I remember sitting in a restaurant with my husband Chris, long before we had kids. At the table next to us sat a family of six: Mom, Dad and their four kids, ranging in ages from five to twelve, or so I guessed. They all sat, quietly enjoying their lunch, chatting back and forth with one another. Chris and I turned to the couple and asked “What’s your secret? Your kids are so well-behaved.” They sort of shrugged their shoulders and said their kids always behaved this well. I told Chris that if we have kids they’ll be equally disciplined, unlike those animals our friends have sired. Ah, such a foolish and naïve statement made by one who had yet to bear fruit…
Looking back I wonder if perhaps those kids were lobotomized because I’ve yet to see children so well-behaved in a restaurant, unless of course they have something electronic entertaining them. Or maybe those kids, like Lady Gaga, were born that way. The parents seemed to be sweet, quiet people, probably from the Midwest where values are more homegrown. These parents didn’t look like they’d ever caused anyone an ounce of trouble and the kids were following in their footsteps. If this was the secret, Chris and I were screwed. We are not laid back, sweet, trouble-free people. As I’ve mentioned here before, I come from a line of Italian women, which explains a lot if you’ve ever seen “The Sopranos.” My husband is of German descent– can you say intense? We met in a bar in Boston after way too many martinis; I as a newly divorced thirty-something lawyer and he as a 29 year old who was “in between careers.” He formerly worked as a bouncer on Landsdowne Street, where he’d been threatened at gunpoint, more than once. He was known to smoke cigarettes, drink Jack and Coke and wear faux leather pants. I was known to be buying bagels and coffee on a Sunday morning, still wearing the previous night’s high heels. We are not the type of people who breed and create sweet, innocent, laid-back off-spring. But we could hope, right?
When my first son Cole was born he was quite the chill baby – surprise! We brought him everywhere. As an infant he would sleep in his little bucket while we wined and dined, and our waiter ooh’d and aaah’d over his cuteness. Right after Cole turned one, I turned forty so my husband planned a vacation in Sonoma to celebrate. Cole accompanied us to wineries, fancy dinners, and even a loud bar in San Francisco where he slept in the ergo on my chest while I drank a scorpion bowl. We smugly attributed this to our parenting style: bring your kids everywhere and they will adapt! We scoffed at people who told as that having kids would change our lives. Not OUR lives. We must be doing it right.
Then we had Gage. He blew our world apart and showed us what life with a baby is really like. Although we were still able to do our bucket trick when he was an infant, life quickly deteriorated as he got older. Going anywhere with him has always been a challenge to say the least. And although Cole was once as laid back as Bob Marley, he’s now got some fire in his belly thanks to his brother. Together they are like dynamite: explosive.
Every restaurant outing is a fucking nightmare. Take one night in February for example: We went to a local restaurant/watering hole called Simply Simons. It’s the type of neighborhood joint where the fish and chips are salty and the clientele is saltier; where the wine list is short and the waitresses are even shorter (thank you osteoporosis!). It’s the type of place I desperately missed when I lived in Southern California. Not having had more than a ten minute conversation with my husband in two weeks, we were determined to have a nice night. Having no sitter on hand, we opted to bring the boys but decided to also bring an arsenal of entertainment: portable DVD player, iphones (to play Angry Birds or watch something on Netflix. You know, in case the DVD selection got boring), crayons and coloring books, trains, cars, snacks (yes snacks in a restaurant, in case the food didn’t arrive fast enough – I know, I know). These kids lacked nothing. We even sat near the jukebox so they could play with the buttons.
How was it you ask? It SUCKED. Gage stood up in his chair and began howling like a werewolf who just turned at the full moon. He wouldn’t stop. So we turned on a movie but he kept pushing the buttons on the DVD player and turning it off so now Cole’s whining and complaining, so Chris gave him his iphone so he could watch something on Netflix. This worked for a few minutes until he encountered the dreaded “buffer” (kids have no patience for buffering, have you noticed?). Gage sees his brother with a phone and wants one too so I offered up mine but he gets frustrated every 45 seconds because he’s really too young to refrain from pushing the buttons and eventually turning it off (didn’t we get that from the DVD player fiasco?). My husband and I ate and drank at record speed, so quickly that I didn’t even notice I’d had three glasses of wine. My husband too had several Jack and cokes; the booze coupled with the kids’ meals, the appetizers and our dinners all combined for a whopper of a bill, which at this place I would think impossible. When we finally got to the car I fell into my seat and said “Are you kidding me! We just spent $85 to eat in hell???”
Why do we bother? I’m not sure I know the answer to this question. In part it’s because I like to go out to eat. Sometimes I don’t feel like planning, cooking and cleaning up after yet another meal. It’s a lot of work you know! It’s also partly because I think my kids should learn how to behave in a restaurant so the more we go the more rote this will become, right? Wrong…so very, very wrong, as we have proven. It’s time to either change the status quo or give up on going out to dinner. My husband is fine with the latter; easy for him to say when I do all of the cooking. So we’ll change our strategy instead.
I decided to once again try the minimalist approach. It’s so far been successful with the toys and the food so I thought maybe it will work in a restaurant. Maybe, just maybe, all that crap we bring with us has the same overstimulation effect it has at home. I didn’t start out that way; I used to only bring a few toys with me, but they weren’t enough so I started bringing more and more; next thing you know we’re at Simply Simon’s with a useless DVD player, two whiny kids and two drunk parents. Let’s start from scratch and bring NOTHING.
Next trick: bribery. I told my five year old that if he behaved in the restaurant AND helped teach his brother how to behave, I would give him a sticker. Five stickers = one Power Ranger (please don’t point out my hypocrisy here…I’m aware and am ignoring it, thank you very much). He was thrilled. Before we arrived at the restaurant we reviewed our plan. I asked him what “behave in a restaurant” means and he told me “sit quietly and don’t have any fun.” I’m impressed that he was willing to forgo fun for a mere sticker but I made sure to tell him he was allowed to have fun; he just wasn’t allowed to throw food, get up from the table, yell, stand up in his chair, scream, fight with his brother or harass fellow diners. I’m not sure what that leaves other than eating but we’d see.
I held my breath and walked into the restaurant with nothing but my wallet, car keys and cell phone (which I kept hidden – sorry kids, no Angry Birds today). I use the term “restaurant” loosely because it’s really more of an ice cream parlor. Those of you from Rhode Island know it well: Newport Creamery. It might seem wimpy to start here as it’s one of the most kid-friendly places on the planet but I certainly wasn’t going to experiment somewhere fancy, especially being completely unarmed. We sat down and ordered our food. I tried to be relaxed and not feel like we had to order our food immediately, then scoff it down without swallowing. The waitress brought over crayons and I sneered at them as they typically provided zero entertainment value for my kids, other than something to throw at one another.
Then something miraculous happened. Cole started to color. He focused all of his attention on his placemat, which featured an alien eating an ice cream cone. He colored that placemat like it was the Sistine Chapel. Gage, seeing his older brother so engrossed, was content to race his one, lonely car up and down the salt shaker (he doesn’t go anywhere without Lightning McQueen). He even tried coloring like his brother. I don’t know if it was the sticker incentive, or the lack of anything else to do, or my “I’m not taking anymore of your shit” demeanor but whatever it was, it worked! We enjoyed lunch in a restaurant! I couldn’t believe it.
We’ve since gone out to eat several times and it’s not always seamless, though I will say that Cole quickly earned his five stickers. There are good times and there are bad times; better when there’s not a full moon. I’m starting to realize that that’s the best you can hope for when you have kids, unless you’re willing to give them Benadryl before every outing. Despite the name of my blog, I’m really not one for abusing controlled substances so I guess holding on to those good times and riding out the bad ones is the only way to go. I do know one thing: I will not give up going to restaurants, no matter how miserable it may be at times. I refuse to give up everything I enjoy and permanently enter the world of kids. That’s one place I’ll never survive.
© 2012 KIM KINZIE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPUBLICATION OR REDISTRIBUTION OF CONTENT, TEXT OR IMAGE, IN PART OR IN WHOLE IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT FROM THE AUTHOR.