September 18, 2006

Bermuda can wait

Mike and I went to our favorite Indian restaurant tonight, a 20-table place in a mint-green stucco strip mall next to a golf course and a municipal airstrip.

As we ate our onion naan, lamb curry and chicken tikka, we eavesdropped on the conversation going on in an adjacent booth. A man about 50 was trying to persuade what I assumed to be his thritysomething wife and five or six-year-old daughter to let him plan a family trip.

After they ordered – saag and tandoori for the adults, a basket of naan for the little girl – the man took a sip of his shiraz, put his glass down and said, “I’d like to go back to Bermuda.” His wife said that sounded nice. Then he upped the ante: “Or Italy.”

Oh, I recognized this tactic. I chuckled, waiting to see where this would end. I knew what the guy was doing because I’ve done it 50 times myself. You casually flip a four or five-day jaunt to an innocuous, relatively nearby resort destination like Aruba onto the family table, then, when everyone agrees it’d be a nice idea to “go somewhere,” you turn Aruba into a week in Caracas, which you then gently parlay into two weeks in Patagonia.

I resisted the urge to get up, offer this guy my hand, and tell him we’d never met but were kindred spirits. I knew Italy wouldn’t be enough for him and waited to hear his final gambit.

His wife bought into the Italy idea, so he ran with it. “What pops into my head for a trip to Italy is a week in Rome and a week in Venice.” Mike and I looked at each other and smiled. Nice. Rome and Venice came flooding back, and we were ready to get the check and head for the airport. We were sold, and so was his wife, who, in the course of five forkfuls of chicken saag, had been moved from a few days in Bermuda to two weeks in Italy. I waited for the finale.

“We could go next July. We have a couple of weeks then.” To this point, the daughter hadn’t paid the least attention to her parents’ conversation. She’d been glued to the window, chewing on bread, watching golfers approach the ninth green and red-tailed Cherokees take off from the airport beyond the trees.

The man picked up his wine glass and said, “You know, with a couple of weeks, we could go somewhere really interesting and different,” (Ohhh! I know this script! That’s one of my best lines. What's he hoping for? Drumroll...) “ China.”

The girl turned from the window and looked at her dad. “China?”

"Yeah. China.”

“You mean Chinatown?”

“No. China. The country China.”

“You mean the real China?”

“Yeah. The real China.”

The girl left the window and the golfers and the little planes and sat down in the booth. Her dad – and China – had gotten her attention.

He leaned in over the table and said, “If I was a kid, I’d want to know about the world.” His daughter, and her mom, were listening. “I’d want to know everything I could about all the people in the world.”

If only more parents talked to their kids like this.

Look for this family at the airport next July, boarding a plane to Beijing.