There is a long list of things non-parents take for granted. It’s not their fault though, they just don’t know another life exists. I know I never thought about having my personal space invaded for an entire meal until Zoey came along. Before I became SUPERishDAD, I had eaten with parents who were actively being climbed on and never thought twice about it. As the old saying goes, ignorance is bliss.
Before I was a parent, Lisa and I would go out to eat anytime we wanted. We could pop in a fast food restaurant or have a nice sit down meal or even enjoy a home cooked meal sitting on the couch watching TV. When you aren’t a parent, you just go and have no idea the life of luxury you are actively taking for granted.
After you have a kid, oh how everything changes. For starters, you no longer get to walk out the door and drive while deciding on a restaurant. No, now you have pick out the perfect cute little outfit for your child. You have to make sure you put a fresh diaper on your kid. You have to pack and I mean thoughtfully pack. You have to get into the mind of a toddler. You have to plan for every possible scenario. You have to pack back up clothes, you pack milk and snacks, you need little toys in case your kid gets bored, you need extra diapers and diaper cream and wipes and little trash bags to throw away poopy diapers… AHHHHHH!!! You need so much stuff!
Once your child is ready to go and you’ve loaded the car with 100 pounds of resources, you are ready to go eat. Zoey usually does pretty well for the first little bit. She doesn’t really like sitting in the high chair anymore. She wants to start out sitting on someone’s lap. She decides who she wants to sit on while my wife and I nervously await her decision.
Once Zoey has made her decision, everything starts out fine. If bread comes first, that’s always a good thing because she likes bread. Zoey will sit quietly snacking on that. However, she quickly starts to become restless. This is when we move in with the crayons. Zoey likes to make us initially think we are safe with the crayons. She’ll draw for a minute or two and then she wants us to draw. Once the passing of the crayons has occurred, we move to the next phase.
This is when Zoey uses the distraction of the crayons to explore her limitations. She will start grabbing anything on the table that’s not nailed down. Oh, you have a steak knife, allow me to see. Oh, you have an unguarded water, let’s see what happens if I turn it over. Oh, you want me to look at the crayons again? Nah, those are now floor crayons. This is the danger zone and you are in it before you know what hits you.
Now you are locked in a losing battle. The food comes and there is simply too much on the table for you to guard. If she’s hungry, you might get a brief rest, but it won’t last long. This is the point that you shovel food into your face as quickly as possible while it’s still warm. However, if Zoey is not really hungry, you hope that you ordered something that is normally room temperature.
Now the restlessness is in full swing. The crayons are completely done and the firm boundaries have been set on what she can and can’t play with at the table. Now she wants down. This is a slippery slope. Do you continue to hold the toddler on your lap while she wiggles everywhere and you risk a meltdown or do you let those little feet touch the ground?
Never underestimate the determination of a toddler who wants to get down. This is were the climbing really happens. Zoey will do everything in her power to get down. She will try to move my hands. She’ll try to duck under my arms. If necessary she will climb over my head and down my back. I try my best to keep her from reaching the ground. Once the battle of wills begins, there is no eating happening.
You can really only hold the kid so long before the meltdown comes so at some point the option of freedom must be considered. Once a kid gets that freedom, there is no going back. This is a good point to ask yourself, “Do you like meeting strangers and apologizing?” Because that’s what you’re getting ready to do.
Zoey sticks close to the table at first, but will quickly venture out. Maybe she’ll grab the back of a stranger’s chair. Maybe she’ll just go stand in front of someone and stare at them. Maybe she’ll see another kid in a high chair and go flaunt her new found freedom in front of him or her. You really never know, but one thing is certain, you will apologize to a stranger for something.
SUPERishDAD tip: Always ask for the check early, like when the main course gets there. Your kid is like a ticking time bomb and you never know when it’s going to go off. You don’t want to be searching the restaurant for your server while chasing your kid. It’s not fun.
At this point you might be thinking, “Just eat at home.” If you don’t have kids, that would seem logical. I get it, but the reality is that a kid feels comfortable with you there. When I eat food at home, I usually sit on the couch with a TV tray. Zoey loves to climb the couch. She also loves to eat what I’m eating. When you’re at a restaurant, the environment is new, so she starts out distracted. When we’re at home, everything is old news, so Zoey focuses her energy on me.
Zoey climbs all over the couch and jumps around the whole time. When she climbs me at home, it’s just a boredom thing, so there’s no goal to get down. She just climbs to climb and that means she’s flailing around. This is a game I call “Don’t Drop the Toddler.” Safety is the main concern at home and the secondary concern is keeping feet out of the mashed potatoes.
I tell you all this because non-parents need to stop taking their kid free meals for granted. Once you become a parent, it’s one of life’s greatest treats to drop the kid off at someone’s house and just have a meal. It’s a luxury to eat a warm meal, to have a conversation about grown up things, to pay attention to your surroundings without making an internal list of all the dangers a child might potentially get into. It’s the simplest things that become the most relaxing, like eating a meal without being climbed on.