If my kids remember anything about their childhood once they’re grown, I hope they remember the pizza. Friday night is pizza night. Every Friday, as the week winds down and we attempt to exhale and regroup, my husband, my daughters and I pile into the car and drive three minutes through our small piece of suburbia to the local pizza joint. It seems inescapably cliché to use the word “joint,” but there is no other word to describe this small, incredibly crowded pizza restaurant. It smells of melted cheese, beer, and the assurance of the coming weekend; it’s swarming, overflowing with children, car seats, and chairs pulled up around tables ever-which-way; it serves a selection of pizzas, wings, calzones and other staples of a middle-class pizza establishment so familiar around our parts. Every Friday, mostly without fail, is pizza night.
I don’t quite remember how we came to frequent this particular restaurant, but I do know why it’s always on Fridays. Friday is the end and the beginning. This day straddles the end of the workweek and the beginning of the weekend, one foot on each side. On Friday, we shake off the grime of the week, clean up, dress up, and head out to reconnect. Friday evening always holds promise — the promise of an unblemished two days stretching out ahead, almost endlessly; the promise of starting fresh, of doing something memorable, of making it count, of unplugging from the world and plugging into each other. Friday night is pizza night.
My kids love pizza night not only because of the questionable amounts of junk that passes for dinner that night, but also because of games. At our pizza place, while we wait for the reliably slow wait staff to bring our food, we play games.
I grew up playing games with my grandma, sitting around the kitchen table, playing everything from Scrabble to dominoes to word games she made up herself. Grandma loved words; words connect us to the world and to each other. Words connected me to grandma. Ten years after her death, words connect me to her still.
It’s no wonder then that we spend our Friday nights playing games with our kids — often, word games. On our game menu rotation are Charades, 20 Questions, and Heads-Up — all games we can play without any supplies, buzzing with excitement from on-the-spot, instant gratification. My daughters get deeply engaged in play, concocting creative ways to portray meaning without speaking or to figure out a person or a thing by asking the right questions. I see their minds working, analyzing information, searching for solutions, processing.
We are all intensely entrenched in the game, when, after having lost all hope of ever eating, our food unexpectedly arrives. Our table suddenly feels crowded with platters heaping with overstuffed Stromboli, heavily sauced chicken wings, and Greek salad with too many olives and not enough feta cheese. We immediately begin the familiar shuffle of moving things around, trying to accommodate for the much awaited food, saying things like, “Please move your jacket off the table,” “The phone doesn’t belong there,” and “That’s your sister’s fork.”
Eventually, we settle in and quiet ensues over us as we emerge ourselves in eating, pure, joyful eating and togetherness. The togetherness in that moment is palpable. It’s so dense, I can sense it. I see it on my kids’ mildly dirty faces, pizza sauce crowding in the corners of their mouths. I see it in my husband’s eyes, as they slowly begin to relax after an intense workweek, as he smiles, while he’s sipping beer, while he’s listening to my younger child tell a too-long story of school misadventures, while he’s eating the onions out of the Greek salad because no one else likes them, while he gives me a look that says, “This is us. We made this.” It’s a look only for me, and I know it well. There is togetherness in that look as well.
Once most of the food is consumed and some dropped on the floor, my kids beg passionately to be given a few coins for the game machines in the back of the restaurant. Two quarters buy them five minutes of pleasure, as they attempt to grab an unneeded plastic ball with the large silver grabber (is there an official word?) using controls and joysticks. Those same two quarters simultaneously buy my husband and me five minutes alone, with the mess of the plates between us, and the mess of our years together all around us. Sometimes we talk, quickly and urgently, ready to be interrupted at any moment. Sometimes we eat, silently, comfortably, more than a decade and a half into this business of eating together. Sometimes we squeeze hands and just look, playing out our own charade, portraying meaning without speaking, on our own little island amidst other diners, amidst the noise and the bustle of this busy pizza joint — because there is no other word but “joint” for this piece of heaven in our suburbia.
If my kids remember anything from their childhood once they’re grown, I hope they remember the pizza. I hope they remember the mess, the noise, the games, the Greek salad, the quarters, all of it. I hope they remember they were maddeningly loved by two parents who created a world for them and guarded that world fiercely. I hope they remember — do they even realize? — that their parents held hands through all of it, or at least attempted to, sometimes desperately, sometimes silently, because really, what else is there?