We have all been there. At first you are enjoying those first sweet months where your baby will sit, maybe even SLEEP, quietly through a meal at a restaurant. "This is so great!" you think. "What were people talking about when they said you'll never go out to eat again?" you wonder, as you gaze lovingly at your little sleeping bundle of joy while you sip a glass of wine and peruse the appetizer section of the menu.
Other patrons may pass you on their way out, pausing for a second to gush over the baby, and maybe you'll feel just a little smug and self satisfied that you are one of THOSE parents, one of those parents who still CAN go out to eat even though you have a baby. You're not chained to the house! Not you! That is, until you begin to enter the Restaurant Danger Zone.
It comes on slowly at first. They start getting more active, and more demanding of entertainment. So you throw a few more toys into the baby bag, no big deal! Maybe they start being a touch loud, still fine, still fine! You can STILL go out to eat, and at the same time you also perfect the "Apologetic Parent Face." You know the one. The one that is sort of like a facial shrug, like "I'm really sorry, I know my child is being loud but I am a good parent and I will try to remedy this ASAP." The one that cuts you some slack, especially from other parents. (This is also the facial expression you wear the ENTIRE TIME when traveling by plane with a baby, BTW.)
But then, those blissful lunches and dinners your child happily sat through start to dissolve into an anxiety-filled mess where you start eyeing the exits before you are even seated. Then you ask the waiter to bring your child's food AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE because maybe that will buy you some time. Your child might trick you into thinking that you can, in fact, pull this off with your dignity intact, but then the restlessness starts. They have gone through every toy and distraction in your bag of tricks and every crayon is now on the floor and they want OUT of that highchair. You start to shovel food in your mouth like you're in the pie eating scene from Stand By Me all the while frantically waving your waiter over to simultaneously ask for the check and a to-go box for the rest of your meal because your toddler is about to commence epic meltdown in t-minus two minutes.
Sometimes, you can make it outside before it starts. And sometimes not. Sometimes one of you (if you are lucky enough to have another baby-holding adult with you) can take the child outside for a couple minutes, at which point a few blessed moments of relief will wash over you and you can actually finish your entree without the danger of choking on it as you inhale it. The adult outside will play a game, let the child run down the sidewalk, whatever they need to do to just get it done, and then you'll switch. Oh no, you are not off scot-free, you must do your duty as the "walking around with the antsy toddler" parent too.
My husband Sean and I have recently entered this phase, which is why I share it with you today. For almost two years now WE were those eating at restaurant parents, and for the most part it went pretty smoothly. But lately, taking our son Jack to a restaurant is like playing a game of potentially seriously cranky toddler hot potato and I'm not sure if I spend more time trying to keep him entertained or actually eating my $19 salmon.
Like the other day, we wanted to try going out for dinner. Sure, we had been out already at the pumpkin patch AND the apple orchard, but we had a sippy cup for Jack, his Hedgie, a TON of crayons and toys and whatnot, and a nearly fully charged iPhone full of Toca Boca apps to bust out in absolute emergency situations.
We should have known. Take a toddler who hasn't napped to dinner? IN A RESTAURANT WITH OTHER PEOPLE IN IT?! But no, we did it anyway. I really wanted Mexican food and a margarita, so we took the chance. It did not work out in our favor. You know it's bad when they start to get cranky before you've even ordered and you sit there and wonder if you should just abandon ship right from the get go. But we felt bad, they had already brought chips and water and man I REALLY wanted that margarita, so we forged ahead, blindly ignoring the pretty blatant warning signals Jack was sending out like the bat signal to get the F out of there before he changed into a terrible toddler monster. The girl waiting on our table had some special waitress sixth sense and even warned me that I should just order my margarita immediately because "it would take a while" and I did, so we were locked in.
Long story short, I spent most of the time entertaining a child who clearly did not want to be there, Sean and I taking turns to walk him around outside so we didn't disturb the other diners too much, while Finn and Lev happily colored and ate their tacos. So now, I get it. He's in the Restaurant Danger Zone. I didn't want to admit it, because I really LIKE going out to eat with the whole family, but I will cool it for a while with Jack. Partially because it is disruptive to everyone else, partially because I don't feel like paying to go out to eat when it turns out to be a stressful, nerve wracking experience for all of us.
And, before I know it, we'll be back in that sweet spot again, because that's where we are with Finn and Lev. They know the drill, they are old enough to sit in their seats and use good manners and keep the noise level to at least a basic modicum of politeness. Until then, it's either leaving the kids with a sitter or staying home. But don't worry, if I see you out and you have a toddler ticking time bomb in a restaurant, I will give you that other face that parents develop. The "I've Been There" face. The one that is meant to convey silent support, to tell you to hang in there, that you aren't judging them, and to go ahead and just order the margarita anyway.