Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Night Out

On Friday night, I said a quick “Hail Mary”, gulped down a glass of wine and boldly went off to a fancy schmancy Italian restaurant with both my children (Little D, age 2 and Big A, age 5) to celebrate my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary.  I’m not a big fan of taking my young children to a restaurant at night. ( Their presence seems to disturb the other diners from enjoying their meals and by other diners I mean me.) But my folks insisted they wanted all four of their grandchildren present at this dinner so I steeled myself for an evening of eating cold food while I tried in vain to stop my overactive children from knocking over wine glasses and wanting to make multiple dashes to the bathroom.

See, the thing is, I know that Little D would be the epitome of a quiet, perfect child, if only I would hypnotize her with a handheld device.  But you know I just can’t.  My sister and I decreed that our four collective children would get 15 minutes as soon as we arrived to look at pictures (Little D) play Minecraft (Big A) and do whatever (my 9 year old nephew and 7 year old niece) on phones or iPad touches while we all were getting settled and ordering meals.  After that, they (and we) were on our own.

I’m not kidding… a huge part of me wanted to just yell “Just let them play!  Let them play as much as they want…as long as they want! I’ll just sit here and drink my non-spilled wine, enjoy adult conversation and relish the first pasta I’ve eaten in weeks!”  But then I would have missed what happened.

Because here’s what happened.  The children roamed to different parts of the table to converse with all of us adults. They also had a spaghetti slurping contest but that's besides the point.

Our son launched into a stand-up comedy routine that lasted about 20 minutes.  Every time he thought up another joke or story he would lightly clink his fork on his glass and announce “May I have your attention please?”  The aunts and the grandparents were in hysterics.  I would have missed Little D doing pull-ups on the back of her chair and snuggling into my sister’s fiancé as she smushed her cheek against his, laughing. I would have missed hearing all about my nephew’s last baseball game and I would have missed the opportunity to answer his question “What does the word racist mean?” If the children were quiet and sorted, staring slack-jawed at their hand-held devices, I never would have gotten to hear my niece’s hopes and dreams about her attire for an upcoming family wedding. “Why CAN’T I be the bride?” she asked reasonably “My communion gown would be perfect!”

And yet, the night culminated in Big A belching so loudly I thought a wild boar had somehow sneaked under our table. “Excuse me!” he called over to the adjacent table of two well dressed couples in their mid-50s.  That’s when my husband and I went over to make our customary apologies.

“I’m very sorry,” I began.  “I apologize for my children’s behavior. We usually don’t take them out to a restaurant this late but my parents insisted-”

“Oh no!” said the woman in pearls. “They were so well behaved!”

“Thank you for lying to our faces.” my husband nodded.

“Really,” said the man sitting with her. “We barely noticed they were there at first.  And then we heard them having such great conversation with you all.”

“Really?” I asked dubiously. “You weren’t bothered?”

“Oh no!” said the other blond woman. “We all have children in their 20s and it seems like just yesterday they were toddlers.”

“Even when he burped?” my husband said suspiciously.

“He said ‘Excuse me’” the blond reassured us.

“I just loved,” said her companion “how we could see your kids’ faces.  They weren’t huddled over their phones. Your baby daughter has such a gorgeous face.”

At that moment, Little D of the gorgeous face had messed up her hair so badly from climbing about various laps that she looked like a cross between a hedgehog and Albert Einstein. Big A was in the midst of telling a joke about omelettes.

“Omelettes?” I called over to him.

“Yes,” he yelled over “Breasts.  Like on ladies. I call them omelettes”.

The foursome pealed into laughter as my husband and I slunk back to the table in embarrassment.

But besides that mortification, it was a joy to be interacting with all four children, cracking up at both their bon mots and their embarrassing moments.  And I’d like to think that we were teaching them something about learning the art of conversation and how special restaurant meals can be when you don’t check out into a game of Angry Birds but enjoy laughter and debate with your dining companions.

These hand-held devices can be a Godsend when you need to occupy your child for a short period of time and certainly the kids enjoy them. Yes, it bothers me when there’s a christening at church and there’s a kid in the front row playing on an iPod. Yes, it saddens me when I’m at the Molly Pitcher bar, having dinner with my mom and sisters and a child is PITCHING A FIT, complete with high pitched shrieking and kicking when Mom and Dad say it’s time to put his electronic game away because his chicken fingers are getting cold.  I was horrified at a play date last week when Big A had access to an iPad and he burst into sobbing tears when I told him it was time to shut it down.  So once, again, everything in moderation. 
But after the joy of Friday's dinner I think I just might put on embargo on screen time when we're out to eat, even at the expense of good behavior. And next time, we're having omelettes.

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