Taking two babies anywhere is a hassle. Taking them out to dinner is usually a disaster. In a restaurant, your attention is divided. You can only dote upon your children while you’re not choosing something to eat from the menu, speaking to the waiter, or accepting and clearing dishes. God forbid you actually try to eat anything. The minute your eyes drift to your plate and your lips close around the fork, your kids may or may not be dumping out the salt, sliding off their boosters, tearing open the sugar packets, knocking over your beer, or, worst of all, preparing for a public screamfest.
Even if they’re not in the mood to destroy the restaurant, you’ll almost never get a relaxing dinner. Candle light is out, booze is – for some reason – frowned upon, and even if you’ve made it to the ordering stage with nothing being broken, you’ve still had to interrupt yourself to pick up dropped crayons just over one million times in the past 15 minutes.
While your experience is hardly ever going to be perfect, there is a trend I’ve noticed that may help you anticipate and mentally prepare for just how rowdy your kids will be on any particular outing.
In addition to worrying about all the factors that play into behavior anywhere you are, like whether or not somebody is teething, sick, tired or hungry, you might want to take the atmosphere of the restaurant you are visiting into consideration.
When we take our kids to Ruby Tuesday’s, for example, they are usually more riled up because they know they are in the mall, and why would we want to do something so boring as feed ourselves when we could be pushing them around in mall cars and taking them to the Playland? Their behavior improves dramatically if we manage to get a seat away from the mall entrance. Taking them to a family restaurant results in moderately well-behaved babies, but the excitement and the noise of the place usually sets the tone for our evening. If it’s loud, they will be loud. If other children are acting up, they will see it and take their cues accordingly. The saving grace of places such as Red Lobster and The Cheesecake Factory is that raucous behavior from children is something that most diners and waitstaff have come to expect. Your kids don’t have to be on their best behavior there, they just have to be better than the worst behaved.
One of our worst experiences was at a Texas Roadhouse. The lighting was dim, the music was blaring, the floor was covered in peanut shells and the babies were out of their minds. Too many new experiences for them, combined with the decibel level in the place made them scared, cranky and more likely to act out, which they did.
One of our best experiences occurred just recently at an Indian restaurant. The place was clearly not prepared for young children. They didn’t have crayons, or paper, or even booster seats. They didn’t have a distracting television or any music playing. They didn’t sell chocolate milk or juice, and they didn’t have plastic cups with straws. The waiters were distracted with other patrons and did not give us special attention to accommodate the twins. We mentally steeled ourselves for the worst.
And we were rewarded with the best. Since the atmosphere of the place was calm, the babies were able to take their time and explore the decor at their leisure, make discoveries and share them with us, calmly. It was quiet so they could hear us and they listened to us when we told them not to touch a certain object or not to get down from their chair. They understood that the cups were not their normal cups and that they needed to be extra careful with them. The food was exotic to them (no chicken nuggets served at this joint), but they delighted in tasting it. They could handle all of the changes magnamiously because they still felt secure. They felt secure because the atmosphere around them was soothing. Without a million different things assaulting their consciousness at every turn and making a power-play for their attention at each moment, they felt comfortable enough to slowly take everything in, one object at a time. They knew the other things would still be there when they were ready to turn to them.
A baby will always be a baby and will always need special attention during any outing. But a baby can also reflect the mood of the place in which they find themselves, matching severity to severity and tranquility to tranquility.
All that being said, I don’t expect you to be able to take your toddler to a five-star restaurant and have a relaxing experience. I’m just wondering if maybe everyone would be a little calmer if we took a moment to place some of the blame for outbursts on the places we visit and take some of that blame off ourselves and our children.
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