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.