And so it came to pass that last night, we went out for dinner with friends. What was interesting about this was that it was dinner with three boys under ten in attendance. Yes, the precise situation that would have, a few years ago, got me reaching out with shaking hand for nerve medication to pour down the throat with undiluted alcohol. Going to restaurants with kids is one of those trials that a parent has to endure in order to earn one's parenting stripes. And going to a restaurant with multiple kids in tow must rank among the acts of bravery that merit awards that comes with sash on a salver.
In his early days, there have been times when I have been tempted to publicly disown the brat and/or put him up for immediate adoption. We've dealt with our requisite share of horrendous tantrums in restaurant situations; survived instances when we've had to slink away, abashed and embarrassed, leaving half our food uneaten and not even waiting for them to doggy-bag it. Of course, these restaurants were not of the fine dining variety. He was allowed into fine dining restaurants only recently, at the ripe old age of almost-ten. The few instances when we had dared to enter a restaurant that didn't serve food on a tray, have plastic cutlery and make one pay at a counter, are still embedded in my collection of repressed memories. Even now, though he's a big boy of nine and some months, no risks are taken in public dining situations. He is sandwiched between the responsible adults accompanying him and not allowed an escape route, with even visits to the restroom conducted under parental escort in case he decides, en route to the facilities, to take a whizzing tour of the premises and investigate the contents on the plates of the other perplexed diners.
On his own, the brat is likely to devote his entire attention to the food on his plate, but pair him with another child or two his age, and kaboom! it has the same effect that a lit match flung into a keg of dynamite would, tempered occasionally with sounds of the dads Getting Very Angry and commanding the spawn of their sperm to keep it down or get grounded for a week. (Which isn't such a dreaded punishment these days, given that all these children want to do is stay at home and play on the iPad, anyway.) Speaking of which, I am the kind of mother who has no moral compunctions about using gadgets as emergency babysitters and yesterday, the phone was pressed into service to keep the three critters glued to their seats and not use the premises to start a lively game of hide and seek. We all had a fine meal, buffered with good conversation uninterrupted by stern eye-making and quiet threats, in peace and the only rambunctious behavior in the restaurant came from the next table where a group of young ladies had gathered to celebrate a birthday, and consequently were in high spirits and infecting the furthest corner of the restaurant with correspondingly high decibels.
Also at the restaurant, were assorted families, with offspring of assorted ages, lending a wonderful cacophony to the ambience to provide the perfect white noise to ensure that no one could eavesdrop on the conversation at the next table. Our primary criterion in selecting restaurants these days seems to be whether they look upon children kindly and have a jungle theme and animated motorised animals to keep the kids occupied while we throw our food in our gullet, swill down our drinks and have them keep the check on standby. Another criterion while selecting a restaurant is whether they have multiple cuisines. Because the child thinks nothing of demanding Drums of Heaven, followed by chicken lasagna and topped with some mutton rogan gosht, post which he will doze off happily in his seat from calorific excesses and we need to shake him occasionally and request him to pipe down on the snoring. Now that we've graduated to restaurants where the cutlery isn't plastic and the crockery is immensely breakable, the level of stress to ensure that there aren't any casualties in the course of the evening does more to accelerate the rapid greying of the hairline than a week's worth of homework not completed.
I must add, I salute the bravery of them new parents who take infants and toddlers into restaurants. Most of the meal is spent trying to a) Keep the child from bawling, b) Get the child to eat something without spitting it up on the rest of the gathering at the table or worse, into the food, and c) Eat a pleasant meal oneself without having to throw it unchewed into the food pipe in order to exit as quickly as possible. Restaurants should invent special parent meals that can be eaten in a couple of bites, without requiring the use of both hands at the same time, because one free hand is essential to restrain the baby from practicing how far eating implements need to be flung to get maximum auditory reaction from the parents. It would also help to wear a thick hide to deflect the barbed gazes from other diners who might seem a trifle resentful of needing to eat their entire meal from under the table. And then of course, when they grow to toddler level and every table corner is at eyelevel, is another trial by hell altogether, even at quick service restaurants where the only sensible thing to do is to either opt for a take away and eat the meal peacefully in the car or back home, where hopefully, you have sharp corners of tables and sideboards covered with foam.
I can't wait for the time I'll be too uncool for the brat to be seen in restaurants with. Hopefully, I should outgrow the instinctive reaction to cut up food on the plate next to mine into small pieces by then.