Eating out with a toddler is one of those experiences you come out of vowing never to repeat again. As is the case with any traumatic experience, the mind develops coping mechanisms that seem to reduce the gravity of such instances of utter humiliation and sooner or later you find yourself standing in front of a lovely hostess convinced that your child has matured tremendously since your last public offense. You smile and say, “Table for two and a baby, please.” Poor soul, she has no clue what’s about to go down. What you really should be saying to her is, “Table for two and a hurricane, please” because quite frankly, from the moment you walk in your child will unleash a trail of destruction that spans the distance from the entrance of the restaurant to the table you’re seated at and the surrounding 30 foot radius. It is hard to believe that such a tiny little thing could single-handedly wreak havoc on a place easily ten times the size of your home, that’s why I liken our outings to hurricanes. On a good day we’re looking at a category 2 or 3, a few breadcrumbs here and there, maybe some spilt juice and an autographed menu. On a bad day, however, we’re talking full-on category 5 don’t even think of returning to that restaurant ’cause they’ll spit in your food scenario. This is the kind of disaster that no one sees coming and leaves everyone shell-shocked in its passing. Spilled drinks are just the beginning, imagine yourself trying to simultaneously clean up smeared diaper cream off of all the chairs at the table with one hand while repacking the entire contents of your diaper bag with the other, meanwhile you’re child is “makin’ it rain” with the sugar packets and asking the neighboring table to dance. Your husband is trying to act like he’s not aware of the situation by making small talk with the waitress, only he’s really distracting her from noticing that your child’s entire plate now lays on the floor, half eaten and shredded into a million little pieces. As if that weren’t bad enough, you have to try to contain the little beast so as to avoid a visit to the ER, apparently toddlers have a hard time understanding that highchairs are meant to be sat on, not jumped off of. And yet we go back for more…why?
Why? I’ll tell you why. When most parents decide to take on the task of leaving the house with their monster (I mean child) it’s because they’re desperate. Cabin fever has struck and you are left with no other choice than to gather the troops and head into battle. To add insult to injury, my husband and I consider ourselves foodies, or at least wanna be foodies. One can then imagine that we happen to enjoy eating out, but ever since becoming parents we avoid it like the plague. This shouldn’t be the case, though. Hence we insist on trying to find “kid-friendly” places that allow us to eat without almost choking and stumbling over the next table in attempts to stop our child from tipping over the fish tank at the entrance and other such lovely demonstrations of her physical agility. With this in mind, the following are what we like to call our ‘Guidelines to not getting thrown out of a restaurant’:
- Bigger is not better; while hitting up a place like The Cheesecake Factory might seem like a good idea, it’s not. The bigger the place, the more opportunity for large-scale destruction. Not to mention that there are more patrons to engulf into your child’s cone of destruction. Scout your local area for smaller restaurants, trust me, I’m saving you some serious sweat mileage.
- Speaking of smaller restaurants, look for your local Thai joint. If you’re lucky to find the secret hole-in-the-wall authentic thai place, then you’ve hit the jackpot. It is most likely not going to be the “happening” place to be, which means you can go whenever the fuck you like! This translates to…have a few beers with your din while your child learns thai and plays some made-up indoor sport with the waitress. Just to cover my own ass here, let me go a step further and explain that I am not discriminating nor being an ignorant bitch, Thai people happen to be baby lovers. They also happen to have a deep-rooted sense of community when it comes to raising children. I was once handed a baby while seated at the back of a pick-up truck on my way to hike a waterfall on an island in the Gulf of Thailand. A Thai lady literally handed me her baby, did a little shopping and then collected her child back and carried on with her business. This has happened on several occasions to several other people. I know of someone whose child was literally taken from them at a market, with no ill-intent and then safely returned. It’s a wonderful thing I’m telling you! I wish more people walked up to me and took my child at their leisure…
- Learn how to say hello, please, and thank you in the respective languages spoken by the staff; if you’re child is already talking, teach them too. That’ll guarantee you at least a good 30 mins of free babysitting courtesy of the wait staff, who will be so enamored by your child’s linguistic genius that you’ll be able to actually eat while seated instead of having to chow down while hovering over your seat in a permanent squat stance that leaves your quads sore for days to come.
- Starve your child in preparation for your lunch or dinner outing. No, I don’t actually mean deprive them completely of food (or do I? hmmm…) All I’m saying is that if they’re starving they will eat whatever you put in front of them and will actually stay at the table rather than turning the place into their own personal obstacle course.
- If you are looking for an opportunity to show off that cute white top you just purchased, this is NOT the occasion to do so. In fact, I encourage you to opt out of wearing anything other than heavily patterned clothing for family outings, as you will most likely end up covered in some sort of sauce, drink, gooey substance mixture that will require several applications of stain-busting sprays to remove.
- Bring back up: a sister, cousin, or any willing third party is welcome. Stick to family members for the most part, as they are usually the ones least bothered to get up and retrieve your child from crashing a stranger’s dessert course.
- Adhere to a strict off-hours schedule when dining out; that means late lunch (4pm) or early dinner (6pm). Dinner is the riskier of the two meals to venture out to because at 6pm you might run into the senior crowd that will either love your little one or want to kill you with their forks.
- Lastly, bring back up junk food. Yes, junk food. I’m aware that as mothers we strive to feed our children wholesome organic foods, but there’s nothing like dangling a cookie in front of your kid to get them to stay put for a whopping 10 seconds. If you insist on keeping your kid’s intestines junk-free then go ahead and bring a carrot, we’ll see how excited he/she will be at the sight of it…