It starts in the high chair, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Spencer and I don’t haunt many restaurants these days, mostly out of respect for our fellow man (and our sanity). Dining out with small children is an exercise in patience, and often means you’re going to spend your time feeding your toddler bits of an expensive meal you’d much rather eat yourself — when you’re not wrestling him or her away from a stranger’s lap, anyway.
It’s kind of like throwing $20 bills into the wind as we battle to keep Oliver occupied. I barely touch the pasta I was desperately craving. Spencer hardly eats at all. Everything comes home in to-go containers, usually provided as soon as our dinners actually arrive; we’re already heading into a meltdown by mid-meal. It’s just too expensive for it to be that frustrating.
So we’re connoisseurs of carry-out. Restaurants are for special occasions only, and usually when we have back-up in the form of strapping relatives. Spencer and I trade off eating while the other chases Ollie. Learning to walk took him longer than most kiddos, a fact that worried us, but I knew that someday we would look back with nostalgia on when Oliver actually stayed where we plopped him. I was right.
A good friend was recently in town from London, and we tried for weeks to make plans before she flew back across the Atlantic. Like most folks, this resulted in roughly 25 text message exchanges on possibilities before we could settle on a single Sunday mid-afternoon date — a visit squeezed in between the end of her conference in Washington and her cab back to the airport.
While I have no problem admitting when I need help with Oliver, I thought Spencer and I could handle him for an hour or two at a casual restaurant. I last saw Lyndsey five years ago in England, back when I still had cash and time to vacation with my parents and sister. Much has changed since 2011, and I was excited to introduce her to my husband and son. How rough could it be?
And anyway, as a mother her- self, I knew Lyndsey wouldn’t worry or judge when Oliver in- evitably got bored with his Ted- dy Grahams and moved on to . . . well, to dismantling the place. My son is very into feng shui. Oliver senses when a piece of furniture is incorrectly placed — and has no trouble fixing it for you. It’s not unusual to hear the rumble of a rolling desk chair being pushed down the hallway, or a side table shoved against a wall.
Did I mention he’s really strong?
We had about 10 minutes with Lyndsey before Ollie was ready to roll. No amount of begging, silly faces or snacks could con- vince him to stay still; learning to walk recently became learn- ing to run, and this kid is dan- gerous in sneakers. Reluctantly, and mostly to stop the fussing, we let him down from his high chair.
Spencer and I took turns chas- ing him around the restaurant, which was mercifully empty. I’ve received a few death stares when my kid was acting up, and I’m not eager to repeat that ex- perience. I mean, I get it: I was once a fellow diner just trying to eat her spinach dip in peace. But I give people plenty of grace now. The toddler fight stage is no joke.
Admittedly, my husband does most of the heavy lifting — liter- ally and metaphorically. Carrying and restraining a 30-pound child at five months pregnant is no picnic. Spencer spent most of the meal pulling Oliver away from bathroom doors, emergen- cy exits and glass windows, and I traded off as often as I could. By the time Spence returned to switch places with me, his lunch was practically on ice.
At least the place was qui- et. Oliver’s delighted laughter echoed across the tile floor, mingling with our British and American accents in a corner booth. Spence checked in with our conversation occasionally. Our little guy’s giggles added some levity as we discussed the recent election, Brexit, women’s rights, the future of humanity. Good Sunday conversation. Just keeping things light.
By the time we waved Lyndsey off for her red-eye home, I was sweating in the November chill from schlepping Ollie’s diaper bag and trading off holding Oliver himself. It had been fun, and it had been exhausting. Ollie grinned at me from his dad’s shoulder all the way back to the car.
Later, Spencer and I nibbled on salty chips packed up from the restaurant. It felt great to collapse on the couch. Most of our meal still came home in carry-out containers . . . but at least we got some exercise, too.
I’ll take it.