(Enter, stage left: She looks sheepishly around the restaurant, knowing every eye is on her. She knows that when you’re eating out with kids, you become public enemy number one.)
“Hi there. Balke party, table for four, please? Oh, and we need a high chair, and a booster seat, and preferably a table in the far corner so we don’t disturb the other diners. Thanks.”
Regardless of the day, time, or location, whenever my husband and I head out to eat with our two children – our three and a half year old daughter and our ten month old son – that’s typically my opening line.
For years, I was the snippity, professional woman in her twenties who hated sitting near young children in restaurants. They were loud. They were dirty. But, most of all, they were busy. They were always on the go – they never stopped moving. Their constant motion made me anxious, jittery, nervous: like dining with a hungry lion who was on the prowl, just waiting for his steak to arrive – and liable to throw a massive tantrum at any moment. The mere presence of children around me at a restaurant – even family friendly restaurants – had the capacity to turn my nice, relaxed evening out into a circus side-show.
Now that I’m a mother, I am keenly aware of the less-than-enthusiastic reaction my children and I get whenever we enter a restaurant. I compare it to boarding an airplane: you smile at the mother and her young children as they walk down the center aisle (or past your table), but you hope and pray with all your might that the stewardess (or hostess) sits them in the seats (or table) as far away from you as logistically possible.
Since my daughter’s arrival, my husband and I have tried to frequent family friendly restaurants – places where they hand out children’s menus and allow little ones to color on the paper table cloths. But sometimes, even in kid-friendly establishments, waiters, waitresses, and fellow diners can be downright leery of my children: and with good reason. Over the years, I’ve witnessed my daughter throw what must have been history’s all-time greatest tantrum on a steakhouse floor; I’ve seen my son shred an entire basket of free “appetizer” bread into a pile of crumbs beneath his high chair; I’ve watched my husband slowly simmer – like sauce on a warm stove – then boil over in reaction to his children’s bad behavior; and, I’ve thrown a wad of cash on the table as – mid-meal – I pick my entire family up and head for the hills to avoid an epic meltdown.
That’s not to say my children are always poorly behaved when dining out. Many times, we’re able to peacefully make it through an entire meal without someone whining that they suddenly don’t like chicken fingers anymore, or someone else fussing because mommy isn’t spoon-feeding him his pureed bananas (brought from home) quickly enough. Often, my husband and I are able to carry on intelligent, adult conversations without interruption as our children quietly play with the crayons provided by the restaurant. Sometimes, we walk out thinking that – with our two perfect children in tow – we should really dine out more often.
The next time you and your loved ones are enjoying a peaceful evening out – only to spy my brood and I walking in the door – remember this: I’m trying. I’m doing my best. I’m not here to ruin your evening, but merely to salvage my own.
So, what about the table for four for the Balke party?
First, thanks to all of you for welcoming me to Dining Out Challenge!
Readers: What are your worst eating out with kids experiences – whether as the parent, the child, or a spectator?