Ahhhhh....I rode the dragon and survived. Tonight I had the pleasure of escorting 7 (!) young ladies from the JIFF program to dinner at the Hibachi Super Buffet. For those of you who haven't been to the HSB - it is a cornucopia of foods. There is Japanese, Chinese, sushi, salad, cold shrimp, mussels, seaweed salad, meatloaf, pizza, fried fish, little hot dogs wrapped in bacon, egg rolls, spring rolls, hot buttered rolls, mashed potatoes, fries, fruit, jello, a chocolate waterfall, cake, ice cream and cotton candy. And trust me, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There may have even been an iceberg.
I can't say it is a restaurant that I would go to if I had the choice...but for some reason it is a favorite destination of the girls in the JIFF program. We went last year and they each worked hard to save up enough chips to go back this year. So...my long-suffering momma climbed in the big old church van with me and the excited group of young ladies for the great adventure tonight. After all - in order to stay within our Safe Sanctuary guidelines, there must always be two adults with a group. And it is safer for my sanity as well.
The group started off pretty subdued while we were driving across town - but little by little, the chatter grew as they talked about who had done what to who at school...and who liked who...and who wasn't talking to who... I had forgotten what junior high was all about! (although...since I was a complete nerd at that age...I'm not sure I knew who had done what to who, etc.)
When we arrived at the restaurant I reminded them that we would be minding our manners, would be polite to our server, and would take small portions of food that we weren't sure we would like so that we weren't wasteful. And I have to say, I was very pleased with them!
It is always interesting to see who is willing to try new foods and be adventuresome. One of the young ladies is pretty well versed in sushi and had several pieces without squealing, whimpering or flinching. Another one wanted to know about everything that I had on my plate (you KNOW I had to eat some sushi...but I generally stick to sushi nigiri at this place. The sushi maki always looks a little tired). There was a lot of fried stuff on everyone's plate - shrimp, chicken nuggets, etc. - but I was pleased to also see a lot of broccoli and other vegetables consumed. I even saw a couple of pieces of pizza being eaten (one of the LAST things I would consider eating there...).
After a couple of plates of dinner ("food food" as my brother would say) the girls each had a variety of dessert options. Several delicious looking cotton candy clouds came to the table (I never did get any...) and one girl had a strawberry about the size of my fist covered in chocolate!
Then the adventure eating began...through several dares, many items were sampled (some in very tiny bites). Things that I recall being tried were squid (pretty universally disliked...I'm not a big fan either), California roll (tolerated by most, enjoyed by two), raw white tuna (enjoyed by several!) and raw salmon (mixed reviews, which I totally understand. If you get a section with much connective tissue...it can be kind of off-putting even for those of us who like it.). After that...things got kind of silly.
Did the girls have a good time? I truly believe that they did. Did Mom have a good time? I think so... Did I have a good time? Heck yes. It is a very chaotic experience. Sometimes I'm a little stunned by the topics of conversation (though I try hard not to show it...) and I do feel a need to tip the server VERY well (thank you Ashley...you were a paragon of patience and grace). But I have this wonderful series of memories of interaction with each girl.
I got to carry on a great conversation with one of the young ladies who may be moving away soon. She has family in NYC and may be living there for awhile. She has this incredibly generous spirit, laughs easily and will try just about anything. Another of the young ladies has this great curiosity about everything! She wanted to know what each item was in the California roll...wanted to know what part of the squid the piece was from (body). She is remarkably intelligent and I expect great things from her.
One of them had skipped lunch so that she would be plenty hungry for tonight. She tried a great variety of dishes and wasted very little space on silly things like dessert! I have always admired her independence. She does not follow the crowd - she is her own person and does not apologize for it. I like that. I would like to have been more like her when I was her age. I always wanted to fit in.
One of the girls is actually a graduate of the program who volunteers each week with the K-2 group (I refer to them as the ankle biters...). Since she works so hard each week I thought she would enjoy joining the group for dinner. She can be very quiet and thoughtful...once she warms up though...look out! She has an amazing smile that can always make me forget the troubles of my day. She loves to tease her friends about this boy or that boy...and doesn't get all moody when they tease her back! I have known her for years now. I'm very proud of the young woman that she is becoming.
The youngest of our outing tonight is not a shy person. You pretty much know where you stand with her at all times. That's not really a bad quality to have. I am not a fan of fake people - I'd rather have a frank discussion with someone that I disagree with than have someone tell me what they think I want to hear. She tried some of the "weird food" but if she didn't like it...you knew it!
Another of the girls can come off as quiet...until you get to know her!! I have only known her for a couple of years, but I know for a fact that she is super smart. She asks good questions and retains most everything you ever tell her. Even though she didn't really want to even touch the squid...she did! I think she had a good time.
Which takes me to one of our ring leaders. I have probably known her as long as the girl who volunteers with JIFF. Sometimes she is an incredible challenge...probably because she and I are so much alike. We can see through the BS and aren't afraid to call people on it. She can be a little opinionated and sometimes a little loud (I'm a LOT opinionated and loud...she will probably catch up). But when she thinks nobody notices, she has a very sensitive side. I often tread lightly with her because I don't want to take the chance of damaging our tentative friendship.
Did I have a good time? Heck yes. I was out with 7 of my favorite people (8 if you count Mom) and we laughed and ate and laughed some more. And I will be ready to do it again - in about a year! Look out Ashley...we'll be back!!