Us: Eating... Well

Going out to eat as a family can be fun and special but it’s laced with hidden pockets of chaos. Hope and I would sit in restaurants before having children, smugly judging the families dealing with out of control kids, always punctuating our critique with, “That will not be happening on our watch.” And then our watch happened and another world opened up to us. And it was not a place we recognized. Initially, it was easy. The combination of having the world's most content child in William and he being the only child for 22 months made for a mostly drama free experience in public. Right before he turned two we added Laura and, as explained in a previous post, taking everyone out at once became dangerous while she struggled to cope with her new life outside the womb and was hardly worth the effort. It was a time to introduce everyone to take-out and the joys of eating someone else's food in your house.

Eventually, Laura settled down, then Jordan was born and we began braving the world of restaurants more and more. Granted, we were eating at barbecue joints, sandwich shops and pretty much anywhere that kids could eat for free or, at the most, for a dollar, but that also meant that every other family in town was going to be there as well. And that also meant more kids than adults and a chance to witness every possible form of behavior—good, but mostly bad. And like dogs being inspired to join in when one of their neighborhood brethren decides to howl, the kids tended to feed off the energy generated in the dining room and the potential for disaster hung like a fog over every table. I often had trouble enjoying my meal because I was so concerned with my kids losing all sense of composure and joining the Lords of the Flies gathering by the round table in the back. So in order to bring some control over my group of food nomads and for me to actually appreciate a meal, I decided to set up something called The Restaurant Rules.

They were simple, not complicated by any stretch of the imagination, for one reason only—I needed them to be understood by small children with the attention spans of a ketchup packet. The rules were 1) no running around, 2) no yelling or loud talking (i.e. use your “inside voice”) and 3) no pitching a fit for any reason whatsoever. Consequences ranged from a withering stare (from mom) to leaving the establishment with a parent and sitting in the car until the rest of the family was finished eating (dad duty). We had a shaky start and we were tested, as is common, but after missing a meal while sitting in the car with dad once or twice, mindsets were altered and things settled down quickly. And it always helped that Laura considered herself an adult since she turned three and was more than happy to assist in policing the boy's behavior by shushing and adding her own version of a withering stare. The first few times we ventured out as a five-some, I would stop the car in the parking lot, turn to the back seat and go over the rules, slowly reiterating the ramifications if rules were broken, and end with, “Is everyone clear?” Once they all three verbally agreed, we would enter the restaurant. That exercise evolved into saying, “Remember, Restaurant Rules” as we were walking in and it finally became a simple, Remember... and they would mutter, Restaurant rules, yeah, yeah. Of course, by then they were teenagers so their lack of enthusiasm was almost understandable.

What never seemed to get adjusted was the cone of destruction that we would inevitably leave behind. From our view, the table surface always seemed fairly tidy. Most of the kids food was on their plate or in their hair, but at least it was contained. And then we would stand up, wipe everyone down, load up the bags and supplies and begin the process of paying and leaving. And I would make the mistake of looking back and discovering the floor around our table looked like a battleground. Cracker and bread shrapnel mixed with discarded vegetable ammo and utensils scattered in a messy circle, letting the world know we had been there. It was humiliating and it only got worse. As we began eating out with friends who had kids, the crumb explosion expanded and got deeper. But short of getting down on our hands and knees and cleaning it up ourselves, we were usually reduced to an embarrassed, Sorry for the mess comment to the woefully underpaid bus boy. Yes, our offspring were pigs but at least they behaved. And there really is some consolation in that.

1 comment:

Paige said...

You guys were brave! I still haven't braved any other restaurant than chick-fil-a and an occasional mexican restaurant with our kids! I may, however, have to steal the "Restaurant Rules."