The Toddler Doggie BagBeth Anne Ballance
Toddler parents, I have a challenge for you and it’s one that will make non-toddler parents shudder with nightmares in their sleep for weeks to come.
I challenge you to take your toddler out to eat.
No, not at McDonald’s or anywhere else that boasts a playground and special toys if Tiny Tim eats all his nuggets. I’m talking a real restaurant with waiters and menus and nary a ball pit in sight. Where regular people with regular lives (which does not include toddler parents because we all know that we’re bartering with insanity each day) go and feast. I dare you to take your two-year old into a restaurant, sit down and have a family conversation and meal.
But don’t get too frisky and order an appetizer. Even dares have their limits.
I think way too many folks are afraid to take their toddler out to eat – afraid they will make a scene or not eat the $7.00 plate of macaroni – so a whole generation of kiddos is being raised not knowing how to eat in public. I think that is a rotten shame.
I get it, though. I have been in a lovely restaurant with my husband, low lighting and enjoying a $30 steak with a $12 martini and the people next to us sit down with a shrieking, bored toddler. NOT APPROPRIATE. It is enough to a) ruin my meal and b) prove that I’m not ready for baby #2.
So most importantly, pick a restaurant that is known for a rowdy atmosphere. Not hockey game worthy, but more along the lines of your average chain restaurant with a bar in one corner & high school aged waiters. We like to hit up Olive Garden or Carolina Ale House, two places notorious for loud noise levels so that when Harrison lets out a shriek (as all toddlers do), nobody blinks an eye. Because he just blends in.
I’m always sure to grab a few small trucks, a pad of paper with a crayon, or a book for him to look over while we wait for our food. We talk to him, talk to each other, practice words. We try to engage him in our conversation, rather than shut him out, to teach him that in a restaurant with the family, it is time for bonding and sharing. Then when the meal comes, he is expected to at least take a few bites. I know that we will end up with a doggie bag of chicken strips or pasta, but it’s less for nutrition and more for the experience so that hopefully when he’s seven, he won’t be hollering or refusing to use his salad fork.