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Back seat parenting from the corner booth at Waffle House

You know what drives me nuts? When people, usually women (sometimes even ones I know!), see me out in public with my kids and automatically assume I’m in over my head.

Like the other weekend, Caroline had taken our oldest to Nashville to see Justin Bieber in concert, which left me to take care of the triplets and baby Luke all by my lonesome.

On Saturday mornings, they usually come with me to Dunkin Donuts, but I figured since Caroline and Alli were away, we should make that outing a little sexier by going to Waffle House. The kids love it there.

I’m no rookie, right? So, I know what to expect a long wait. Which is fine, because I had “the talk” with the triplets. See, I’ve found that if you just let five-year-olds know what’s coming, they’re almost always able to handle it.

So, I was all, “HEY long wait, right? No acting out during that wait. If either of you do, we’ll leave right that second.”

Which, I suspect, is why our wait went without event. That still didn’t mean it was a passive/quiet one. I mean, seriously, I’m with three five-year-olds and a baby, right? So there is a degree of difficulty involved.

Well, anyway, this one woman was all up in our business. She shot looks in our direction which alternated between amusement and concern. I get the amusement part. Because, you know, we’re amusing. But the concerned part left me scratching me head.

Whatever, I thought. I’m probably reading too much into it.

After a while we got seated, and wouldn’t you know it, the nosy woman got seated right after us in the booth directly behind where I was sitting. And I can feel her staring holes in the back of my head.

So I turned around and smiled.

“All these yours?” she asked nodding toward my brood.

“Yep.”

“Where’s Mommy?” she asked.

“She and my oldest are out of town.”

“I bet you can’t wait till she comes back.”

I gave her my best I’m not sure I get why you’d think that look before smiling and returning to my attention to my junior associates.

Once I got Luke all situated with some crackers and a sippy cup of milk, I helped the triplets figure out what they wanted. Right about then our server came, took our orders and went about her merry way.

Ten minutes later, she was back, her tray loaded with our late-morning breakfast. Naturally, it was at this very moment that Sam had to go to the bathroom, this despite the fact, I’d asked each if they needed to do such during our wait.

“Well, I didn’t have to, then,” he explained while doing some odd bouncing maneuver which, I gathered, was in an effort to curb the sensation. “But I really have to go now.”

“Me, too,” said Kirby.

“And me,” said Jack. Ah, urination by association, I thought. I know it well.

So I told them if they really had to go, then they should all three go together, and I pointed to the bathroom door (which was in clear sight.)

This apparently didn’t sit too well with the woman behind me.

“They won’t be able to reach the doorknob,” she said. She’d startled me a bit, as I had no idea she was still watching us, much less about to offer her unsolicited points of concern.

“They’re five,” I said with a smug nod. “Not three. They can reach doors. And open them, too,” I said, making my eyes wide for effect. And, perhaps, to come off like a bit of a dick.

She shot me a disapproving look, as if I were sending them out to slaughter. At which point, I said…

“You know what? Let’s just all go.” So we all went. All five of us. An adult, a baby and three five year olds. Sam really did have to pee. Kirby and Jack really did not. (Shocker.) We washed our hands and headed back to our waiting food.

Much chaos and in-fighting occurred while I cut the waffles. Each wanted his or her waffle cut first. There was also a minor milk skirmish. It seems Kirby was certain that Sam had gotten hers. Meanwhile, Jack’s reasonably sure that Kirby took a sip of his water and “spit all over it.”

This is garden-variety stuff, my friends. Happens all the time when you so many young ‘ens. So when Luke chimed in with a little bit of fussiness, I’m certain that our table sounded quite chaotic to most, but to me it was nothing more than Saturday morning.

That’s when the woman behind me chimed in yet again. “When’s your wife getting back?”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I bet you can’t wait.”

“Yes,” I said. “I remember you saying that about 10 minutes ago.” I turned back around and continued my role as food preparer/drink arbitrator baby soother, and as I engaged in those acts, I contemplated what the woman had said.

She clearly thought that if Caroline were there, everything would be fine. Which means this woman was clearly a dipshit.

I’m not gonna go all bra-burning dad blogger on you and say that I can do every single thing Caroline can do as a parent. Because I can’t. Just like she can’t do every single thing I can do as a parent. So, to an extent, I get it. Mommy’s gone. We all love Mommy. We’re all better when she’s around.

But I am gonna say this. We have five kids. Four of them are aged five or younger. Either one of us — Caroline or I — face similar challenges whenever we take the four littles out to eat by ourselves. Especially when it’s a crowded, fun, loud kinda place like Waffle House where the booths are tight and the tables are little.

But I was navigating the situation quite deftly, all things considered. Even so, this mystery woman seemed to think I was over-matched. That the mom would have done better. That she could have done better.

Which is when I realized the question that was about to come. So I prepared an answer that was succinct, honest, and, most importantly, a conversation-ender. Then, mere moments after I’d thought of the perfect response, it came. The question I was expecting.

“Can I help?”

I turned and smiled and let an uncomfortable silence come over us before finally breaking it.

“Only if you wanna make it worse.”

That was the last I heard from our nosy friend.

By the way? We had an awesome time. It’s like I never wanted it to end.

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