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The Clean Plate Club

Sometimes I wish that I could freeze Ryley at 5 1/2 years old forever. His outlook on life is usually sunny. His innocence is as deep as the universe is wide. He is not yet self-conscious of himself, taking everything literally. He is sweetly sincere.

Earlier this evening, Aidan, Ryley, and I had dinner with my parents and my brother and sister-in-law. We went to the Black-eyed Pea. Ryley was very excited and kept pointing out to everyone what good manners he possessed–“look at my napkin hanging from my shirt!”–as he tucked a white paper napkin into his t-shirt. To Ryley, he would fit right in with Prince Charles and Martha Stuart and have “tea for three” at Buckingham Palace on Christmas Eve at 4pm. Ryley sat up straight in his chair, arranged his silverware nicely, and enjoyed the cherry that came with his Sprite without complaining that it was “too spicy”, like Aidan (yes, she thought the cherry in her lemonade was “spicy”).

I read the back of the kids menu to him. He was disappointed that there was no pizza, but he settled on the worthy grilled cheese sandwich. I told him he could choose a side. He passed on the broccoli and rice, and went for the french fries.

Then I read to him the part of the menu that covered desserts. It basically said “if you clean your plate, you may choose from a sundae or bread pudding!”

The rolls and corn muffins arrived. We divided them up on each of our bread plates. Throughout it all, I noticed Ryley rubbing his napkin on his bread plate and scraping it with his fingernail. He held it up in the light and examined it closely. Finally, he declared “it’s clean!” I thought it was cute, but nothing more.

Dinner arrived. Ryley sliced his grilled cheese sandwich with his knife and fork, still ever-mindful of his manners. He announced he was full and would not be finishing his french fries, which was all right with me. He returned to the task of buffing his bread plate and asking for opinions. He was so diligent and serious about making it shine.

“Mom, is this clean?”

“Uh, yeah, it’s pretty clean!”

“The waitress will be so proud!”


And then it occurred to me: the children’s menu with the phrase “if you clean your plate…” Ryley literally thought that meant he was expected to clean his plate at the table.

My stomach still hurts from laughing. I can only imagine what his thoughts were on the matter: I guess at this place, you have to stick your napkin in your shirt and clean your own plates…weird, but I will do it if ice cream is involved!

So tonight, at Black-eyed Pea, the dishwasher had once less plate to scrub as hard as the others. I bet he wishes for a restaurant full of earnestly innocent five-year-old boys, squinting at specks on bread plates, buffing them to a high-gloss for a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream with spicy cherries on top.

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