Friday, March 05, 2004

The naked lunch. (Actually, it was supper.)

Let me begin with a testimony; I detest the type of restaurant we keep finding ourselves at these days...Those restaurants that have huge food bars of pasta, vegetables, and heart clogging fried entrees. They usually have a basket of obese yeasty rolls waiting at your table, dripping with bubbly butter slime. Yet this is the most convenient restaurant option; our toddlers like to forage from various tiny samples off the food chain. The noise levels in these places accommodate the unexpected rousing verse of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” quite well.

What I loathe is the organization and coordination it takes to survive in one of these sneeze guard jungles. You usually have to start in a line at a cute little soda fountain of sorts where you get drinks, trays and utensils. Strike one. Holding a tray of multiple drinks in one hand and a child’s hand in the other is a recipe for a soaking of lemonade napalm, or sticky red fruit punch. If you successfully juggle the tray and toddler past the cashier, you now get the patronizing “Let me help you” offering and smirk from the person waiting to seat you. Strike two. Now the death march to your table; the toddler will buzz frenetically around adjacent tables and the thirty-pound “baby” will try to use his weight leverage to dump out of your arms and into someone’s dinner. Strike three.

Let’s say you make it to your table without disaster. You now get to test your Scout knowledge of knots on the broken seatbelt of the baby’s high chair. You get to compete with the toddler for a seat next to daddy. And then, it’s time for the part I dread the most; the hunting and gathering of the food. You can: A) take the toddler and spend a lifetime getting her to choose from the smorgasbord, or B) fill a plate for baby and return to feed him immediately before the screams reach ear splitting decibels. Either way, you aren’t going to get to eat anything but scraps off the baby’s plate, if you’re lucky. If you do get the chance to slip out to fill a plate for yourself, you’ve left the other parent alone with the kids, vunerable.

That’s where I found myself one evening recently—left to conduct the traffic of mashed potatoes and spilled milk on the table while my husband desperately tried to find sustenance. Enter Murphy ’s Law. “I have to go to the bathroom,” my toddler whined. “Just wait, sweetie,” I pleaded, “Daddy will be back in a minute.” “No, I have to go NOW!” Any seasoned parent knows better than to let this statement go unheeded. I looked at the macaroni and cheese crusted baby and knew I didn’t have time to extricate him from my knots, nor could I leave him alone. “Okay,” I sermonized, “You’ve been in this potty a million times and you know which one is the girl’s, right?” “Uh-huh,” she murmured, legs crossed and eyes roving nervously. “I want you to go straight to the potty and straight out; do you understand me?,” I directed. “Okay, mommeeee,” I heard in a diminishing Doppler effect as she ran to the correct bathroom door and disappeared within.

Hey, thought I, that was easy! Wow, she’s just so grown up, I don’t give her enough credit sometimes. I shortly diverted my attention to the floor to retrieve my son’s pacifier and returned my eagle’s gaze on the woman’s bathroom door. “Hon!” I heard whispered in my direction. “Honey!” I heard my husband bark, concealed for the most part behind a wall of salad fixings. He pointed at the far side of the restaurant, where my daughter was walking around with undies and pants around her ankles announcing, “Mommy, Mommy, I need help!” Time came to a standstill. Something was out of place here. A half naked child just doesn’t walk around a restaurant... But mine did. Time hitched back into motion as I pondered why my husband wasn’t running over to snatch her from the guffawing crowd? My scanning eyes detected him crouched behind the salad bar, frozen in battle. “Go watch the baby!” I hissed in my most disgusted voice as I ran over to my daughter, slung her into my arms, and dashed for the bathroom.

I can’t even remember what her reasoning was for the peep show. I know I asked for an explanation and that she gave an answer, but it’s all a blur of recollection. What I’ll never forget was that feeling of pure mortification, and the snapshot of my poor husband, a prisoner of his own discomfiture behind the crudités. You gotta love the guy.