Last month was my wife’s birthday, which coincided with a family holiday to Italy. Not only that, our hotel had a two Michelin starred restaurant on the top floor. How perfect, I thought. What a lovely treat for Laura, not to mention an apt way to spend the final night of our trip.
Then I remembered we couldn’t just leave our six and four year old sons alone in a hotel room while we spent three hours pretending to know what Spelt pasta is and convincing ourselves that hazelnut tastes SO much better as an espume.
Nor was babysitting an option. Not because the hotel didn’t offer it (providing you were willing to sell a kidney first) but because the chances of Dylan and Nathan responding positively to the bedtime arrival of a stranger in a strange place were about as high as them eating an Italian-style ice cream without needing a jet wash afterwards.
That left just one outcome on the table: the boys were coming with us and I would have no choice but to despise myself as a result.
Aside from the sheer ludicrousness of taking kids to a Michelin starred restaurant, some of you may remember a post I wrote a while back about dining out with them. Though it’s fair to say things have improved somewhat since then, the prospect of combining hungry, tired, overexcited boys with the height of gastronomic elegance was cause for trepidation.
Would Dylan loudly announce he needed a poo before marching to the toilet like the evacuation could begin at any minute? Would Nathan jam a burnt butter breadstick up his own nose? Would a subtle under the table pinch escalate quickly into a full-scale brawl amidst (and possibly involving) the carefully chosen tableware? And would our fellow diners insist we were forcibly removed from the restaurant before we got our main course?
Actually, none of the above. In fact, aside from the 100 Euros they charged us for the boys’ fish and chips followed by ice cream, the most shocking thing was that Dylan and Nathan did us proud. They were polite, kept their voices at an appropriate volume (mostly) and avoided smashing each other in the face with a pepper mill. They even ate neatly.
Of course, we owe a heavy debt of gratitude to technology. Having smugly congratulated ourselves on keeping all meals iPad and phone free during the rest of the holiday, everything went out the window, replaced by a new approach entitled ‘Eat Up. Headphone Up. Shut Up.’
As soon as each boy had swallowed his final 4 Euro chip, out came the iPads. There was even a cosy nook behind our table where they could sit on the floor. Claimed reason: to ensure they wouldn’t disturb other diners. Real reason: so people couldn’t see what shit parents we are.
And thus the meal passed. The food was excellent, the ambience lovely (occasional bellowed goal celebration from Dylan and panicked ‘Shush’ from us aside) and Laura’s birthday was fittingly celebrated.
Which really left only one problem. I took my kids to a Michelin starred restaurant before either had reached their seventh birthday. This obnoxiously pretentious act is something I must live with for the rest of my life.
Fortunately, just as we were getting the bill and I was having an existential crisis, another family arrived. Like us, they had brought their children: four of them ranging from a similar age to Dylan up to what I’d guess was about 15. The three boys were dressed in the same cream chinos and blue shirt combo as their father. The girl sported a matching floral dress to her mother.
As they sat down and we paid up, the dad caught my eye. I smiled. Not an empathetic, isn’t-this-a-brave-but-lovely-thing to do with our children smile. A thank you smile. Because no matter how much I hated myself for doing this, I hated them even more.
Note: This is the first thing I’ve written since having eye surgery, so it was done with at best 50% vision and in several separate stints. Forgive me if it’s even more crap than normal.