Friday, April 11, 2008

On the subject of dining out

Why? Why, why, why bring your toddler out to a nice restaurant? Okay, maybe there are some of you supermoms with really really well-behaved children that can actually pull off a peaceful dinner at a "nice" (and by nice I mean anything other than McDonald's) restaurant. That's not me. So, since having our son, my husband and I have developed a rating system for restaurants.

Two thumbs up is a generally kid-friendly atmosphere. They may have some crayons and paper to doodle on, high chairs are accessible, but children do not outnumber adults by 10:1 at these fine places. (example; Friendly's).

One thumb up is a step up from a two thumbs up restaurant in service but not as kid friendly. They serve normal adult food but also have a kids menu. I would bring my kid on a good day, after a long nap, at an off-peak time, but forget it on a Saturday night. (example; Ruby Tuesdays)

Two thumbs down is someplace I would never take my toddler, not if you paid me, not if he were on his best behavior that day, not even if he had lost his voice from larangitis. Come on people, a restaurant where they have to go in the way back room to retrieve a high chair, covered in dust, that still looks brand new, is no place for a toddler (otherwise it would have bite marks and dried up ketchup on it like all the other restaurants). (Example; stuffy restaurant that would never have a franchise)

And the last rating is two thumbs.... in your ears. This is a place where the music is louder than your toddler is during one of his best tantrums, your kid is definitely not the worst one there, and they serve toys with your kid's food (example; Chucky Cheese).

So, someone, somewhere gave us the advice to bring our kid out to eat often while he's young so that it never becomes a big deal as he gets older. This is great advice.... if you are giving it to someone else. My response is always, "great, when are you picking him up?" Because I know that a meal inside my own home can feel like World War II with my toddler. Why would I want to put that in front of an audience? I can just feel the eyes glaring at me from all directions, some disapproving, most are out of pity.

Nevertheless, we decided it was time for our first trip out to a real restaurant, and we were most optimistic about it. We brought some favorite cars and little toys to keep him occupied, of course his juice, which is like liquid crack to a toddler, and the all important "Cowie". So we went to a thumbs up restaurant at a relatively slow time of day and thought it was just going to be great. They gave out balloons afterall, what could go wrong? Well, I'll tell you.

So, my son thought it would be a good idea to let us know just how incompetent we were as parents. After the waitress took our orders, he decided to just get punchy. He was playing with the box of crayons, taking them out, putting them in, taking them out, putting them in, taking them - you get the idea right? And every once in a while, he would drop one and then get very upset that it was on the floor. After picking up crayons several dozen times (trying to keep him happy) they slowly began to disappear under the booth.

"I'm sorry my son. Crayons are now gone. But look at all the wonderful toys we brought you to play with...please don't scream....please don't scream...."

Cue screaming.

I don't know if it's all toddlers or just my son, but he does this thing I call "the swipe". (If "swiper, no swiping", and the Dora theme song aren't flashing in your brain right now, you must not have children. Or else you don't let them watch TV and how do you do it?) "The swipe" is when he takes his hands, forcefully and quickly, swiping everything in front of him onto the floor. This drives me crazy! Which is probably why he does it.

So after we tell him the crayons are all gone (while simultaneously offering a lovely selection of other interesting toys) he does "the swipe" on the restaurant table. Luckily I could see it coming (see, I'm learning) and was able to catch anything valuable. Then he screams and continues to swipe in the air hitting everyone walking by him. So, what do we do?

We try everything, speaking very firmly, making the toys seem way more fun than they actually are (as if we were on a QVC program), ignoring, and, of course, praying ("dear Lord, I know I said I wanted a child....."). The only reason we didn't take him out of the restaurant was because I didn't want him to learn that he could get out of things by screaming and having a fit. Maybe we're nuts.

While Mateo continued to have his fit, I'm looking around to assess the level of embarrassment I'm experiencing. Honestly, I really didn't think it was that bad. There was loud music playing in the background, most of the other diners also had children, and no one seemed to care. While I thought it wasn't that bad, the restaurant manager did not agree. He sent the assistant manager over to "help out". This is what he said.

"Well! He's an active little guy isn't he?" In a voice sounding as cheery as possible when telling someone they're child is being a brat. "Maybe we could get him some apples!"


"Sure, get him some apples. Watch him throw them at your face", is what I wanted to say. "Thank you", is what I said. Well, apples didn't work, no surprise there. But french fries did, just before we were about to get kicked out. The rest of the meal was uneventful. We did go out with a bang though. Mateo popping his balloon.

Easter 2008. Mateo finds his Easter basket. Yes, that is easter grass all over the table. I was trying to be festive. And yes, we are still finding it all over the house today. And finally, yes, I do regret it.

Mateo searching for easter eggs. He was only interested in finding the jelly beans.

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