Saturday, October 23, 2004

La Di Da at Al Di La

Unknowingly, Smartmom arrived a half hour early for a Mom's Dinner at Al Di La. The Fifth Avenue trattoria, which has been booked solid since the day it opened, was surprisingly uncrowded for a Thursday night. The cute owner/matre'd seated Smartmom at one of the long communal tables while she waited for her three friends. At ten past seven, Smartmom wondered: where oh where might her fellow moms be?

After five minutes of taking inventory of the candle lit rustic room, Smartmom was growing impatient, hating as she does to wait. She called Grammatical Genius from her cell phone. GG told her that they were supposed to meet at 7:30 and that once she was finished dressing she would be on her way.

Oops. Smartmom must have mis-read the e-mail. La Di Da.

Smartmom walked sheepishly over to the cute owner/matre'd and explained her little mistake. The restaurant was starting to fill up and there was a small crowd gathering at the velvet curtained doorway. Not usually one to seat a table before all the diners have arrived, he wrote down Smartmom's name and promised her a table when the others showed up. He said in his liltingly sweet Italian accent, "Why don't you have a glass of wine at our wine bar in back?"

Some history: The Mom's Dinners first started five years ago when Smartmom and her friends were parents at the Garfield Temple Pre-school. At the orientation meeting of the Two Day Twos, the parents sat in a circle on small classroom chairs when the perky pre-school teacher said, "Look around you. There is a very good chance that you are going to know one another for a long time to come. The first pre-school class is very special for both parent and child." The group giggled nervously, some no doubt thinking 'what a silly thing to say.'

The teacher asked the parents to go around the circle and say their names, their child's name and a little bit about themselves. These "meet and greets" are always a little awkward and embarrassing. But like any group of obedient and nervous Park Slope parents, the group did what they were told. Smartmom will never forget the friend who said, "My son is circle-time challenged." She still vividly remembers her first impressions of nearly everyone sitting at the circle that day. Some were wrong, some were spot-on. Yet, it's amazing how on-the-money that teacher was: quite a few of those people would become friends for years to come.

Smartmom, who loves to sit alone at bars, ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and waited for the three missing moms. She eavesdropped on the conversations around her and sipped her wine feeling very cosmopolitan and free. When two of the three showed up, she told them her tale about the table that got away in the now-crowded restaurant. At this point the wine bar was bustling with people who'd been sent back to wait 45 minutes or more for tables in the dining room. But true to his word, the cute owner/matre'd called back to the wine bar to say those four fateful words: your table is ready.

Smartmom doesn't remember who came up with the idea for The Mom's Dinner but they have evolved into a treasured night away from husbands and children. At the first dinner, the talk was mostly about kids, school, and teachers -- lots of talk about kids, schools and teachers. But over time, the moms became more intimate and began to share stories about their lives and what was on their minds. How they met their husbands was the impromptu topic at one meal. Another time, they discussed childhood trauma and divorce. The mood was sometimes wistful, sometimes sad, but always full of humor and pluck as the moms discussed the travails of married life with children, balancing work and family, or trying to figure out what to do when mothering wasn't enough anymore.

In addition to being gregarious gabathons, the Mom's Dinners have also been a short history of the restaurant boom in Brooklyn. When they began back in 1999, there were barely any restaurants on now trendy Fifth Avenue. In the early days, the moms would sojourn to Smith Street, which was just becoming the fashionable street it now is. Once they met at Banania, the noisy French bistro on Smith Street where they had to shout above the din to hear one another talk. They celebrated a 40th birthday at the now-defunct Max and Moritz in the South Slope and had an unusually large gathering at the elegant, and sorely missed Vaux. Moutarde and Long Tan have also hosted the mom's wine soaked evenings.

Needless to say, like their children, the moms have evolved in many ways. Much has changed since those first Mom's dinners in big ways and small. There have been disappointments and divorce, money woes and problems with the kids. There have also been new jobs, new homes, and new babies. September 11th happened the day before school started in 2001 and the group shared that experience like they have everything else. Looking around the table, Smartmom realized what a long, strange trip it's been since the days their children were Two-Day Twoers. Now the girls are big second graders with plenty of personality and attitude. The Moms too are an impressive and accomplished group. With plenty of personality and attitude,

For a while, the moms celebrated one another's birthdays, giving gifts of jewelry from The Clay Pot. But when the children graduated from Garfield Temple and began elementary school at PS 321 and elsewhere, the group needed no excuse to get together. Running into one another on the street they'd say, "I think we need a Mom's Dinner," and someone would fire off an e-mail or start making the calls: 'What night is good for you? Where do you want to meet?" And somehow, magically, these nights would come to be.

As Smartmom ate her sublime Risotto with Scallops and Ginger (!), she realized how comfortable she is with these women who know her so well. She thought about the moms who no longer come, the ones who've lost touch, the ones who are too busy to take a night off. A part of her missed them too and wished that they could share the Telegio Cheese appetizer and the Pear Cake with Chunk Chocolate. And most of all, savor this ritual of dinner around a table talking.

At evening's end, Smartmom took out her pocketbook calculator and divvied up the check. The four payed and parted easily, hugging each other goodbye. Someone said, "We're gonna need another Mom's Dinner in about a month." And that sounded about right. Smartmom can barely wait to meet the moms again for a night of true feeling and a good bottle of wine.


At 3:18 PM, Blogger mamainwaiting said...

love the piece. I think i dined at aldila once. I want to go back...loveGA

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