All I want for Valentine’s Day is to sleep until 9 a.m. and have breakfast served to me in bed.
Just putting it out there.
I’m happy to avoid a restaurant this year. Things haven’t been the same between me and restaurants since Henry arrived.
I used to regard eating out with the wide-eyed excitement of a child. Now I look at my wide-eyed child with the vacant look of a defeated adult. A table-for-two has little allure when your lunch companion has a penchant for tearing up napkins, overturning salt shakers and occasionally cawing like a seagull while wielding a slimy baby spoon like a drunk with a lighter at a Guns N’ Roses concert.
Until Henry pursues his degree in economics from Harvard we’ll probably never enjoy a civilized meal in public. And even then the experience will suck because he’ll be boring.
So here’s my dilemma:
Babysitters are a beautiful thing, but a $40 meal at Chili’s* turns into a $70 meal if you get a babysitter for three hours.
But I believe it’s fundamentally important for babies and mamas to GET OUT, even if doing so feels inconvenient. Against my better judgement, I will occasionally (if I’m feeling especially patient) carry my refined bundle of joy into a restaurant.
I’m not talking five-star restaurants. I’m not even talking four-star joints. I’m talking greasy spoons that serve coffee that tastes like diesel fuel.
Cute cafes that serve adventurous vegetarian cuisine is always a plus, but usually they’re too quiet. And too cute. So in an effort to be conspicuous, I seek out noisy places with outdoor dining.
Because people are jerks.
Not all of you. But some of you.
Some of you look at me like I strapped a sack of nuclear waste to a high chair. And many of you see no problem in voicing this observation.
If you’re an old coot (or a young coot for that matter) and you’re not into babies, and I’m enjoying a $10 entree in the company of my eight-month old son, shut your pie hole and stop glaring at me for having the audacity to leave
prison home with my kid.
I know I sound dramatic, but this is the reception I get now. I was once considered a ray of sunshine. Now I’m a walking storm cloud.
My first encounter with a restaurant crank happened at the Village Inn. THE VILLAGE INN. The place is a glorified Waffle House with better pies.
Henry was three months old and my sister PK and I were craving breakfast food. It was an odd hour: 3 p.m. The diner was empty except for one young couple in a booth. Perfect, I thought. Young people rarely get twisty panties over babies.
And then two old women in babushkas walked in. We were doomed.
The oblivious waitress sat them at a table behind us. This will go one of two ways, I thought. They’ll either adore him or despise him.
They despised him.
Less than three minutes into sitting down, my son pulled his pacifier out of his mouth and let out a meek “wahh.”
Although I quelled the child instantly, one of the babushkas was clearly irate.
She rose from her table, gathered her menu and purse and headed to a booth at the back of the restaurant.
“There’s no way I’m going to sit here next to that damn thing,” she snapped.
Not only had she offended me with her plastic babushka, she had just called my cherub a damn thing.
I vowed the next time it happened I’d spit out a scathing comeback.
A couple months later it happened again over breakfast at a popular diner in downtown Sarasota. My parents were in town. After devouring a bounty of fruit, pancakes and crepes, my four-month-old son, after spending the past 30 minutes flirting with two 20-somethings at the table behind us, squealed for no apparent reason.
Unbeknownst to a nearby crusty who had just sat down and ordered a coffee, we had just paid our bill and were ready to leave.
He got up from his table in a huff. Then he noticed we were packing up. To make his irritation more obvious he asked, “You leaving?”
“Yes,” I sighed.
“Oh, OK,” he grumbled, sitting back down with his menu and mug.
Again, I was aghast. As we walked out of the restaurant, the girls who had enjoyed interacting with my animated son said loudly and with sarcasm, “Bu-bye Henry. We LOVED sitting by you. Some people are just grumpy. It’s OK.”
So much for my scathing comeback.
I had just about given up on eating in public with my kid when Zipper Boy (remember him?) suggested we meet for lunch at a museum cafe, the kind of establishment that calls its french fries pommes frites.
I was petrified, but I went anyway, bringing an arsenal of distracting toys for Henry to futz with.
We sat at a table on the water and the amiable waitress brought us a highchair. Of course Henry didn’t want his toys. He wanted the salt packets, the napkins and the fluted water glass I was drinking from.
I began to sweat.
“What’s wrong,” Zipper asked.
“This place is a little too fancy for my kid,” I replied.
“But he seems fine,” my childless, single guy friend replied. “He’s just a curious baby. Let him be curious.”
“You don’t understand,” I said. “He’ll destroy the table. He’ll make a scene. People will STARE at us.”
“But he’s a baby. What do you expect?”
Fine, I thought. You’ll see.
Midway through our lunch, Henry got cranky. Rather than rush to finish eating so I could occupy him, Zipper volunteered to hold him.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “He can get unruly.”
“Hand him to me,” replied my hard-partying bachelor friend.
So I handed him Henry and returned to my goat cheese salad. And wouldn’t you know? I finished the whole damn thing, a delicious meal at a NICE restaurant with Henry by my side. Even better: no one shot me the stink eye or muttered grievances under their breath.
Or maybe they did and I just didn’t notice, which I suppose is the key to dining in public with a baby.
When we got back, Henry took a nice nap and I conducted a long-distance phone interview on a full stomach.
Later that day, I opened my Faceook page and saw that Zipper had posted a link to a story that ran recently in the Wall Street Journal.
According to the piece, I need to embrace a little French parenting and take my baby to more restaurants that serve pommes frites rather than french fries.
*I’m not a fan of Chili’s. Don’t know why I used the reference.