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Do You Dare Take Your Toddlers to Restaurants?

Taylor Hengen Newman

We went out to our new favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant this past Saturday evening. We’ve ordered take-out from them a few times in the past week, wherein we moved into our new house, got sick like a stack of dominos AND overbooked our schedules… thus we were feeling the take-out like nobody’s business. Then on Saturday, Kaspar napped late and long, and—it being Saturday, with everyone feeling well again and our kid in a well-rested good mood—we thought it time to dine in. As in, in the restaurant.

We’ve actually done this a lot since Kaspar was born—most places around here are kid-friendly (though some outright ban children, which is a recent trend, and a weird one). We haven’t done it so much recently, though. Restaurants were easy with a baby— we’d bring the boob, or—later-- baby food, and do our thing. But for a good six months or so now, eating out hasn’t provided the respite from the juggling act that is parenting life in the way it once did. Instead, we just bring our juggling act out into public. It’s not that I worry about subjecting the public to family life. We’re all nice people to be around, and Kaspar makes friends wherever he goes; he’s not the screaming kid in the restaurant with the parents who choose to ignore both the screaming and the agitated “Wtf?” glances circling the room. It’s more a matter of our not getting much out of going out to eat when we have to take turns eating alone whilst the other of us walks laps on the property with Adventure-Boy Newman (then returns to a cold entrée when we trade). Take-out tends to make more sense. Or date night, baby-free, which is the bomb.

Saturday evening, though, we went for it. We talked Kaspar into being super psyched to “go to a restaurant(!!!)”, packed his dinner (salmon), a treat (organic squeezy-tube mango thing), and a book. We scored seating directly beneath an in-wall fish tank. Our server even brought a colorful melamine plate for Kaspar to eat from, and pointed out key kid-popular elements in the surrounding décor (colorful painted parasols on the ceiling, elephants on the wall, said fish tank). This all worked a charm. For, like, ten minutes, which I must have seen coming, because I ordered a soup that I knew would arrive piping hot. Hot enough for me to lap the room a few times before sitting down again, and still have a warm meal to enjoy. By the way, I love this place even more for having an amazing fenced-in garden area with a) colored lights, b) varied walking surfaces including grass, gravel and concrete and c) no problem at all with us running around like banshees in this space for the duration of our visit.

So while I’d say our recent restaurant experience was a success— we all had fun, there were no meltdowns or messes, and the food was pretty bangin’, too— I’m still left wondering if this is the kind of success we can expect for the time being, or if there are any tricks to making that ten minutes of together-time at the table last a little longer. Twelve minutes would really be something. And fifteen… hey, I can dream.

Do you even try to eat out with your small children? Do you do it all the time? Just once in a while? What are your tricks for keeping them occupied and happy while you (and any other adults/older kids in the family) eat your meal?

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