Going out to eat used to be one of my favourite pastimes. I would spend a couple of hours getting glammed up, putting on a nice dress, a pair of high heels and a shiny new lip gloss. My hair took an age to straighten but it was always worth it when I got that much-coveted compliment from my other half.
I would pore over the menu laboriously. Every time I got to the end I would go back to the beginning and check through again, almost as if I was expecting a new addition to have miraculously appeared. Then I would order a similar meal to the previous time I had gone out. And the time before that. And the five times before that.
The wine flowed, tomorrow’s hangover a foregone conclusion. Great food, drink and company. And a whole bucketful of self-confidence as the sound of laughter erupted through the bustling restaurant. This was my scene and I loved it.
These days, going out to eat usually includes a pair of smart jeans, my iPhone and of course the fidget-bums that are my two children.
First there is the agonising choice of where to go, knowing that many places are now ‘out of bounds’. Those favourite haunts from years gone by are now reserved for precious few date nights and I’m more likely to take the kids out at lunchtime instead. Mostly, this is because we’re quite strict about bedtimes but also because taking small children into a restaurant in the evening is just full of catastrophes and loud pointed sighs waiting to happen.
So venue chosen, we then have to time it just right to fit it in around my youngest child’s nap. It becomes a military-type operation and don’t even get me started on how long it takes to get the bag packed. There’s nappies, wet-wipes, toddler cutlery and bib, juice, colouring books and crayons, books, toys… You get the picture.
We eventually make it out and get shown to a table. Then comes the fuss over which seat my eldest child wants and trying to find a spare highchair. It seems that everyone else with a toddler is in this very same place right now. We eventually get seated and the waiter appears with menus, before asking what we would like to drink. This always amazes me. How do I know what I want to drink, I’ve only just been given the menu and I am too busy trying to get my children organised as quietly as possible!
I hastily give my drinks order, before then beginning my attempt to look at the menu. The days when I could read it from front to back twice are long gone. I now scan it as quickly as I can, the only thing missing is the supermarket till beep as my eyes dart over the page. By the time I’ve glanced at 5 dishes, I’ve picked up 2 crayons from the floor, wiped a snotty nose and mopped up a spilled drink. I think my husband spoke but I’m not too sure among all the chaos.
Eventually, after asking the waiter to come back twice and then having to wait ages as they have seemingly given up trying, I order. The same dish as always, obviously. My eldest child suddenly decides that he wants something else and then there is a pregnant pause, before I rather tightly explain he needs to tell the nice man what he wants very quickly. He eventually decides on his original choice.
The next fifteen minutes are a mixture of happy colouring, a few sips of wine and countless questions of ‘how long will my dinner be?’ When the food arrives, all distractions are hurriedly put away into the bag, while the now harassed waiter looks for somewhere to put the plates. Next comes the challenge of cutting up my youngest child’s meal and cooling it down, because of course it’s piping hot, before she kicks off because her brother is already eating.
At last, we are all eating and it is quiet. We can enjoy our family meal and a bit of bonding time. Except that it’s difficult to relax when on top of everything I’ve already mentioned, there is the couple of a certain age still glaring in our direction because their nice quiet lunch has been completely ruined by the presence of my two, actually quite well-behaved children. They have behaved like children, so of course this must be what is unacceptable. I’m assuming they either haven’t had children, it was so long ago they’ve forgotten the challenges or are just completely heartless.
I find myself repeatedly telling my children to be quiet, even though they are just talking and giggling at a reasonable level. I get myself in a flap because I’m desperate not to encroach on anyone else’s experience and I become more concerned with how their lunch is going than my own.
Ridiculous. They aren’t running around the restaurant, tripping up the waiters. They aren’t shouting and screaming and they aren’t throwing anything. If my children behaved like this, I would be marching them straight out the door by their ears.
Yes, children can be a bit loud. No, children aren’t very good at sitting still. Yes, my husband and I do our very upmost to keep them well-behaved. We avoid certain types of venues and times, we bring distractions such as colouring books and we keep them engaged in conversation and games of eye-spy. I don’t think there’s much more we can do, other then maybe relax a little and enjoy our family bonding time, ignoring Mr and Mrs Killjoy.
In today’s busy society, daily family meal times in the home have become all but extinct. It is nice to get out and eat together and it also helps children learn how to behave in public. Because that’s what children are doing, learning. They are little versions of us, observing, copying and at times rebelling. I’m sure some people forget that they too were once these funny little people, at times unaware of how to behave and at others pushing the boundaries.
I won’t stop taking my children into family-friendly restaurants, I will continue to try and keep them entertained and I will enjoy that glass of wine I’ve been looking forward to. I will try harder to ignore the glares of those that have obviously chosen the wrong venue and I will ban iPhones from the table. Unless of course they are out for that perfect family photo opportunity.
I will also continue to go to a more formal restaurant on date nights and I will absolutely not expect children to be on the next table to mine. Obviously.
Photo credit: THINKSTOCK