Considering that one of my children is not speaking to me, I had a perfectly marvelous Mother’s Day last weekend. I took my 9-year-old daughter, Francesca, for a three-course high tea. We sipped strawberry tea and ate little triangles stuffed with smoked salmon, cucumber, and chicken salad. We smeared jam and Devonshire cream on scones, then rounded off the carbohydrate cornucopia with madeleines, chocolate-covered strawberries and truffles.
Seated around us were varying constellations of families. There were grandmas with adult kids and grandkids; grown-up sons and daughters with moms; young couples with toddlers; and a few mother-daughter pairs.
Maybe it was because steaming tea pots were wrapped in floral-patterned tea cozies, and we were all holding up our pinkies as we sipped from china cups, and the owner kept stopping by people’s tables and asking, in her soothing British voice, “is everyone heppy?”– but whatever it was, everyone did seem ever so well-adjusted and unsullied by family discord.
If anyone had been chomped to bits by a divorce, or felt estranged from a parent, or nursed a neurosis, or was living a life of quiet desperation, you just would not have known it by looking around the room, the walls of which were bedecked with shelves of stuffed animals, and the air in which laughter and talk wafted gaily.
What is about a pot of tea and a basket of scones that call forth the best in people? According to Wikipedia, the Victorian-era high tea provided the intersection of the “right equipment, manners and social circle.” Even now, wherever it takes place, in London, Asia, or America, the tea ceremony “is practiced to foster harmony in humanity, promote harmony with nature, discipline the mind, quiet the heart, and attain the the purity of enlightenment.”
And so it was, during our Mother’s Day tea. Children sat calmly in their seats. Adults hid their cell phones from view. It was all “please” and “thank you” and “lovely” as the wait staff poured and served and cleared, each time with a bob and a smile. These were not waiters that were doing a a “job”; these were tea house artisans who were practicing an art. And for two hours, we were all better for it.
As the first cup was poured, Franny handed me the Mother’s Day card she had made me. On the cover, in colored pencil, she had drawn a baby deer and a mama deer nestled in grass. When I opened the card, I read Franny’s inventive spelling and earnest sentiments: “Dear Mom you are nice, sweet, everything but mean. and I will allweas love you!”
I wondered how she had chosen the wording, “everything but mean.” Perhaps she was trying to offset the remarks she has heard her dad and her brother make about me for the past eight years. Or perhaps she simply has a different view of her mother and has managed to navigate a monsoon of a divorce with her young ego and ability to love both parents in tact.
At times, when Franny complains of being sick when she has no fever, or bursts into tears over minor events, I have considered taking her to therapy but have been told routinely, “I don’t like to talk about my feelings.”
But maybe tea time could be her therapy–and mine. Even tea for two would be cheaper than therapy for one. We could stop in this tea house and be comforted by an age-old ritual in which all manner of existential nightmares are banished by finely brewed tea, polished silver, and properly served scones, and the lady of the house stops by to inquire, sincerely, if we are “heppy.”
For two hours last Sunday, our existential nightmare slipped away, all but forgotten. We were just a mother and a daughter relaxing in each other’s company.
And we were heppy.