Once upon a time, in a land far far away, I used to go out to eat. I’d go with the hubs, maybe my sisters or best friends, possibly coworkers, oftentimes family. We’d have drinks, sit at the table and chat for an hour or two or three. Back when I went out to eat with family and friends, we would sit at a table or booth, on the patio, or even at the bar. If there were four of us eating, we required just four seats! Occasionally, someone in our party would use the restroom. This was a peaceful, uneventful process that involved saying, “Excuse me, I’m going to use the restroom.” Then the person would casually walk to the restrooms, where they could reach the faucet to wash hands all by themselves, and return quietly to the table.
In this faraway land of restaurant dining, the living was easy. The servers brought drinks without lids, kid menus didn’t exist, and I never once wiped another person’s rear in a bathroom stall. Rarely did anyone climb on the table or break down crying because they wanted out.
In real life now, eating out is an experience that will test your clinical strength deodorant. Got a baby? Bring the diaper bag and infant carrier and ask for an upside-down high chair to set it in. Got a toddler? Bring the sippy cup, snacks, hand wipes, crayons, iPhone games, and toy cars. Ask for a high chair or booster seat and plan on using neither and both. Make a tour of the bathroom facilities at least three times. Pay $8 for a grilled cheese to throw on the floor, and eat as fast as you can because the kid is done in four minutes and you’re the live entertainment.
Friday night, my sisters and brother-in-law and I took our five kids to a restaurant that was not ChikfilA or McDonalds. Note that I said “Friday night.” And “restaurant.” And FIVE KIDS. We broke the recommended adult to kid ratio, which is 4:1 for a successful meal, with a regrettable 4:5. Four to one is recommended because it allows two people to have a conversation while the other two traipse back and forth to the bathroom and bob up and down trying to talk while retrieving dropped cups and forks because that’s a really fun game that never gets old.
The nine of us survived a one-hour wait for an extremely long booth in which the only choice was to put the two toddlers on the very inside so we could manage the three babies on the outside. This resulted in literally passing children overhead to get out to go potty, and please, hostess, do not seat five kids and four adults at a dark booth with slippery crayons ever again.
All told, one baby slept, one drank a bottle, one cried, one toddler announced to the room that she “went poo poo,” one toddler sucked down three glasses of lemonade, and four adults chugged their beers and asked for the check, wondering what’s happened to their lives and remembering that time they patronized multiple restaurants in Italy without a single tantrum.
This meal was part of my and Trev and Claire’s weekend tour of the panhandle and the three of us ate out together no less than six times. At some point, parents do have to take their kids to public dining establishments that do not have playground equipment if they ever want them to morph from cavemen to people, and we got a lot of practice. We met up with my best friend Kins and her two boys on Friday, and at one point during lunch at Chuy’s, there was literally a dog pile in our corner booth. On Saturday evening, T and C and I were on our own at Rosa’s. A big challenge of eating out with two kids (1:2 ratio, unacceptable) is inevitably cramming both of them in the bathroom stall. So I thought ahead on that one and T peed in the grass outside before we went in. Proactive parenting right there.
For those of you who do not take toddlers to nice restaurants and just want to dine in peace: I’m sorry. You are cooler than me and your pits aren’t sweaty and you can get in the car when your meal is over without changing a diaper on the floorboard and buckling car seats and adjusting video player headphones. But thanks for smiling at my kids and waving bye-bye back to them and sharing sympathetic looks when I’m hauling all our crap past your table. Thanks for stopping to tell me how cute they are and picking up a toy and chatting with my son. Someday when I’m back in your world, I’ll do the same for the crazy-eyed mom shoveling food in faces and trying to raise her kids to be socially acceptable diners and just plain good people.