The man in the booth at McDonald's is looking at me. He is seventy-something, gray-haired, and crumpling the wrapper of his breakfast sandwich compulsively in his hand. We are facing each other in adjacent booths; he alone, me with my two rambunctious children. My kids and I are sharing a Big Breakfast with Hotcakes. I divy up the goods onto the extra Styrofoam plates I requested, and ignore my son when he asks me if the soda pop he is guzzling is good for him.
"Looks like you've got your hands full," the man says.
I look at the assorted corn-based products in front of me and shrug.
"Cute kids," he says.
He looks out the window and I return to the task of prodding my children to eat. We are on our way up to Grandma's to spend the day with cousins from Iowa. I check my watch and then insist that my daughter have another bite of her pancake. I pretend not to notice that the elderly man is looking at me again. I don't really have time for small talk.
"You have about ten thousand more of these trips to McDonald's before your kids are grown."
I smile politely. At the moment, the thought of ten thousand more of these outings is not particularly pleasant.
"I have one son," the man says. "He's nearly fifty now, if you can believe it. Lives in Murray, near St. Mark's hospital."
I smile, this time not so politely, and look pointedly at my watch.
"I remember the day he started grade school. We walked down the street to the school together. He held onto my hand the whole way. I remember it just like it was yesterday." He looks out the window again, and I follow the direction of his gaze, half-expecting to see the memory he's just shared replayed before us, on grainy black and white film. "Just like yesterday, if you can believe it. The time just goes so fast."
"Sometimes," I say, "a day spent with little kids feels eternal."
"Enjoy it while it lasts," he says. "You only have ten thousand more of these trips to McDonald's, and then..."
My children beam at me, their faces shiny with sticky syrup, and I suppress the urge to cry. Without consulting my watch, I smile a genuine smile at the man across from me and say, "Tell me more about your son."