Friday, January 12, 2007

The Panera Experience

I received an invitation in the mail earlier this week:
This is an invitation. An invitation to come in and enjoy hand crafted-loaves of bread. . . to try inventive hot and cold sandwiches. . . . It's also an invitation to come in and unwind. At a spacious booth with a group of friends, in a big leather armchair, or a table where you can work with soft lighting and free Wi-Fi. This is an invitation to linger as long as you like, with your family for dinner, or by yourself any time of day. This is more than an invitation for a meal. This is an invitation to find comfort in every bite, every seat and every time you visit.
It was from Panera bread, with which I am familiar from Houston, but which is new to Connecticut. One has opened less than ten minutes away from me. I've already been four times. Each time I enjoyed my meal or bagel. One time, when my husband and I went for breakfast with only my two year old, by some amazing twist of fate, we were even able to linger--he over his newspaper, and me emailing on my laptop! Yes, we could unwind, we could relax, we could sip coffee and enjoy the experience. Panera does not just want to create a place where I can come in and get a bagel (which are quite good). They want me to crave the whole experience. And I do. I think back to the days when I could go there after dropping Amanda off at preschool, get a cup of coffee and a cinnamon chip bagel, and take a book or my Bible study, and linger--alone. It all made me feel a bit carefree and sophisticated.

As a contrast, I will describe our experience last night, when I took the kids for dinner since my husband had a meeting at church. It was more crowded than expected, but we found a booth, and I parked the children there and went to order. I returned with Kyle's muffie (muffin top), and we waited for our other food. "Aaaaeeeee--no!" screeches Kyle to Amanda, who is filching his muffin. "Amanda, quit it!" says Mom to daughter, who is grinning like the Cheshire cat. I go to pick up our food and hear the protesting across the restaurant. I return with the directive, "Leave him alone." The filching, and the screeching, continues. When Kyle finishes eating, it is a struggle to keep him seated, instead of standing and peering over the back of the booth (which fortunately only faces the window and not another table of sophisticated people trying to enjoy the Panera experience). It wasn't a horrible experience. I've certainly had less pleasant outings with the kids. It's just life. But there was no lingering. The trip from my driveway, to the restaurant, and back home took less than an hour, and it would have been less than that, except that we had a longer than normal wait for our soups and sandwiches. Incidentally, does a pumpkin muffin and some of Sister's chips count as dinner for a two and a half year old? I mean, pumpkin is full of beta-carotene and all sorts of good stuff, right?

It confirms my suspicions that being a mom, especially a mom to young children or to many children of any age, is not a sophisticated endeavor. Sophisticated ladies sip coffee or iced tea calmly and leisurely. They have intelligent or light conversations with others. Unsophisticated moms try to make sure that she can finish a meal before it gets cold, that her children eat (even if dinner is a pumpkin muffin) and strive to keep the noise level low enough so that it doesn't disturb diners on the opposite side of the room. They chase and they corral. They cradle the phone, their lifeline to sophisticated society, on their shoulder while performing a decidedly unsophisticated chore--changing a dirty diaper.

As we were rounding up and moving out, we passed a table with two sophisticated ladies, enjoying a night out. One of them was Amanda's school librarian, for whom I volunteer. I greeted her in the unsophisticated mom way, with one hand holding onto my son's hood, and frequent "hurry up" glances to the daughter. She said, "Ah. I remember those times," she said with a mixture of relief and nostalgia. "Yes--remember," I emphasized the past tense. "It will come soon enough," she encouraged me.

Yes, it will. This I know. I don't want to forsake this time for the next. For now I will forgo the Panera Experience for some unsophisticated living.

11 comments:

Heather said...

live away, girl, unsophisticated or not!

Connie said...

I can relate... but I miss Panera. I lived by one in Ohio, none here in Phoenix :( of course, I only went there on my lunch hour at work, sans children...

janiswrites said...

In my world, that is a meal for a two year old. I try not to stress about things like that. Oh, to be a sophisticated mom. It sounds good, but I think that a part (albeit a tiny one) will miss the unsophisticated days someday. Blessings!

Beck said...

That's a beautiful post! I've given up on sophistication for now. The busy cluttered happy life with small childrne is such a short time!

Susanne said...

I remember those days. We became Burger King conessiours (sp?) for that very reason. Here there was no sophistication required. Now we can actually go somewhere nice, sometimes. :v)

Katrina said...

During my pregnancy with Logan, I had a whole "Panera budget" and I was there for my bagel and coffee 2 or 3 times a week, after getting Camden off to school. It was almost luxurious - lingering over the newspaper or enjoying the free WiFi. I've been a couple times with Logan, but it's rather rushed, because we need to leave to deal with feedings or naps or stinky diapers. So I know just where you're coming from. And while I look forward to someday having that "lingering time" again, the unsophisticated life is the one for me. Baby giggles - which may be disruptive to other Panera diners - are too cute to give up.

Big Mama said...

I always say it's hard to be sophisticated while dining with a child who may have to go poop at any given moment.

Dad said...

Well written. One child easy (maybe because it was you). Two, not so easy (and not because 2nd was Karen).

Barb said...

Sophisticated? What's that. Off to grab my dictionary because that word is definitely not in MY vocabulary. :-)

No Panera anywhere near here. :-(

At A Hen's Pace said...

Ahhhh, Panera--that's where I go on Friday nights AND Saturday mornings while my older kids are at play practice and my husband is home with the little kids! I'm there for about 6 hours altogether every weekend when we're doing a show! I love the hazelnut coffee, the chocolate hazelnut bagel, and the free wireless!!!!

My Panera time used to be on my homeschooled kids' class morning every week--back before I had a laptop and it was just me, God, my Bible and my journal--and whichever infant was still in a car seat.

I've always carved it out sometime, with my husband's support and encouragement--it's my weekly sanity break!

;)

Jeanne

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Too cute! Come on over to my house. I'll show you unsophistication!