My 2-year-old son wiggled in the high chair, happily nibbling on the snacks spread before him as I looked over the menu, enjoying my napping 4-month-old daughter beside me.
The hostess approached the table next to ours, sweeping her arm out to encourage an older couple to have a seat. The woman took one look at my table and said at full volume, with a hungry mouth full of disgust, "I don't sit near children. Put us somewhere else."
It happened again about five minutes later.
And just about every other time I found myself at a restaurant alone with my kids over the years.
My kids are typical kids. Yes, they sometimes forget that Indoor Voice was invented for a reason, and think the space under the table is full of wonderful mysteries they must solve, but they've been going out to restaurants for meals since before they ate anything other than off the boob bar.
They know what our expectations are when dining out, and we've practiced a lot.
We've also faced a lot of dining room discrimination over the years. People openly looking at us like we were feral beasts screaming while gnawing on our bloodied and battered waiter for lunch, rather than happily chattering away as we worked on drawings, Tic-Tac-Toe, or puzzles to pass the time 'til food arrived.
Yes, please move us away from these unsightly creatures! I hear they keep Sharpies in hidden pockets and draw facial hair on anyone who dares make direct eye contact! Their preference for blue-box mac and cheese is also quite contagious! We must hurry!
With the price of eating out what it is these days, you can rest assured that I haven't been taking the kids to posh restaurants in Manhattan at 9:00 p.m. They eat at kid times and in at least moderately kid-friendly places. Yet, every single time we're out to eat, I watch someone draw back in horror at the thought of eating within earshot of my offspring -- no matter how well they are behaving at the time.
Recently, my 6-year-old daughter escorted me to the mall to do some errands, and she asked to go to The Cheesecake Factory as a reward -- that girl cannot get enough of their spaghetti Bolognese.
As usual, we were seated in the midst of a sea of empty tables, feeling the breeze of patrons preferring spots away from my pint-sized companion. Throughout the meal, multiple waiters and staff popped over to compliment her on how nicely she sat there with me, ate, and conversed with me like a civil human being. You know, because we are civil human beings.
This begs the question:
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Wait -- nope, that's not the right question.
Ah, here it is:
If my kids behave well in a restaurant and no one will sit close enough to us to witness it, did it really happen?
I find these days that people want kids to behave like adults, but without giving them a very adult example to mirror.
You want my kids to act properly in a restaurant? How about you act properly in a restaurant? Stop being openly judgy of children, rude to the waitstaff and dismissive of a parent's ability to teach her kids how to act in public.
How well do you think it would go over if I crinkled my nose and said "Oh NO. I don't sit near old people/men in flannel/unmarried couples/women who wear Bump-Its. Please IMMEDIATELY seat me elsewhere. And fast!"?
As parents, we have to assume the worst behavior from our kids and prepare for it, but let them know we expect the best. This means packing crayons, making sure we get to the restaurant before they are ready to implode from hunger, and following through on our warnings/reprimands.
As people, we have to assume that the children around us are learning and trying and watching and mimicking. This means acting in a way we'd like the people around us, the next generations, to act, and giving kids the chance to prove they can behave in public before shunning them.
So, the next time you happen to see a tall blonde lady and her blue-eyed kids splitting a serving of spaghetti Bolognese at your local Cheesecake Factory, instead of running in the opposite direction, how about you have a seat by us, give us a chance? We promise not to disturb you.
Heck, if you ask nicely, we might even share our crayons with you.
Tomie dePaola's 1975 book about an elderly woman's magical pasta pot won him the Caldecott Honor in the next year.
Eric Carle wrote and illustrated this book about a caterpillar who eats its way through chocolate cake, ice-cream, a pickle, Swiss cheese, salami, a lollipop, cherry pie, a sausage, a cupcake, a slice of watermelon and more before emerging as a butterfly. Published in 1969, it was declared by The New Yorks one of the "Ten Best Picture Books of the Year."
Roald Dahl's 1964 story about Charlie Bucket and legendary chocolatier Willy Wonka has inspired two film versions and won numerous awards.
This 1985 book by Laura Numeroff chronicles what happens when you give a mouse of cookie. Spoiler: He's going to want some milk to go with it.
The book that inspired the popular animated film in 2009 is based on this 1978 book by Judi Barrett. It tells the story of the town of Chewandswallow, where the weather comes three times a day, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the form of raining food.
This 1970 book by beloved children's author Maurice Sendak -- who also wrote "Where the Wild Things Are" -- is about a young boy who dreams a journey through a surreal baker's kitchen. Despite many awards, it lit a firestorm of controversy stemming from depictions of nudity.
Depictions of food in Roald Dahl's books aren't limited to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." They litter his other works, including 1961's "James and the Giant Peach" about a boy who goes on a journey inside the large eponymous fruit.
This classic folktale got a retelling in 1968 by Ann McGovern. In it, a young man tricks an old woman into believing a soup can be made with a stone; he encourages to add more and more ingredients until she creates a delicious meal for them both.
Dr. Seuss's famous ode to picky eaters was written in 1960 and continues to be one of the best-selling children's books of all time.
This book by Mitchell Sharmat tells the story of a goat who swaps normal goat foods like shoes and tin cans for fruits, vegetables, eggs and orange juice.
This postmodern children's book from 1992 features slightly-demented versions of classic stories and fairytales. And, of course, a stinky cheese man.
This 1984 book follows the story of a mouse who does all he can to save his strawberry from being eaten by a big, hungry bear.
This book, published in 1948, won the Caldecott Honor the next year. In the story, Sal and her mother go to the country and pick blueberries for winter.
Marcia Leonard's 1989 playful book asks the reader to decide whether or not Frog should eat his rainboots.
Follow Kim Bongiorno on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LetMeStart