As we followed the hostess through the restaurant, I was so distracted, I forgot to look for the big tank with the live lobsters.
Even at 34 years old, I’m still not sure if people have told me the truth all these years - the lobsters in the tank at Red Lobster are just one Ultimate Feast away from becoming someone’s next meal.
I’ve always felt an urge to go find them and bode a final “goodbye” in case the rumors are true.
But I was so focused on finding our patiently-waiting family members, I didn’t even think to look for them.
A battle with my 7-year-old over if ankle-length yoga pants and a short-sleeved shirt are warm enough for the 20-degree January day ran us fashionably late. Fortunately, our family didn’t seem to mind and all nine of them gave big smiles and waves when they saw us arrive. They especially lit up when they saw my daughter, they all adore her.
We sat at the end of the table where we could see our family and many of the other guests in the restaurant. I’d had plans to get up and go find the lobster tank, but was soon distracted once again.
There’s a lot of black people in here.
I'd happened to take notice that families of multiple races and ethnicities were seated in several booths around the restaurant. Ever since we adopted our daughter who is biracial, I’ve become keenly aware of the diversity in any room.
Not just because I hope black people will approve of how we do her hair, which is partly the case, but because in a mostly-white, Midwestern suburban city, I pray for more diversity. To see the guests at Red Lobster, I was pleasantly surprised.
Mention of my cousin’s new puppy brought me back into our table’s conversation. For the next several minutes, we chit chatted and birthday cards and gifts got passed down the table. Three out of my dad’s four siblings celebrate birthdays that occur within the same week. We joked about what my grandparents must have celebrated every April 15.
Gross, I know.
As the laughs lingered, it was like time stood still. I began to notice so many similarities among my family members. Our big, bright eyes that matched my grandma’s, with chuckles that resembled hers too. The dark hair and “Ripley ears” that came from my grandpa, and the pious insistence of prayer before we dove into the appetizers.
I looked down at my daughter and wondered where she would find pieces of herself:
At tables full of mostly white family members raising her,
or in the booths of the black families who in so many ways also resembled her.
I prayed she would find the courage to say “both” as she works out her racial identity. While the world says choose sides, I hoped she finds beauty and power in being blended.
The aroma of garlic biscuits soon arrived and covered up the slightly fishy smell. Soon, more hot plates full of fried fish and blackened shrimp skewers arrived. All throughout the restaurant, there was a quiet sound of crunching.
The clang of my daughter’s fork against her plate signaled she was getting full. The coloring sheet that worked for the first hour lost its hold and she became squirmy. Fortunately, her daddy knew just what to do. He broke out his phone and its Instagram filters. They sat smashing their faces against one another to make funny pictures with dog ears and videos as the rest of the family finished eating.
What are others thinking?
Not stopping twice to think about pressing her mixed skin up against the side of his white face and scratchy beard, I wondered this time if others were watching us.
I wondered if they noticed her, a little mixed girl calling me Mom and my husband Dad, not having a care in the world that our skin doesn’t exactly match.
I wondered if they could tell my husband wasn’t like the other torch-holding white men who paraded around Virginia a few months ago.
I wondered if they could feel our empathy over why so many players chose to kneel and not stand this past football season.
I wondered if they knew we felt different. I wondered if they could tell we are different.
As we finished the meal, we put on our coats and waved goodbye. As we walked to the front doors, I noticed even more guests had filled the dining room - many of them were black families.
“This is progress,” I said to myself and turned back to make sure my daughter was safely bucked into her booster seat as we got in the car. But then I caught myself:
Should I be satisfied with this? Or should I want more?
Should I be happy black and white families now dine in the same restaurants using the same bathrooms, ordering off the same menus and eating off the same white and blue-rimmed plates?
Or should I keep dreaming for a day those white families and black families actually sit... and eat together? Should I be satisfied and pleased with the work that’s been done to fight inequality so far... or should I long for a day of mutual reconciliation and true equality, where racism isn't a leading headline of the day. A day where I notice not only how many black people are eating in a suburban restaurant, but how many other mixed-race families fill the place.