It was lunchtime, and the joint was hopping. We'd never been here before: A little eatery in a little town we were passing through as the dial on the clock struck belly-grumble. The warm, bacon-scented air was welcoming, and the rattle of plates playing against the tinkle of glasses provided soothing background music as we placed our orders.
But comfort food couldn't quell my anxiety as I stood there looking up at a set of colorful chalkboards trying to decide what would make our entourage happy.
I have to feed one husband who is on a diet and ignoring two of the basic four food groups; one child who wants her midday meal to consist of a cross-section of the entire menu; and finally, a child who has concocted an imaginary food group and refuses to eat anything that falls outside of it.
So, of course, I proceed to stammer a messy combination of breakfast fare and lunch-y requests as if I'd pulled a thousand threads from the menu's fabric. The woman at the register smiled at each of my “I'm-sorrys and Is-it-possible-to-gets ...” but made note of our out-of-town status as I handed over a credit card. “Keep this up and you won't be welcomed back,” she said with a laugh as she handed me a chicken-shaped table flag.
I hoped she was kidding. This place, with its brightly decorated walls and packed tables, looked like somewhere I'd like to frequent.
I grabbed some silverware and sat down at the table. My kids were already starting the Are-We-There-Yets of restaurant waiting.
“Is that ours?” one kid stage whispers as a server hoists a tray laden with plates and sidles past us. “Nope! Not us.” confirms the other. “Maybe ours will be next … Oh, I hope it IS next. I-hope-I-hope-I-hope,” both children will chant with closed eyes and crossed fingers as we continue our esurient vigil.
“I. Might. Die. Before. We. Eaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.”
Had I been employing the proper parenting techniques all along, I though to myself, one sharp look from me would have been enough to quiet them.
Instead, I was rummaging through my bag looking for snacks or candies or crumbs to give their complaining mouths something to chew on. If I don't find anything, I'll have to resort to the nuclear option: The hiss of parental desperation in the form of a string of empty threats.
“If you don't stop thisssssssss whining right now …. we will never eat anything … anywhere …. ever again ...”
But then a minor miracle! Mid-threat, there came food from above (and presumably the kitchen). Plates loaded with the promise of overfull bellies were silently lowered to the table in age-ascending order. First the boy and his mystery meal, then the girl and her laborious samples, and finally for the parents (well let's just say the husband is the eldest in this food service scenario, shall we?) and our oh-so-similar orders. Of course, we waited to switch plates until after the server sauntered away.
The complaints of grumbling bellies are replaced by silence as they taste each item. I hold my breath waiting for an explosion of disagreeable sounds. More silence signals yet another minor miracle that is satisfaction.
I eat quickly, wondering how long it will last.
I know they're old enough to know how to behave in a public place, but that doesn't mean I trust they will. There's only so many quarters you can put in that meter before you reach the limit.
Bathroom visits seem to be the barometer. And so we started to get on our coats as the boy headed for his second turn in “Gents.”
I watch as the door closes and opens. And I follow him as he heads back to the table … but he stops at the wait station and talks to the server instead.
“I accidentally locked the bathroom door as I was leaving. Sorry, it was a mistake.”
An odd wave of pride washed over me. Had it been me at his age, I would have said nothing, grabbed my coat and told my parents we have to get out of here now! Not him.
He just wanted them to know the door needed to be unlocked.
For a moment, I thought I saw the same you're-not-welcome-back smile stretch over our server's face as she looked at me before rummaging in the silverware tray and extracting a butterknife. But a twinkle in her eye as she turned and headed to free the washroom for other patrons made me relax a little.
“Thanks for the heads up, little man. Come back and see us again, OK?”