The diner was well lit and cheery. The orange tiles reminded me of my own childhood days and delighted the babies as they scampered about. The outside wall was lined with windows at baby height, so that as we struggled to get from the parking lot inside, the babies falsely thought we’d made it before we reached the door.
“Uh, oh!” they said, tapping on the windows. “Locked, locked. Key! Ope! Ope door!”
We hurried along to get out of the wind. Once inside, we had to wait for a table. The place was buzzing with activity. Couples, friends and families all came together for a late breakfast on this cold Monday morning. The layout was baby friendly. A large aisle behind the breakfast bar stools with chairs lined up against the windows allowed them to run around and sit and play without hurting or annoying anyone.
A waitress came out and pushed a button on the jukebox that sat on the far wall near the restrooms. Christmas music started playing. I showed the babies the Christmas tree, and they behaved well, not tearing down all the bulbs and lights. A seat opened up.
We all sat down, Dulce facing me, Natalina on my side. Coats and scarves littered the bench toward the wall in a haphazard fashion. The waitress took our order: two chocolate milks and a coffee. Two older women looked at me as we sat down.
“Their little hands were all over the floor, you know.”
Truth is, I hadn’t thought of it. I braced myself for the worst, for the judgement, for the looks, as I gathered the kids up to take them to the restroom. There was no reason for me to bristle, but by now, it’s ingrained within me. Those who don’t know will judge.
The bathroom had a blow dryer for the hands, and that greatly amused the babies. Our drinks were waiting for us as we got back to the table, and I ordered us the waffles. It was the Waffle House, after all. The babies had great fun drinking out of their big girl cups with no straws while we waited.
The food came quickly, and I tore up their waffles into bite sized pieces using my hands. I dipped them in the maple syrup to show the babies how to do it. The sat and ate for almost five whole minutes before I had to change my battle plan.
Dulce started it. She got up and started wandering around. One adult to two babies is always a hard ratio to overcome. She was sweet though, happily exploring things, staying out of the other diners’ way. I had a choice. I could force her back into her seat and make her eat like a real person eats at a restaurant. I could try to bribe her back to her seat and embarrass myself when it didn’t work. Or I could let her be. I let her be. She wasn’t harming anything.
At this point, I was no longer sitting down either, but standing at the edge of the table, keeping one eye on my happy wanderer, and the other eye on my girl sitting there, eating her waffle. I snuck sips of coffee here and there. To make sure Dulce got enough to eat, I would leave Natalina at the table to bring Dulce her food, bite by bite.
This doesn’t sound ideal, I know, but, really, it was. The diners that paid them any attention were charmed, there were no tantrums or screaming, and everybody was eating. This was a success.
Finally, enough became enough, and I really had to get Dulce to sit back down, or I risked becoming “that lady” at the restaurant. You know that lady. The one who lets her kids run wild and does nothing to control or contain them. As we approached that point, I used one of the diner’s colorful menus as baby bait.
Miracle of miracles, it worked. The two babies crowded around me, and I asked them to identify the letters on the plastic menu.
“What letter is this?”
“S! That’s right! And this one?”
“M! Good job! Okay, now point to the A… very good, babies! That’s the A!”
The woman who had alerted me to their germy hands glanced over.
“They know all their letters already?”
“Yes, actually. Somehow, they’ve managed to learn all of them.”
“How old are they?”
“Just shy of two and a half.”
“Well, what they lack in discipline, they make up for in intelligence.” A gentle, self-berating acknowledgment of my parenting prowess thus far.
“Are they in preschool?”
“No, I stay home with them.”
And her face lit up. She beamed at me.
“You are doing a great job. They are getting the best start, and it’s thanks to you. I am so impressed.”
Before the two women left, they had the babies recite their numbers for them. Then the babies gave an impromptu dance routine to one of the Christmas carols. Finally, as the women turned to go, Dulce shouted out.
Dulce looked at me hesitantly. The woman who had given me the compliments turned around.
“Do you want to give her a hug, Dulce? You can give her a hug.”
And she took off as fast as her little feet would carry her and threw her arms around the woman’s knees. I wish I could have done the same.
Thank you, kind stranger, for being a bright spot on this dreary December day. Stay at home moms rarely feel appreciated, and it is a great gift that you have given me.