Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Get Your Children to Sit Quietly in a Restaurant (Because It Totally Worked This One Time)

My family does not do restaurants on the regular.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating out; it’s that the whole experience of eating out with my children is stressful (your children are probably great – my own mother insists that they ate out with me all the time when I was little).  Here’s how a typical evening at a restaurant goes with my boys:


We enter the door (usually a pizza place because I know my strengths, and among them is not the ability to get my children to sit quietly and not bother other dinner patrons for an hour).  One child immediately spies the $0.25 machines hocking everything from candy to bouncy balls.


“Mom!  Mom!  Can I have one of those?  Please!?”


“Sweetheart, let’s have dinner, you need to have dinner.”


Child commences whining, which will not stop for a good five minutes, or until there is something else to distract him.  I look frantically around for the other child, who has immediately wandered off at gazelle-like speed.  I find the other child climbing on the fish tank or the salad bar or repeatedly flushing the toilet in the ladies’ bathroom.


We order food (if we’re lucky, there’s a buffet and we don’t have to wait), and get everyone seated.  Tony and I dispense napkins and water cups (bonus if the cups have lids, because if they don’t, well, the rushing River Cook is mere moments away from happening, soaking everything in its path) and then try to coerce Jamie into staying seated and keep Charles from shoving too much food into his mouth at one time.  Before Tony and I have even taken two bites of our own meals, the boys are out of their seats and running to the arcade (if we’re at pizza) or around the other tables, potentially colliding with waitresses and bumping other diner’s elbows.  Thank God the Coke machines at Five Guys are out of reach, because Jamie is fascinated by them and is clearly planning the best way to combine every drink option into one epic “graveyard” every time we go there. 


I will not get to consume warm food because, inevitably, Charles will have to poop and we’ll end up in the bathroom for 20 minutes while Tony tries to keep control of the Tasmanian Devil that is Jamie, a child who is uninterested in eating and very interested in finding out just what goes on in the kitchen or the bar.


When we finally leave a restaurant, we are compelled to leave an enormous tip because there are more fries on the floor than I remember ordering to eat (seriously, it’s like they multiply or something), the dirty diaper tucked in the bottom of the diaper bag smells enough to disturb other diners, and my children have been singing the Elmo Song at the top of their lungs for the past ten minutes.


We don’t go out all that often.


But last night, I really didn’t feel like cooking.  I asked Tony if he thought we might be mildly successful at taking the kids to a local Hibachi restaurant (the last time we took Charles there, he was an infant, tucked safely and sleepily into his carseat… until the giant fireball lit up the grill, at which point he was startled awake and emitted the most shrill, tortured sound I have ever heard).  I packed the diaper bag full of toys to entertain them during the wait for the chef.  I lectured them on not running because it was dangerous.  I told them we were going to see fire.


My children, my crazy, active, energetic children, sat entranced in their seats for nearly two hours.  They watched, rapt, as the sushi conveyor belt moved across the bar.  They tuned into the chef and all his antics and didn’t look away.  They attempted to catch egg that the chef threw in their mouths.  Charles ate salad.  Jamie ate tempura zucchini.  They both ate their weight in grilled steak and chicken.  With chopsticks, which required intense concentration on their part.


TWO HOURS.  I now know the secret to taking small children to a restaurant: at-table entertainment.  Our next dinner outing (in a few months, when I have the strength for it, and the optimism that this was not a one-time occurrence) will be at a restaurant that sits above a horse arena.  It might take gimmicks, but I will get my children to consistently sit through a whole meal.

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