Three Notes on Dining With Children

This child isn't sprinting, blocking the door or discussing umbilical stumps. - Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
This child isn't sprinting, blocking the door or discussing umbilical stumps.

Yesterday we mentioned how the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell program is getting healthier kids meals into restaurants, which might lead to more families dining out. Which is great. The sooner kids learn how to eat in a restaurant, the better.

But we've noticed a few things lately...some restaurant behavior that's not quite up to par. At first glance it's easy to blame the hellion children for not straightening up and flying right, but it's not their fault.

Parents, we're looking at you.

Situation #1: Packs of Wild Children Roaming Free We know how important it is for parents to have time to talk with other parents while their children play. It's vital for teaching young children social skills and to keep parents from getting stuck in the baby talk rut that occurs when one spends twelve hours a day, every day, in the company of toddlers. Places like Hartford Coffee Company are such a lifesaver with space for adults and a play area for the kids. It's a shame similar businesses have come and gone (CooperElla, Mocha Joe's), sometimes making Hartford a bit too crowded.

There's nothing wrong with bringing the kids to a coffeehouse that doesn't have a play area. Just don't let them stake out a section of the store -- say, the mat in front of the door -- and turn it into their own Monkey Joe's while you turn a blind eye to their activities, except to yell at them to move every ten minutes.

Toddlers aren't equipped to entertain themselves. Teaching them to do so is a part of parenting. Don't yell at them because you're not doing your job. No one wants to hear it, just like no one wants to trip over your children while carrying a giant hot coffee.

Come prepared. Set them up at a table with some paper and crayons or small toys, and buy them a snack and drink. It's only fair, since you're in a restaurant, not a public park. You can have your grown-up coffee without having to scream at out-of-control kids. But it's your responsibility to do the work to make that happen, not the kids'.

This same principle applies when you and your spouse are drinking at a restaurant's bar. Don't let your kids use the nearby hostess station as a dance studio. And you might want to keep an eye on them, because they might decide to explore the public restrooms on their own. At which point you've gone from being an annoying shit who lets their kids run amok to a careless drunk who's allowed their kids to put themselves into a potentially dangerous situation.

Also? Who the hell's driving you and the kids home? We hope there's a cab outside. And a therapist.

Situation #2: The Bodily Fluids Discussion We've already covered potential solutions, controversial as they were, to dealing with a child who's spewing fluids while others are trying to eat. Babies puke. That's a fact.

But what about parents who, in the middle of what might be their first lunch out after the birth of a new baby, discuss nothing but umbilical stumps and nighttime diaper explosions? Loudly. Through the entire meal?

We know this is one of the most exciting times in your life. Having a new infant is all-consuming, suddenly making the most basic of human functions seem like a miracle that must be shared with every single person you know. That's what Facebook is for.

We're thrilled that your baby's three-inch-long umbilical stump finally rotted off. Really. That's a big day in those first weeks. But we'd rather not hear about it from three tables away while trying to choke down a salad.

Situation #3: Eating Without Your Children Sure, it's great to have a break from the children. A quiet dinner that doesn't involve cleaning meat sauce out of anyone's hair or reminding anyone that no, breadsticks do not go in your nose.

Sometimes it's hard to find a babysitter, or cost prohibitive, which is a shame. And frustrating. There's no solution to that problem except toughing it out until the kids are beyond the stage where they ruin every single meal. It takes a few years.

What's not a feasible solution? Leaving your children in a non-ventilated car in the parking lot while you partake in Fazoli's unlimited breadsticks, you stupid fuck.

Kids like pasta, too. Know what else they like? Not being abandoned to roast to death while trussed into car seats by the people who chose to bring them into this world.

No, you didn't forget they were in the car. You would have noticed that perhaps you left them behind the second you instinctively reached to wipe sauce off a little forehead or engaged your vocal cords to tell them to shut the fuck up while you're trying to decide what kind of Submarino you want.

First two rules of parenting: #1 - Children must be fed several times a day. #2 - Children are not to be slow-roasted at 120 degrees for 30 minutes in a Fazoli's parking lot while you have a grown-up nosh.

It's that simple.

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