Kids belong in restaurants, they just do. Even young ones. And young, young ones — newborns, 6-month-olds, crawlers who can’t sit still.
By restaurants, I don’t just mean Denny’s and Chili’s and Pizza Hut. I mean restaurants. Where the service is good, menu options are healthy and your kids might be the only patrons in the place still peeing in their pants.
Unlike Julie Anderson, who argues in an essay on Babble that taking kids younger than 6 out to eat means parents don’t get to enjoy themselves, I say there’s no greater enjoyment than sitting around while other people bring me food. And, yes, in declaring restaurants with the kids a pleasure, I am taking into account the juggling act of hushing voices, monitoring water glasses and fights erupting over the remains in the breadbasket.
For people like me, eating out — no matter who you’re with — is just that good.
I, myself, was raised in restaurants — we ate out all of the time. From a very young age, my sister and I were taken to every kind of restaurant, including relatively nice ones. Our presence was never in question, not by our parents or, as far as I know, other patrons. So I have a hard time thinking of eating out with my kids as a big deal.
I’ve got three, 10, 6 and 2 years-old. If I waited until my youngest was 6, the age Anderson (rightly!) argues that kids are able to demonstrate the excellent table manners they’re learning at home, my oldest’s first exposure to menu reading would have been well into her teens. That strikes this American diner as unnaturally old to be developing a preference for honey mustard dressing over ranch.
Just because the very youngest diners can’t or won’t sit still, chew with their mouths closed or refrain from periodic screechy outbursts doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t just go for it — including at joints that take reservations and don’t hand out kids menus and handfuls of crayons. It’s only 5:30 — the hour of minimum collateral damage!
Waiting years and years (and years!) to eat out with the family adds up to more than a decade of home dinners, shopped for, prepared and cleaned up by my husband and me. Uninterrupted. Day after day. Who cares if we can’t have a conversation in a restaurant? (Actually, we can.) I’m sure mine isn’t the only marriage buoyed by a weekly break in the household post-work/pre-bedtime drudgery.
Anderson, and critics of families dining out, cite other patrons’ comfort as the biggest reason I shouldn’t even attempt to take my little ones out to eat. She writes:
And what about the other people involved? Other restaurant patrons might think your child is the most precious little nubbin they’ve ever seen, but they won’t adore your little sprite enough to babysit him or her while you eat your dinner or pay your bill or have a conversation with your spouse. (Not that you’d let a stranger watch your child, anyway.) Nor will they find it cute when your little precious has a meltdown. You’ll get that look — the please-take-your-kid-outside look.
Know what? Precious melting down isn’t an inevitability, though, sure, it’s a possibility. To be honest, I’m not that concerned about it. Sometimes, kids meltdown. Like the financial collapse or the ubiquity of Justin Bieber, the world just has to deal. That said, any time my husband and I are in a meltdown situation, if we can’t get things settled at the table right away, their dad is more than willing to take one or more outside for a change of scenery. We’ve done that many times. When I eat out alone with my three kids — and I do, I always have, I love it when I see other parents doing the same — and I’m facing a meltdown that I can’t get under control, what then? Easy: I sweat bullets, tune out everyone else in the restaurant, wait it out. And tip generously — the wait staff I’ll see again, the neighboring two-top grimacing in irritation? Never.
Karma’s a bitch, I’ve heard, and I’m more than willing to pay back the universe. Already, I refuse to do anything but smile at a screeching baby on a plane or play peek-a-boo with a toddler kicking relentlessly at the back of my seat. The same goes for restaurants, when I’m at a table with adults only. If I bother to look at a loudly fussing young one, it will only be to give her parents the “been there!” smile. I might even try a round of peek-a-boo, on the off chance a distraction is disarming.
But I won’t get angry or glare. I won’t rethink my stance on young kids in restaurants. I can tune out other people’s little screechers just like I did mine. I’ll read the menu. I’ll order. I’ll deal.