One of the things I’ve missed most since becoming a dad are meals out. Not because they’re no longer possible – but because they’re not, well, enjoyable any more.
What used to be a serene, spontaneous chance for my wife Laura and I to catch up over some nice food and a glass of wine now involves a bulging bag of distraction techniques, desperate attempts to order something off the children’s menu that isn’t entirely beige and a race to consume my entire meal before all hell breaks loose.
So, I thought I’d share a snippet from our recent trip to a renowned ‘kid friendly’ restaurant (i.e. a shit one). I hope at least some of you can empathise. Because if you can’t, that’s just not fair!
Arrival. 5.15, the very time every adult loves to eat a heavy evening meal. Oh shit, there’s a queue. Quick Laura, get the sticker books out. Too late, Nathan’s in. Dylan you can’t sit there, that’s someone else’s table. Laura, Nathan’s under there. No, under THERE: the shelf with the decorative, highly breakable glass jars on. You get him, I’ll deal with Dylan. Oh thank god, yes a table for 4 please, with one high chair. By the window? Perfect, as long as you don’t mind the glass looking like someone crashed an ice-cream van into it by the time we leave.
The wait. Right let’s order, where’s the kids’ menu? Dylan how about this delicious sounding salmon and summer vegetables? Er, that’s not a gesture we make in public. Fine, have the sausage and chips. What about Nath? Shall we get him the macaroni and cheese? Dylan, put the salt and pepper down, they’re not toys. Oh no, you’re right, it bunged him up last time and he woke up at 3am and wouldn’t go back to sleep. Get him the salmon. He’s too young to argue. Dylan, the knife is even less of a toy than the salt and pepper. Laura, where are the sticker books?
Ordering. The kids’ sausages, the kids’ salmon and two things that end in the word ‘burger’ please. No, definitely no starters. And whatever you do, don’t wait for our food to be ready before bringing out theirs. In fact, as soon as that microwave pings, get it out here. Run if you have to.
Eating. The race begins. Can we inhale our food before they’re done and start charging around the restaurant like it wronged them in a previous life? Nathan, do you not like your salmon? Bugger. Dylan, can your brother have some of your sausages? Er, that’s not a gesture we make in public either. OK, Nath, have my burger. A kid’s portion of salmon will do me just fucking fine. Laura, I know we’ve only just started eating but shall I order the boys’ desserts and ask for the bill now? You want a coffee…are you having a laugh?!
The aftermath. Imagine setting off a firework in a fridge. That’s what the floor beneath our table now resembles. Dylan is high on apple juice and getting restless. Sticker book? No. Dot to dot? No. Anything that makes me look like a half-decent parent? No. OK, have the iPad then. Just put it on your lap so that woman with the 5 year old girl who’s been sitting perfectly for the last 40 minutes can’t see. Actually I need a poo! OK Dylan, thanks for letting the whole restaurant know. You try and clean up here, Laura. I’ll take Dylan to the bathroom. Ready then? Yes (addressing the entre restaurant) my poo is only going to be three drops anyway. Great.
Time to go. Of course, Dylan, inside a tiny toilet cubicle amidst your noxious fumes is the perfect place for a made-up story. Exactly three ‘drops’ later (should I be impressed or worried?), we’re finally done in there. The bill has arrived. Laura has paid it (including apologetically generous tip). And Nathan looks like he swam through his dessert rather than ate it.
Departure. In total, just over an hour has passed but it feels like a lifetime. We pack our bag giving Nathan the chance to wheedle his way out of his high chair and off to point in the face of a sleeping baby on the table next door. Baby! Yes, Nathan, baby’s sleeping. Come back here now. Baby! BABY! BABY! The baby cries. The mother glares. I scoop up Nathan and hustle him out the door. Laura’s got the bag but we’re bound to have forgotten something. Dylan is now playing with my phone, weaving between the tables like a drunk.
Thanks, says the waiter as we barrel through the door in a whirl of irreparably stained clothes. See you again soon.
And believe it or not, he probably will.