Food and children is a battleground. Well, maybe not for everyone. But certainly for my kids this is true. I want them to eat properly, vegetables and everything, with a knife and fork. They want to eat garbage. With their hands. On a beanbag. While yelling at maximum volume. Upside-down. With their mouths full.
So when the opportunity comes up to go out for dinner, I have mixed feelings.
See, at our house, I do almost all of the cooking.
I have learned over the years that cooking for others can quickly become a soul-destroying experience.
Even if it is something they actually like, there is always one fussy eater who won’t co-operate.
This is why I love restaurants. I’m not responsible for what everyone eats for a change. That, and the hugely rare experience of someone else serving me. Whenever anyone else brings me food I have to fight to hold back my tears of gratitude. You could serve me tepid microwave quick-oats but it will still feel like I’m being served seared unicorn cutlets garnished with the hanging gardens of Babylon.
Actually in all honesty I suck at microwave quick-oats. They always seem to climb out of the bowl.
But while I may love going to restaurants, I was still apprehensive, because I have memories of the last time we tried to take the kids to a nice restaurant.
OK I’m exaggerating. But not much. So this time I thought we’d better get in some practice first. Take them out for lunch at a regular café, get them practised at sitting still, eating with cutlery and so on, eating from their own plate and nobody else’s. That kind of thing. Things I am actually always trying to do anyway, but that become infinitely more important when eating in public.
We found a small fairly casual café, and were seated amongst other people. Right there, that puts us at a disadvantage.
There were no other children in sight. This is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, other kids means other parents, who will commiserate and who understand and who won’t judge and hate us for ruining their day. Probably.
The downside of having other kids nearby is that within about ten minutes this:
So we sat, and opened our menus. And our eldest daughter, let’s call her Sonia, starts getting antsy. Not about the food, which is guaranteed to be a struggle at some point, but about the table (too wobbly). Then the cutlery (too heavy). Then it’s the seat (too high). Then the fact that she has to sit still for more than 2 seconds at a time.
When her food arrives she eats about two mouthfuls then loses interest. It’s impressive to me that my children never seem to eat anything throughout the whole meal, yet always manage to have their mouths full when talking. I don’t know how they do it, it shouldn’t even be possible. It’s as if the natural rules of physics are something you have to grow into. Like, up until the age of 8 they are more guidelines than laws. It rubs off on me as well. I find myself saying nonsensical sentences like “I put nothing on her plate and it’s all still there, she hasn’t even touched it.”
So anyway. She says she has “finished” eating. She makes herself comfortable.
While my lunch is going cold, we have an exchange of words. She resumes her relaxed state.
By now, the warmest thing on my plate is the salad.
Just to get her off the wall I suggest that my husband take her to view the cake display and choose a dessert for the kids to share. This goes off without a hitch. Until it arrives, with a huge mountain of cream on the side of the plate.
Sonia doesn’t even blink, just dives on in and scoops up a handful of cream. That’s not a figure of speech. I mean an actual handful.
At some point in the carnage that was them eating cake, someone spilled a drink.
The liquid streaked across the table, and began pouring over the edge, straight into my handbag. I was holding the baby, and I think I shrieked, when I saw my bag filling up with juice. I reached down and grabbed the handles, and swung it upwards away from the juice, straight into the back of the head of the man behind me.
He turned around to get angry, but deflated a little when he saw me. I imagine it was seeing the look of complete horror that was on his face, perfectly mirrored on mine.
It’s around about then that we left. It’s possible the room applauded our departure.
So that was practice.
As a result, I am far more anxious about taking the kids to a restaurant.