Dining out with two children under the age of three is… stressful. No, that’s not quite right. It’s more like trying to defuse a bomb set on a short timer, that is pressure and impact sensitive, while wearing a blindfold, during an earthquake. Yah, that’s better.
I asked my (almost) three-year-old son Nixon, “What do you want for dinner?”
His reply, “Pancakes!”
“You can’t have pancakes for dinner…” I reply in my “Dad tone”.
“PANCAKES! AND COOKIE ICE CREAM!”
I stood there looking at my son and I have to say I was impressed by his bravado and defiant determination to basically have cake for dinner. I’ll take credit for the stubbornness in his DNA.
“Okay, fine,” I say. (To the pancakes, not the ice cream. He’s not that good.) Breakfast for dinner it is.
As an aside we had our house tented for termites three days ago and just got back in. Due to the poison that was pumped through our home we had to get rid of our food. So in the moment, where do you get a quick, cheap, breakfast for dinner meal? You guessed it, Dennys!
So, back to my original statement. Dining out with two children under the age of three is… stressful. What many people who don’t have children (Or are so far removed from having young children that they’ve simply forgotten what it was like) fail to realize is that when you are dining out with young children you are on the CLOCK.
I sit in the car, looking at the front door of Dennys. Just taunting me. “Hey, come on in,” it says, “Have a meal with your kids. Relax. It’ll be easy.”
No. No it won’t, Dennys. You’re a big fat liar, Dennys. I look at both boys in the rear-view mirror. They’re restless. Uneasy. Horizon before a big storm uneasy. I can sense the crankiness lying just below the surface, like a hungry crocodile waiting for an unassuming wildebeest to take a sip from a murky riverbank.
I get them out of the car and we start to walk the green mile towards the restaurant.
“Dead man walkin’,” yells an elderly man in plaid pants and red suspenders as we pass him on our way in. Not really, he actually said hello and held the door open for us. We are quickly sat in a booth, the high chair is disinfected with wipes and filled with a fussy ten-month-old with a very short attention span.
Now, as soon as butts hit vinyl, time becomes very precious. Every moment counts. Seconds count people! Seriously. My children have an about (depending on the time of day, alignment of the planets, and how close we are from, or coming up on a nap) a twenty, to twenty-two and a half minute shelf-life in a restaurant. Seconds… count.
“Hi how are we today?” “Oh look little ones! How old are they?” “Would you like to start with an appetizer? Drinks?”
Things all well-meaning servers say. She doesn’t sense my urgency. She fails to see the stress on my face. By this point my oldest, Nixon, has taken the saltshaker and poured the entirety of its contents into a powdery pyramid in the middle of the table. As he laughs at his granulated masterpiece he kicks off both of his flip-flops and tells me he has to go pee-pee (he’s potty trained). I look at our server with a defeated sigh and tell her I’d like an iced tea, water and milk for Nixon, and she turns away to get the drinks. Uhh-uh. Get back here!
“NO WAIT!” I yell in a hushed, inside-voice church tone. “I need (not want, or would like… NEED) to order. She looks slightly put out that I’m throwing off her well oiled Dennys order taking routine but she begrudgingly obliges.
Lincoln starts to scream.
I put a spoon in his hand to divert his attention. He gags himself… badly. Its gross.
Nixon informs me that he will only eat “Cookie Ice Cream”, over, and over, and over.
I order pancakes and eggs for my son. He hears me order and promptly offers his protest in the form of a high-pitched squeal that only dogs and bats can hear (Just kidding, everyone in the restaurant heard it! Ha ha… ha… *laughter slowly fizzles out into an embarrassed chuckle… then tears).
Lincoln throws the spoon he’s been gagging himself with towards our server. She simply looks at it on the floor, then back at me. I sigh and blink for a really long time.
“Ill be right back with your drinks.”
Ten minutes in.
Nixon starts to cry.
Lincoln, not wanting to be left out joins in.
I turn to little Link to try to entertain him and Nixon takes the opportunity to grab hold of the sugar packet container near him and he makes it rain.
He laughs. Then screams because he wants to get up. I don’t let him, which only serves to push him to find more creative methods of escape. What’s that you say? Why yes, he did try to wiggle under the table. I hook him with one of my legs as I take an entire napkin out of Lincoln’s mouth. Where did he get a napkin? How?
Sixteen minutes in.
I look up. A rush of hope flows over me. Food! Our glorious food!
We eat, quickly. Nixon chokes on a pancake. Lincoln paints himself in eggs and the blended peas I brought for him.
We finish. Our server takes FOR-EV-ER to bring our check.
Time to leave. Thirty minutes in.
I pick up Lincoln and brush and wipe him off as best I can whilst blocking Nixon in the booth with my hip. He slips past and starts doing hot-laps around the room, garnering cheers from many of the elderly patrons, which only serves to excite him more. He turns on the afterburners.
While clamping Lincoln to my hip, I chase my feral child down. I pick him up by the waist band of his pants and carry him extended from my face like one would hold a rabid ferret, to the cash register. I pay and Nixon sees the “Claw Grabber” toy machine by the front door. Hatred flows through my veins and I think very bad thoughts about the manager that thought it would be a good idea to put that cursed machine so close to my escape route.
He. Loses. His. Ever-loving. Mind.
Kick Dad in the chest.
Arch unnaturally like they’re possessed by a demon as to make it impossible to buckle the bottom clasp.
Click. Click. Click.
The boys are locked in their car seats. I shut the door and just stand in the silence. Eye’s closed I just inhale and soak in the nothingness of outside. I may have cried a little, I’m not sure. When I open my eyes I am looking directly at a middle-aged couple that are caught mid-laugh. They are laughing at me. The man gives me a knowing nod and they head into the restaurant.
I’m not sure what the point of this story was now that I’m at the end of it. I guess maybe just some comfort for people out there that no, you’re not the only one who’s kids act like that. I feel your pain, and I’m sure many of you out there can relate.
And maybe some advice for those in the hospitality industry. If you see a parent flying solo with young children, give the guy a break and expedite things along. Twenty-Two and half minutes fly’s by pretty quickly.
Nick Gerasimou is a father of two, author, blogger, and teacher based out of South Orange County, Ca.
Copyright 2015 V. Nicholas Gerasimou