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Even a Struggling Writer Can Dine in Style—When Mom and Dad Pay the Bill

I enjoyed some very expensive restaurants when my parents were treating. But as I approached 30, I wanted to pay my own way.

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Over the next few months, as my mom underwent chemotherapy, dinners were rare. The fear of losing her, of not knowing how to help, made me feel more like a child than I could remember feeling. My mom beat the cancer, but the time she took off of work to heal, combined with the recession, hit my parents harder then I realized, and the worst had yet to come. In near domino succession, my mother lost her father and sister to cancer and soon after, her mother became sick as well. She’d been a rock for my sister and me, helping us become adults. Being there for her now was our chance to show her that it had taken hold.

In the year leading up to my 30th birthday, we rarely had dinners out as a family. I tried to be home as much as possible, to help out any way I could. Professionally I’d had ups and downs. The paper I’d been writing for regularly ended its 20-year run, and freelance work was drying up, but I’d finished writing my first novel, and, thanks to the party where I’d finally successfully networked, I now had an agent, the same one with whom I’d spent the evening talking restaurants. But I was still concerned. How could I be almost 30 and unable to afford to go out to a nice restaurant on my own?

Improving the quality of the meals I did pay for represented to me my own slow but sure growth. Springing for a great burger at Dumont Burger instead of McDonald’s after getting a paycheck became my own personal point of pride. My small steps in the right direction were manifesting themselves on the plate.

We went out to dinner at ABC Kitchen as a family for my birthday. During dessert, over a popcorn-and-caramel sundae, my mom made a speech. She said she was proud of me for pursuing a goal that was hard won, for taking the less-traveled path. She said she’d seen me grow over the past few years and that she’d worried for me, but that I was exactly where I needed to be.

If the room were filled with every high-powered agent and editor in the city, it wouldn’t have mattered. This was the place where we got honest. We weren’t a super-affectionate family that hugged wildly, kissed faces, and made big emotional gestures. We didn’t check in each day. This was the place where we were ourselves. I could fake it everywhere else in the world, but not here. Not over a family dinner.

The agent called later that night. In the three months since the networking event, he’d become a friend, and talking about food had become our regular opener. He asked about the meal at ABC Kitchen. Maybe it was the wine or ice-cream buzz, but something left me with the feeling that I didn’t have to fake it anymore.

“To be honest, all the nice restaurants I’ve been to,” I confessed, “I’ve never gone to any of them without my parents. I’m too broke.”

He laughed and said, “In this city, who can afford it?” Then he added, “Let’s grab dinner next week and talk about your book.”

I asked where we’d go.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Nothing fancy.”

***

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Even a Struggling Writer Can Dine in Style—When Mom and Dad Pay the Bill

I enjoyed some very expensive restaurants when my parents were treating. But as I approached 30, I wanted to pay my own way.

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