Our family was out at a restaurant not long ago for lunch. Those of you with young children can appreciate the complexity of dining out with children; it can be a bit hit and miss as to whether it is going to be successful or not. On this particular occasion, we were out for a celebratory lunch with the family. I was sitting at the table going through the motions of facilitating my children:
Getting the high chair,
Ordering a starter before they began to whine,
Getting drink bottles out ready,
Realizing I had forgot to fill the drink bottles,
Requesting table water to fill drink bottles,
Gratefully accepting crayons and colouring pages,
Quickly scouring the menu for what my kids will want to eat in between glances to make sure they are not into any trouble
… you know the routine.
While all this was happening, my little darlings were excited to be in a new restaurant. Naturally, they wanted to:
Explore- in, around and on the table,
Go to the toilet, or flat out refuse to go the toilet despite doing the ‘toilet dance’
Sit next to this person, no that person, on your lap, on his lap, then…Didn’t want to sit at all,
Didn’t want anything on the menu other than a serving of the ice cream they saw brought to a nearby table
… again, you know the routine.
I felt like we had completely disturbed the peace, apologetic to anyone hoping for a quiet lunch date, even though it was a family restaurant.
I’ve learnt to plan ahead for these occasions. I know that when I get there, my mind will be so busy with so many things that I will barely find a coherent train of thought, let alone be able to read the menu with any level of comprehension. I even try to look at the menu online before we go out. At least then I can avoid making the poor waitress come back and forth hoping I have reached a decision between my cleaning up spills and dissolving tantrums.
Well anyway, there we are in the restaurant waiting for our meal; the kids were momentarily settled, so I took the opportunity to look around at the other diners, partly expecting to see some frustrated looks at the kids making all the racket. But it wasn’t the case. The first people I saw were a young couple—I guess still dating—there having lunch. They had noticed my two-year-old son, who by now was also looking at them, and said hello to him. It was very apparent that they were all gooey eyed over this little blonde haired, blue eyed, dimple faced boy. As they looked at him, I could see in them a sense of hope and vision for what might lie in their future.
“What’s your name?” The girl asked. “How old are you?” “Sure, you can have a piece of my chocolate cake.” After a few moments, she looked at me and commented, “he is so cute.” I said to her, “yeah, you’re right, he is incredibly cute, but that charm comes with a lot of cheek!” As I said it, however, I thought back to when I was still dreamy eyed like that young girl. I just wanted kids, I wasn’t thinking about attitudes or tantrums. Of course, I wasn’t completely naïve, I knew kids had their challenges, but I figured that the cuteness would make up for all that; all I thought about was sitting in a restaurant, asking for a highchair, and ordering a babycino for my adorable toddler. Back then, the highchair was a dream and desire, not a dread.
I kept looking around at the other diners when I caught the gaze of two elderly ladies. They were looking at us and our children, not with frustration that we had disturbed their peace, but rather, with big smiles of their faces. They were looking adoringly at my garlic bread faced children, as if they wanted to put them on their laps and chat away to them. Initially, I was simply relieved that we were not disrupting them. But then I was also reminded that, for these women, the season of young children was long gone. For them, all that was now just a lot of good memories. Of course, they had their bad moments as well, but none of those could overshadow the joys they experienced. Joys they were remembering as they looked at my kids. As I watched these ladies, I could absolutely see myself one day gazing longingly at another young family in the same way. At the moment, I am often too deep in it and generally too consumed by it, but I know that I will miss it so much when it’s passed.
As I looked around, part of me was envious of those other diners having civilized conversation, eating at tidy tables, having meals to themselves. But, at the same time, I had to pause and remember that I would not want to be sitting in that restaurant in any other capacity than I was at that moment. Until the next tantrum, of course.