10 brutally honest stages of taking the kids out for dinner
Remember when eating out was the height of leisure and relaxation?
Yeah, me too. As a vague, distant memory from my pre-child life, that is. (Much like my love of wearing impractical high heels every day and attending yoga classes when I felt like it.)
Anyway, just because I have children doesn't mean I no longer love chic bistro brunches and dark tapas bars with flickering candles and delicious Rioja. Because I do. A lot. It's just that civilised meals and rowdy toddlers have a tendency not to go hand in hand.
And dinners out, much as we still like indulge in them in a desperate attempt to both eat and also remain "young and with it" as my husband says, nowadays look very different to what they once did.
Got kids and want to dine out? Good luck. Here are the 10 Oh-My-God-Can-We-Go-Home-Yet stages of eating out, family style:
1. Decide on where to go
Now, this one is a biggie. Because much as I love to try beat food critics to the latest IT place and eat in places that look utterly amazing on my Instagram feed, chances are my kids won't like it unless the eatery in questions has bright lights, animal shaped fish fingers and crayons by the bucketload.
You can see why even trying to find some kind of halfway house between these two can be quite the headwreck...
2. Ponder whether I have dressed appropriately
I don't really want to compare eating out with my children to going into war, but let me make this clear: This is not the time for dry-clean-only clothing. White (or any light colours, really) should also be avoided. Actually; just pick any outfit you wouldn't mind losing in a fire, and you are good to go.
(Usually, I end up in the bathroom frantically wiping spaghetti bolognese off the sleeves of whatever I am wearing, so I am still learning, clearly...)
3. Pick the right time
This one is crucial. Never mind eating brunch when they actually serve brunch or making the early bird special. What I have learned in the last six years it that with kids, you have a narrow (tiny) little window in which you can actually manage to get everyone fed without the apocalypse happening.
If you have yet to encounter a child who's blood sugar have dipped below that point; count your blessings.
4. Feeling thankful for my huge "mum tote"
If you are a mum, you have probably already waved goodbye to your dainty little clutch bags of the past, and are familiar with hauling around a suitcase-sized tote wherever you go.
And while this might be a killer for my back and shoulders, eating out with the family is a situation where I am always delighted I have everything but the kitchen sink within my (desperate) grasp.
Like most mums, I think bribing kids is a pretty low form of parenting, but this rule goes out the window when it comes to getting through a meal in the presence of other humans. I now subscribe to this theory when eating out: Whatever it takes to get us through the next hour. Seriously; whatever. Crayons, raisins, Ipads, colouring books, Shopkins, Netflix, chocolate (I know; I question my parenting at times too!)? Bring. It.
5. High-five myself for having avoided anywhere that dishes out balloons
Especially the ones that come on a stick. All they will accomplish is taking someone's eye out.
6. Start sweating because our food is taking too long to make it to the table
The cold hard truth about children in public is that they are manageable only when they are actually eating or fast asleep, so the faster food can make it from the chef's hands onto our table, the better.
I feel like shouting at the staff that if they really want to avoid all the other customers leaving, they really should speed things up a little... And by things I mean everything, finding us a table, feeding us, getting us out of there...
7. Order water
Remember way back when eating brunch meant mimosas or dinner included wine lists and elaborate cocktails? Post kids, forget about it.
Nowadays, my motto (when eating with the kids) is this: Do. Not. Liquor. Up. As in not even a teeny tiny glass of bellini. Ever tried wrangling a two-year-old when you are a little lightheaded? No can do.
8. Multi-task and chew
Until you have to do it, you will never realise how hard it is to enjoy perfectly al dente pasta and frothy cappuccinos until you have to devour these while also helping your five-year-old find the pink crayon that rolled under the table (and five more tables to the left) and convincing a two-year-old he has to sit in his chair for just FIVE MORE MINUTES.
9. Eat in turns
My husband and I have pretty much given up eating our meals at the same time, and resort to, as is now the new norm, taking turns eating.
In practice, this means one of us inhaling our food as quickly as humanly possible while the other lets wriggly toddler run up and down the footpath in front of trendy brunch place before we switch.
10. Rate the date
Before, you might have had the inclination to ponder how the actual meal was, as in how extensive was the wine menu, how fresh were the mussels etc., etc. Now? Now I just think that if nothing got broken, nobody got puked on and my two-year-old didn't hit his sister over the head with a firetruck, we are good.
*ignores the spaghetti on the floor, the crayons marks on the table and the mysterious spillage under my chair...