Do you remember eating out in the days before you had kids? Remember how your stupid, naive younger self would just occasionally go out and have a generally pleasant time, eating interesting food and having good conversations with whoever you were with? Well thanks to your darling child, you won't have to deal with the pressure of that kind of spontaneity again for several years.
First Trips OutOur first few weeks of parenthood mainly involved just staring at The Boy like he might explode at any minute. But after a short time we were confident that he was probably OK, was reasonably unlikely to explode, and we started taking him out into the world. This, in hindsight, was a golden time as we took him to all kinds of fun places and showed our friends just how cool we were and how having a baby hadn't changed us. If anything, we figured we could do even more fun things than we did before and at one point even ventured to a festival in the middle of Trafalgar Square where he attracted the adoration of half of London. 'This is easy' I thought, as I bounded around with the baby snugly attached to me in a harness. 'This kid will grow up hanging out in all kinds of cool places' I thought, as I spent a Sunday afternoon with him mooching around Camden Markets.
Dining With a ToddlerIt was shortly after I'd become comfortable with this (as became a running theme) that things changed. That tiny sleeping baby who could be easily carried around and only needed the occasional feed and nappy change suddenly became a wriggling, emotional, opinionated tiny person with a short attention span, a very clear idea of what he liked and didn't like, and the means to express it to anyone within a half-mile radius. He's actually always loved to eat which is a bonus, but has the table manners of a chimpanzee and often leaves the area looking like a KFC at midnight on a Saturday night. Other diners are usually sympathetic to our plight, but there are always some that for some reason don't like bits of penne pasta being lobbed in their direction, and as a parent I'm always aware that we can be an unwanted disruption to their meal.
PrioritiesAs for The Boy, his train of thought goes something like this:
- Must eat IMMEDIATELY (this usually involves us ordering from the kid's menu as soon as we're seated, and distracting him with cheese-based snacks).
- Get bored of eating the second Mummy and Daddy's meal arrives at the table. Make an 'introductory' fuss in preparation for the real thing.
- Spend a maximum of five minutes playing with a toy car or some crayons while Mummy and Daddy desperately wolf down their dinner in a horrible race against time.
- Get bored of the toys and start to properly kick off, usually resulting in the toys and any leftover food being redistributed across a wide area.
- Escape. Escape by any means. Scream, struggle, try to wriggle out of the high chair and generally cause a massive scene until one parent breaks and gives up on their dinner to removed said babe from the dining area.
- Run. Run as far and as fast as possible in any direction. Never look back and never take a straight path.
Dining OptionsOf course this chain of events would happen in the same way no matter if we went to McDonalds or decided to pop into the Savoy, so the most comfortable thing to do is go somewhere that's full of other families in similar situations. An exotic Harvester for example, or a cordon bleu Wetherspoon. As a non-parent I'd look at parents and question why they went from eating in interesting places to noisy chain restaurants just because they had a kid. 'The things they do to keep their kid happy', I thought. But now I realise it's not for the kid at all! It's for the parents, and anywhere you can take your child where you don't incur the hatred of other customers is a massive comfort. If a child on the next table is kicking off, so much the better! You don't feel like the worst parent in the place. If you're not peeking over your shoulder looking for people giving you the death stare, fantastic! You don't feel guilty for being there. If the menu is fully of completely predictable generic dishes, brilliant! It'll be easier to order and get your dinners quickly.
And so our love of quirky little restaurants has gone out the window quicker than a pack of freebie crayons. People invite us out to cute gastropubs and say 'bring The Boy' and we usually have to say no. In that environment he's a liability and will make his own life and everyone else's around him a misery! But stick him in a Hungry Horse and he'll be great. This is the sacrifice we'll need to make for a few years for a peaceful life, and I can live with that. I just won't be starting any food blogs any time soon.