In honor of this historic day, my family and I decided to pay tribute to America by doing what every American family with young children has probably done at one point or another; we ate dinner at a local fast food establishment.  Not only did we do this in honor of our American heritage, we also did it because it’s been really freakin’ cold here for the past few days and the kids really needed to expend their pent-up energy before some sort of black hole developed, instantaneously destroying all matter in the universe.  

For us, the choice of fast food dining establishments is easy – it’s Chick-fil-a (CFA) or nothing.  Not only is the food pretty decent, but the larger part of the appeal is the very clean, kid-friendly indoor play area.  Of course, there’s also the added allure of “Kids Eat Free Tuesdays” which features free kid meals with an adult purchase, face painting, toys, and balloons.  

Kids Eat Free Tuesday has become a ritual for our family and, over the past several months, has evolved into somewhat of a weekly reunion.  Week after week, we see the same fellow parents living out their own Tuesday night ritual by gathering to eat cheap chicken nuggets, socialize,  and let their kids play in a contained, highly padded environment.  

I find the Tuesday Night crowd to be somewhat reminiscent of high school.  I’ve noticed that certain cliques have formed amongst the group of regulars.  Like a little “Breakfast Club” rip-off, our Tuesday Night Club features a reliable cast of characters straight from the classic John Hughes flick – including the jocks, the nerds, the preppies, the drama geeks, the punks, the metal heads, and our uniquely southern addition, the bible beaters.  On Tuesday night, rain or shine, the members of these groups seek out their like kind, congregating around broad spans of tables pushed together.  The most elite groups gather around the coveted tables near the glass-enclosed play area with the other groups spreading out to the sides and the outcasts largely hanging out around the rear of the restaurant, near the restrooms.

The jocks are popular, loud, fun and generally identified by their sports gear.  They are typically accompanied by children still dressed in their sports uniforms and they spend a lot of time talking “game” with each other.

Nerds usually present as the parents who come in toting their laptop computer.  Their children are often socially awkward and spend all their time asking intelligent questions about the design of the playground equipment or crafting origami figures out of the paper sacks accompanying their kids meal.

Preppies are easily spotted by their flawless dress, usually in a full-on business suit.  They arrive with sons still bearing neat sweater/oxford shirt combos and daughters still in tidy designer dresses and tights, long after most of our daughters have removed their tights, flinging them carelessly over the backs of nearby dining chairs.  They read the Wall Street Journal while their kids are busy socially ostracizing the other children on the playground.

Drama Geeks are those parents seen with offspring still in costume & make-up from their latest dress rehearsal.  A more disturbing variation of the Drama Geek type, the Pageant Geeks are also known to prowl the Tuesday Night Club.  They arrive with daughters who make Joan Rivers look subtle in her make-up application.  One word for these parents: scary.

Punks & Metal Heads often blend together in a sea of general rebelliousness.  Usually wearing torn jeans and t-shirts, with children in like attire, these parents are the loud, tattooed, swearing, trouble-making types that are always drawing the ire of the Jocks and Preppies, usually for making a scene when one of the Preppies’ toddlers pushes their kids on the jungle gym.  

The Bible Beaters are usually on their way back from, or about to head to, a church function.  Typically, they are toting a bible, quoting scripture, or telling clean variations of dirty jokes as their eerily happy, well-adjusted children play nicely with the other kids.  

Amidst this bizarre time-warp of behavioral predictability & stereotyping, there is irony to be found.  To my disbelief, it’s my high school social outcast husband, Dick, who seems to move effortlessly across all the various social strata.  Not only can he talk game with the jocks, he speaks hard-core business with the Preppies, understands and speaks tech with the Nerds, and makes polite, snappy banter with the Drama Geeks, Punks, Metal Heads and Bible Beaters.  Unlike the chronically awkward person he always was in high school, Dick is a well-liked guy – a real mover & shaker in the CFA social scene.  He moves deftly through the throngs of  Tuesday Night goers, high-fiving and trading good-humored barbs with his Clique-fil-a homies, as I gather ketchup packets and napkins.

How can it be, that Dick has evolved beyond the confines of all the cliques to become friends with, literally, everyone? While I’ve only grown more isolated and judgmental in my older age – finding that my tolerance for B.S. has nearly evaporated post childbirth – Dick’s only managed to broaden his appeal.  How did my title of “person everyone likes” suddenly take a back seat to Mr. Popularity?  Where did I go wrong?

Of course, there is the possibility that I haven’t gone wrong.  Maybe I’ve just grown up enough to see all the cliques for who they are – people who are still too awkward to move outside their comfort zone.  It seems the all too human desire to fit in isn’t just for the younger set.  In an odd twist of fate, I’ve become the outcast, only this time I chose to be one. Rather than trying to fit into all the cliques – an exercise in frustration – my (gasp) 37 years, have taught me to just make peace with myself and enjoy the ride.  Ironically, the same self-confidence that made Dick a social outcast in high school makes him popular as an adult.  Go figure…

In deference to the ritual and doing my part to help end the global economic crisis, next Tuesday I’ll join my family and the rest of the Tuesday Night Club at the local CFA.  I’ll sit back and I’ll watch my former social outcast husband move effortlessly through every social caste.  As I do so, I’m sure I’ll be bemused, yet again, at the ironies of aging.  I’ll look upon the ritual unfolding in this social microcosm knowing that there’s no persona sexier, more irresistible, or more all-American than that of the self-confident man – or woman – and I’ll be grateful to be one and to be married to one.

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