Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Being Normal: Mountain Top Cafe and Bakery, North Vancouver

background info: Until Tal was gluten free, Markus took the kids out every Saturday while I wrote or did graphic work, and bought them a sausage roll at the now-burnt-down Oven Door Bakery. It was the highlight of the week for all of them, especially Tal, who takes after his father with his enormous desire for sausage of any type.

Fast forward to present time: We discovered a little gluten-free bakery in North Van -- we were SO excited! They advertise that they serve breakfast (pancakes & eggs, granola, cinnamon buns, etc.) AND lunch (pizza, sandwiches, soup, sausage rolls)... obviously it is our family's dream-come-true.

Yesterday Tal and I had a town-adventure, together, so we packed up early and went there for breakfast. It turned out to be in the back of a dingy little forgotten mall, and it didn't open until 11. So we went away and came back starving... really desperate for some pancakes and eggs! When the employee called Tal a little girl, he didn't blink, since more than 99% of the people we meet assume he's a girl... who just happens to dress and behave like a typical North American boy. He looked at me with what I recognize as the I'm-not-brave-enough-today look, and timidly said "I'm a boy".

The employee looked at me and her mouth dropped open. "No. It's a girl."

"Actually, no," I said (this is by far not the first time someone has challenged the fact that my son is a boy). "He's a wonderful boy who likes to have long hair, just like his father."

"No way! She's a boy?" She gaped and pointed at my son, who by this time was staring at the wall behind me, alternately with the floor.

"Yes, he is a boy. And many of the boys in his class, and many of our male friends also have long hair. Isn't it nice?"

At this point the owner came out, hearing, no doubt, that a customer was starting to sound irritated. The employee looked at her boss as if hoping for support: "We're talking about this kid - he or she - the mother says it's a boy!" The owner explained to his employee that it's a matter of fashion, and that he too had had very long hair as a boy.

Had it been any other establishment, I would have suggested we find a better restaurant, and left. But you have to understand... this was, as far as I know, the only gluten-free restaurant on the North Shore, and Tal had been looking forward to it for days. I ordered pancakes and eggs and bacon for Tal; omelet with toast for myself. They didn't have tea. When the food arrived, Tal began to eat; his was decidedly OK -- not great, but he liked it. My omelet had that burnt-egg taste on the outside and was very runny, inside -- no toast. The employee explained that she didn't want the egg to get cold while waiting for the toast, so she's bring it later. She did. It was that dry-textured, bland rice-bread with a bit of butter. No condiments. So I drowned it in Tal's syrup and pretended it was pancakes. that was edible. We bought some cookies and sausage-rolls to go, and we went. Tal was very very happy.

You may think that's the end of the story, but no -- I had to go back again today, since we were in town, and I thought Tal would be happy to get a gluten-free pizza. As soon as the employee came out from the back, she looked at Rhiannon (who didn't come, yesterday) and said: "Oh hi! You're back already! Is this your little girl?" Yes... She pointed at Tali again. "I still don't understand your other one. Such long hair. It's a boy?" "Yes, but I think that's enough about it." I put my finger to my lips. She said "but really - it's a boy?" I put my finger to my lips and I hope I gave her a serious-looking glare.

beware:rant For-Somebody's-Sake! Can't people just accept that people aren't all the same... and even if they can't, can't they have a little common sense and compassion for a six-year-old boy who just wants to be normal? the truth is, having long hair IS normal!! Especially where he comes from! What the hell is the hang-up about it?! Most people, upon my or his assertion that he's actually a boy, become very apologetic and either say, "Oh now I see; it's obvious", or "I should have known; my son/friend/brother/nephew/whatever also has long hair..." but there are always these stupid few who either chide me (one woman actually shook her finger at me and "tsk tsk you shouldn't have done that"), or flat out disbelieve that he's a boy... it's more of an insult to their intelligence than to Tal's choice of hairstyle. I HATE that people's ignorance causes my dear and beautiful pain. I absolutely hate it.

And back to that restaurant: we got 3 mini-pizzas, 1 small steamed milk, 3 gingersnaps & a box of little rumballs. It was all OK, but nowhere near as good as what we make at home, and we had to eat it in the dingy flourescent-lit cafe, surrounded by the drone of multiple coolers, fans, machines and ventilation systems... and it cost us over $40. But Tal was so happy that he actually went and ordered steamed milk himself from the employee (he obviously wasn't nearly as irritated by her remarks as I was). And then when we left and he forgot his sweater, he went running all the way back through the mall to get it -- without me.

So this little cafe in the dingy back-corner of a tiny mall has been a study in normalcy for us: the confrontation with the employee gave Tal (I think) a feeling of proving himself, and the fact that he can basically leave his gluten-intolerance at the door and enjoy himself made him feel normal. It's probably his new favourite restaurant.