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Discovering life beyond Happy Meals

Submitted by on Friday, 8 May 2009 No Comment

eating_out_with_kidsThere was a brief window about five years ago when restaurants were safe.

Big Guy was starting to explore solid food, and the waitresses at our favorite Mexican place would coo as his chubby little fists dipped Ritz crackers into salsa.

Within months, though, the coos turned to eye rolls as Big Guy discovered gravity and its effect on rice falling from a fist. Then That Baby Who Ruined His Life showed up and Big Guy discovered acting out.

The average meal carried a 25 percent surcharge in the form of a “we’re sorry our kid’s a pig” over-tip. It was consumed in 3.6 minutes in hopes of finishing before storm clouds gathered. We wound up carrying hefty portions home in Styrofoam – bad for the environment, bad for my blood pressure.

Then we gave up, relegating ourselves to places that gave out toys with meals – annoying toys that I couldn’t wait to sneak into the trash as soon as the guys forgot about them in a day or so.

We ventured into the occasional coffee shop, because the wait for a beverage wasn’t long enough for the guys to remember they were supposed to be throwing fits. We’d go to a quasi-real restaurant once in a while, but only with reinforcements to help keep the guys amused.

Even though friends assured me this would not last forever, I still feared I’d be eating burgers the rest of my life.

Suddenly, though, the storm front passed and the skies cleared. It happened over chicken caesar salad at IHOP. It was the worst salad I’d had in my life – I know, what did I expect – but the experience was worth it.

We were on vacation, and I’d hesitated to even go because it was late and the guys had a certain reputation. But I was really craving salad, so I risked it.

It was as if they’d never seen a restaurant before in their lives. Everything, from the hostess to the waiter to the tables, was fascinating. And that was before the crayons arrived.

“They’re giving us crayons? Oh, they’re so nice here!” Big Guy gushed.

We were seated near the kitchen, a move probably designed to keep the guys from disturbing others, but it worked to our advantage. They could watch the waiters hustle in and out. They saw our order get screwed up twice. They kept a careful eye to make sure their chocolate milk wasn’t refilled with white milk instead.

And when the food came, they ate. All of it. Big Guy even kept sneaking lettuce of my plate – the dressing was on the side. Lettuce? Big Guy? Who are these Stepford children?

“Mommy, I want to be a waiter when I grow taller,” Boots said.

The next night, they were polite and well-behaved at Chilli’s. It was partly the crayons and partly a man who went from table to table making balloon animals. I began to wonder if the local water contained Valium.

“Mommy, I want to be a balloon man when I grow taller,” Boots said.

Life has been wonderful since, though things got a tad touchy when our local Chilli’s didn’t have a balloon man.

They did have the same macaroni and cheese, though – the kind with dye in it that Big Guy eats only rarely, which elevates it to filet mignon in his eyes.

They had the same crayons and games.

Most importantly, the same mannerly Stepford children accompanied me, chatting amiably, not sending any objects airborne and giving me plenty of time to finish my food.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the waitresses are cooing again.

It kind of puts me in the mood for salad.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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