Dining with Toddlers is Fun for Everyone!

Training Manual for Childless Restaurant Staff:  A Practical Guide to Winning Parents’ Approval and Increasing Earning Potential!

As a parent of a toddler, I can imagine no worse fate for a server than to wind up with the table comprised of frazzled parents and their insufferable offspring.  I feel your pain, I truly do.  I submit to you, the following guidelines.  When followed to the letter, they will net you major financial gains.  Because the truth of the matter is, lavish enough praise on their progeny and parents are pretty much the biggest bunch of chumps you’ll ever encounter.  Let’s dive in, shall we?

Host or hostess (who themselves appear to be in violation of child labor laws):
Seat us promptly.  Do not request I park my stroller in a designated area.  Do not refer to myself, husband and child as “two and a half for dinner?”  Yes, I have heard this.  No, I did not laugh the first time.  Nor will I laugh the 1,734th time.  Stop it.  Stop it now.  To the same end, do not make me ask for a high chair.  Yes, the toddler attempting to pry himself from my arms and launch himself onto the floor will, in fact, need some manner of containment device.  Unless you are waiting for an available straight jacket or restaurant-grade baby kennel, make haste with the high chair.

Server:
IMMEDIATELY upon approach, begin lavishing my child with compliments and praise.  Extra points for referring to his as “Mr. Handsome”, “Little Man” or “a young James Dean, except smarter..and you know, more together” You will feel the urge to touch the cherubic boy child; resist at all costs!!!   This takes our interaction into creepy town.  I do not know where you have been.  Nor do I care to know, as it is probably infinitely more interesting that my usual haunts (i.e. Target, my sofa) and I will be jealous.  Do not, under any circumstances, be skinnier than me.  Male servers, you can sit this one out.  You’re off the hook.  But ladies, know that the dying embers of my body-confidence are stoked only by the notion that you are able to maintain that flat stomach consuming a diet comprised solely of tap water and left over lettuce garnishes.  If you tell me about how you “can’t get enough of the fettuccine alfredo!”  I will fucking eat you.

When you bring the drinks (Yes, I am having a drink while out to dinner with my baby.  Perhaps the knowledge that I am a far more generous tipper with a one-gin-and-tonic buzz may wipe that judgmental look off your face?) do not place them within reach of pudgy baby arms.  In fact, take what you believe to be arms-length and double it. The lure of off-limits consumables has something of a Stretch Armstrong effect on toddlers.  Ditto that for scalding hot plates.

As soon as said plates hit the table, just go ahead and grab that check as well.  Leaving us to linger will not encourage increased consumption of food or drink.  It will only increase the likelihood that some unfortunate bus person will be scrubbing leftovers from the floors, walls and ceiling.  As a matter of fact, grab some takeout boxes while you’re at it.  Chances are we’ll only make it through half the meal before Junior’s saint-like patience is exhausted and screeching ensues.  No need to box it for us.  Whisking our plates off to the kitchen and returning with carefully separated and labeled containers or leftovers encased in some manner of tinfoil waterfowl may be impressive to some patrons, but rest assured those minutes are critical and we have foil at home.

Finally, the goodbye.  Now this one is important.  Timing is everything.  When you see us begin to return the now food splattered books and toys into our Volkswagen sized diaper bag, you may want to make your move.  We’re still easily swayed to throw down a few extra bucks for proper parting fanfare.  “Bye bye, sweetheart!  I’ll miss you!  Really I will.  In fact, you’re so painfully adorable I’m that doubting my own life choices.  Forget this freewheeling lifestyle of mine, I must leave immediately and attempt to conceive a child who I hope will be just like you.”  Disgustingly placating?  Maybe.  Will it work?  Absolutely.  Extra points if you acknowledge the hellacious mess he’s made in a congratulatory manner.  “Looks like someone sure enjoyed his meal!  Good job, buddy!”  Good job indeed…good job indeed.

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Urban Sprawl

On an otherwise lovely day last fall I encountered this most obnoxious specimen of parental douchery while waiting to board a return flight to Minneapolis.  Ah, the business trip!  Three childless days in New York City?  Yes please, don’t mind if I do!  Note, if you will, the couple in the foreground.  Observe their two regulation size human children accompanied by standard travel equipment.  And note in addition to said children and accoutrements, the sense of entitlement so large that it required the ENTIRE row of accessible seating to accommodate.  Aghast, I thought “Surely there must be something I’m missing here.  No conscientious adult couple would intentionally treat provisions for the handicapped like their own personal Gymboree class – would they?”  I scanned the area to see if perhaps a valet was retrieving a rascal scooter or iron lung.  My faith in humanity took a haymaker to the groin when I realized that was not the case.

Attention sprawlers:  YOU ARE NOT DISABLED!  While toting toddlers about may limit one’s ability to complete a cross stitch or sip a martini without spilling, this particular infirmity does not warrant federally mandated accessible seating.  Simply having children implies that you have agreed to a lifetime of inconvenience.  Schlepping absurd amounts of tackle wherever you go is part of the deal.  Amateur Sherpa, it’s right there in the job description.  You read the contract and signed it – no takesies-backsies.  I resented their brazen disregard of this treaty.  So there I stood, rage growing by the second while hoping like hell for an actual disabled person to happen along.  Praying they might be taken to task on their thoughtlessness and taught a sorely needed lesson.  Preferably by way of a wheelchair vs. stroller showdown, a la Ben Hur or The Fast and the Furious.  Sadly, the moment never came and we boarded the plane with nary a Tokyo Drift.  Sigh.  Where is Stephen Hawking when you really need him?  Probably at JFK, dealing with the exact same shit.

Moby Wrapped

“Do you already have a Moby Wrap?” asked a well-meaning, fellow mom friend.  It was one of our first post-baby social outings with screaming infant in tow.  We’d made the arduous two block journey to our friends’ home, in the car of course (the solitary white cloud in the otherwise clear sky threatened to erupt into sprinkles at any second.)  My husband and I knew had come to know this couple well in our former life.  Due to the sheer frequency of our drunken outings, we had managed to forge quite a solid friendship despite the backdrop of incessant debauchery and dirty rock bars.  They were veteran parents compared to us (they had survived a whole 18 months!) but it was still mildly alarming how quickly the conversation shifted from old topics to poop and colic.  Like instantly.

“A Moby Wrap?”  Having grown all too accustomed to pretending I was well versed in high-end baby paraphernalia, I automatically launched my go-to defense strategy.  “Well, I thought we would wait to see if he seemed like a (insert random gadget here) kind of person.  You know, you really do have to meet them first…”  It was, of course, utter bullshit.  Realizing I was in a safe place, I stopped myself.  “Wait, what the hell is a Moby Wrap?”

That seemingly simple question, launched the most elaborate lesson ever conceived on what could be done with a 3 1/2 yard piece of fabric.  For those not yet familiar, the Moby Wrap is somewhere between a sari and a straightjacket.  When you follow their easy 138-step wrapping instructions, it somehow miraculously becomes an infant carrier.  That’s right, it’s just that easy!  And for a shade under 60 bones, this stunning piece of infant technology can be yours!  A steal, really.  Throughout the tutorial, I stared blankly as I fought mental imagery of a swaddling pop-techno icon, Moby, strapped to my chest like a snuggly little tumor.  A tumor with hipster glasses and vegan footwear.

The reality of the apparatus was infinitely more palatable.  After several attempts that left me looking like a yarn tangled kitten while my newborn, obviously unsympathetic to the Moby Wrap learning curve, wailed impatiently.  When I finally managed a correct wrap, I stuffed him in.  Much to my amazement, he actually seemed to enjoy it.  It was a bit uncomfortable, as “wearing” an infant on an 85 degree day is akin to strapping a piping hot, well-basted pot roast to your chest.  But he was peacefully sleeping and I had two free arms for the first time in weeks.  As I used those newly liberated limbs to tackle long neglected dishes, laundry and cleaning I thought, “Bless you Moby, you beautiful, bald son of a bitch.  Bless you and your magical wrap too.”

Tales from the Road

Picture if you will a warm and sunny, pristinely gorgeous fall day.  A nearly perfect day to set off on a road trip from civilized, urban Minnesota to my eastern South Dakota hometown; a five and a half hour schlep through what I affectionately call, the taint of the Midwest.  Scenery?  None.  Cow dung?  Plenty.  Having relocated to the Twin Cities ten years ago, I’ve come to know this drive all too well.  Prior to having my son, the drive was at worst a minor annoyance.  Like a paper cut.  It has since become its very own brand of torture.  Like a thousand paper cuts.  On and about your eyeballs and genitals.

The anxiety of long distance car travel with a baby is almost more than my poor 30(ish) year old heart can take.  Chalk this up to the fact that my child is a rare breed that detests riding in his car seat.  It’s true.  Never so much as a “thanks for chauffeuring me everywhere, Ma.” let alone kicking in some gas money every now and again.  Nope, only ear drum rattling, glass shattering shrieking.  Even in the quiet, content moments I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop and the wailing to start.  Add to that my own tendencies toward neurotic backseat driving and you have yourself a shit show of epic proportions.  Given the choice between a road trip with baby and an invasive gynecological exam, I’m going with the Pap smear 9 1/2 times out of 10.

All things considered, this particular trip was starting out relatively well.  We set off at a reasonable hour, our sensible little car packed to the gills for a two day trip (Seriously, he’s two feet tall.  How the hell does he have so much stuff?).  There we were, on our merry way, when…… IT happened.  A routine gas stop set off a chain of events that ended in the barf heard round the world.  Stopping the car lead to a very brief interruption in the in-flight entertainment, a portable DVD device playing his favorite television show.  This interruption was simply too much to bear, and so began a brain melting crying jag.  Crying soon gave way to hysterical screeching.  Due to the lingering remnants of a chest cold, screeching begat a coughing fit.  Said coughing fit then lead to the most impressive feat of digestive pyrotechnics I have ever witnessed.  This includes the solid year where Jagermeister with a marijuana chaser was my beverage of choice.  A vomit made all the more spectacular by the fact that all he had deemed fit to consume that day was milk and French fries.  It was as white and bountiful as Rush Limbaugh’s ass.  And it just…kept…coming.  It was the exorcist sponsored by McDonald’s.  And all we could do was watch in horror.

A sharp turn off of the highway, and the parking lot of a tractor supply store became our pit stop.  Under the watchful eye of a grizzled old man in a John Deere hat smoking a Marb Red, we feverishly attacked the mess armed only with a travel pack of baby wipes (a feat akin to cleaning up the Gulf oil spill with a fistful of cotton balls).  With a nod from our one-man pit crew, we were back on the road.  And so I sat crammed in the back seat, stroking the hair of a now sleeping, vomit scented child.  Four hours left.  But hey, at least we get a chance to do it all again in two days.

Mo Binky, Mo Problems

I recall being just a few short weeks into motherhood and shaking my fists at the gods when my chronically fussy baby refused to love his pacifier.  I’d offer it, he’d go to town on that bad boy for a few seconds, and “POP”, out it would fly.  Then the crying would start again.  I felt like the pacifier was the missing piece.  Like it was the cure-all for my parental woes and I was at a huge disadvantage without it in my bag of tricks.  “Surely he’d sleep in uninterrupted 10 hour intervals if only he’d hang on to that pacifier.”  We tried every size, shape, color, brand of pacifier under the sun.  I think there may have even been a cool ranch flavored one in there…  But sadly, none of them worked.  He was an Olympic level nurser, and he took a bottle so-sweat – but it was no-paci, no-how.

Cut to nearly two years old, and me thanking my lucky stars that we aren’t dealing with pacifier deprogramming.  Talking to other mothers, binky rehab sounds like a toddler version of Trainspotting.  I picture baggy-eyed, twitching baby junkies tottering around, desperate for just one more fix.

One of my favorite mom friends (and all around favorite people) shared her solution with me.  She and her daughter tossed pacifiers off their third floor terrace so the baby squirrels in the surrounding trees might treat themselves to a suckle.  Friggin’ genius!  I defy you to show me a tot who wouldn’t be comforted by the idea of diaper-clad baby squirrels frolicking in the treetops with binkies in their itty bitty mouths.

In a moment of mommy-masochism, I once found myself watching one of those nanny rescue type reality shows.  The latter day Mary Poppins helped a young boy kick the habit by instructing him to pack up his precious in a manila envelope addressed to the “Paci-fairy”.  He then deposited the envelope in the mail box and the next morning found the nymph had replaced his pacifier with candy and gifts.  Like the tooth fairy, but with rubber nipples.  And the little bugger could not have been more thrilled.  Also friggin’ genius!

I often try to imagine how I might be coping with this issue if I had to.  I picture myself telling the little guy that, second only to malaria, pacifier shortage is the most critical issue facing third-world countries today.  I don’t know that he’d really grasp the urgency of the situation, or that I even knew how much postage you need to ship a box of pacifiers to Rwanda.  No, I’m sure I’d have to come up with something better.  But instead I just smile and thank the same gods I cursed nearly two years ago, thankful we dodged the binky bullet.