The Toddler Dining Experience

Although I’ve made a conscious effort to cook at home in 2012, there are just some days where I want to get out of the house and have a meal.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I hadn’t even gotten home from work yet, and I needed to get out of the house.  Erajh had picked the girls up early and had some errands to run so we decided to pack the car up and head out to dinner.  Honestly, I think he would have rather run his errands without us, but I wasn’t really giving him much choice.  I was going to get a hot meal delivered to me, damn it.

The problem with eating out with on a week night, or any night really, is that the kids are over it before the meal even starts.  Often before they reach the table.  And forget any restaurant with a wait, because we only have about 50 minutes before a total meltdown, so a 45 minute wait isn’t going happen.  We often find ourselves eating at restaurants we don’t even like, just because there’s no wait.  Oh, and the restaurant should be loud.  The louder the better.  The normal noise needs to drown out the crazy screeching noises that my kids make.  I’ll freely admit that I never really appreciated a Cracker Barrel or Chick fil A before I had kids.  Unfortunately neither of those options were available to us yesterday, so we had to head to a local diner (that typically caters to families).

I’ve noticed that people find our kids cutest when we first arrive at a restaurant and the hostess walks us past their table…then keeps walking.  People love saying “hi” to our kids as long as we keep them moving to another part of the restaurant.  Once we stop, all bets are off.  In inexplicably, the hostess put us in the center of the restaurant last night, which made our kids drop in the cuteness category.

And then it began, the mad scramble to keep everyone occupied all at once.  Hazeline needs to eat the second her baby toddler butt hits the high chair.  No time to get buckled in.  No time to get the yogurt melts out of the diaper bag.  She needs to eat NOW.  And there will be hell to pay if she doesn’t get food.  Greenleigh’s just about as bad, but she needs to be entertained.  The crayons and menu keep her busy for all of 2 1/2 minutes, half of which is spent picking the crayons up off the ground after they roll off the table.  Because, that’s totally the fun part.  When they don’t accidentally roll off the table, Greenleigh pushes them.  We then move on to the DVD player (a/k/a the DBD player, to Greenleigh), which keeps her interested for another 5-6 minutes.

Picking what to eat is always an adventure.  I mean, I can pick what I’m having before I even reach the table, but eating isn’t exactly something Greenleigh is good at.  She’ll normally says yes to anything I suggest and eat nothing.  I’ve begun to think of the $3.99 I must pay for her kids meal, as just another Toddler Tax.  On the rare occasions where I haven’t ordered something for her, she demands to know where her dinner is, and patrons at neighboring tables look at me with outrage that I would not feed my daughter, who is so obviously hungry.  Little do they know how many $3.99 meals have been thrown in the trash.  Yesterday, we decided on chicken nuggets, but it wasn’t looking promising.

After we ordered, it was off for a bathroom break, ’cause restaurant bathrooms are as good as going to Disney World.  For Greenleigh, at least.  She loves going to them numerous times during a meal, and not always to go to the bathroom, sometimes she just wants to visit.  Then it’s back to the table to roll crayons off the table and demand specific DVDs that we didn’t bring with us.  I have no idea how she knows what we do and don’t have, but I’m convinced that she knows.

The food arriving is a bit of a blur, but now that I think about it, we might have arrived during one of our many bathroom breaks.  It was at that point that Greenleigh needed to sit in my lap.  At first I resisted, but the screeches seemed to disturb a neighboring table so I finally gave in.  That left me with a quiet child, but I was forced to eat around her.  Only problem with that was that she now decided she wanted my meal…with her hands.  Ewww.  Her hands were no doubt clean given our multiple trips to the bathroom to wash our hands, but still.  Ewww.  I considered switching meals with her but chicken nuggets were exactly appetizing at that point.  I eventually decided to eat something else later.  You know, at home.  This was where I started to question why we even went out to eat to begin with.

Then it was a race to get our check, pay, and get the kids out before they combusted.  It was a real fear.  Greenleigh had taken up residence under the table, which made me notice the carnage that was left under the table.  I’ve wanted to snap a picture of what a table looks like when we leave, but I’m just too embarrassed.  With two kids, it’s required that at least 1/4 of the food on the table must eventually end up underneath it.  Sure, I pick up what I can, but there’s only so much I can do.  We have adjusted our tips accordingly.  Between the kids meal and the extra tip, this has gotten to be a fairly expensive experience and I need to point out that I didn’t actually get to eat anything.

Total tally last night – 4 out of 5 chicken nuggets left uneaten, 2 crayons on the ground, 1 couple that asked to move to a table far from us.  So much for a relaxing night out.

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