baby sucks for a moment, and then exclaims with a wide-open mouth, “Hot!” He’s eating a Hall’s menthol drop. Saaid hands the baby back as the child reaches to remove the “candy,” now visible in his gaping mouth. “Yes, it’s hot,” agrees his mom with a gentle smile. “Do you like it?”
The Minneapolis mom gives up and asks for a paper sack. She drops the three muffins in, corrals the three kids, who are now punching the air, marching from one end of the cafe to the other.
As they pass, I stop the mother. “I love your kids.” She smiles, relieved. I continue, “It’s amazing how much energy we get from spring time. It’s wonderful!”
I turn to the children. “Why were you marching? Was it a parade or were you fighting something?” The youngest hides under the table. “Was it just for fun? or for no reason?” I inquire.
The girl smiles shyly. “No reason.”
I wish them well: “Kids, listen to your mom and have fun today in the great weather!”
Outside by their SUV, their mom begins arranging them in their seats. The girl bolts.
She knocks on the window by me and grins. I smile back and blow her a kiss.