Followers often private message me with comments about how we take our daughter out to restaurants. But it is not as easy as it looks in the photos I post to my social media accounts.
We learned when her brother was young that it took practice. Going to restaurants was something we had to do over and over again before he understood how to behave.
There is a lot of background efforts that go on behind the scenes that we don’t often talk about.
For the past four years, we have gone to our local Bahama Breeze restaurant for my birthday and every year my Facebook timeline reminds me of my daughter’s social decline.
Looking back at last year, she sat and colored while bopping her head to the music.
Having a summer birthday, we usually sit outside and listen to live music while we dine with the kids and I drink exotic cocktails and eat empanadas.
When she was three, videos reminded me of her dancing and giggling at her French fries. She was so happy. So free.
Seeing our table next to the white fencing, I also had a vivid memory of how she climbed through the barrier fence and left the restaurant while I struggled to get past the gate and run after her. I had a foot injury at the time. That memory spiraled into what a rough year 2017 was with daycare expulsions and evaluations.
Looking back at our two-year-old Ally, she clapped and danced in the middle of the restaurant while people sighed in awe. Her curly hair and sweet smile, she sat there happily tapping her hands on the table along with the music. I missed that little girl with all of my heart because this year, at 5, she told us that music without words is stupid. That steel drums are weird.
She spilled water on her lap with her first sip of water. It was a covered cup with a straw and she still spills it. Other kids her age are fully drinking out of cups without lids but here we are—still working on this.
And of course, this spill happened at the one and only time I ever left the house without a change of clothes.
And of course, the one and only time I ever wanted to find a bathroom with a hand dryer in it, there wasn’t one.
Ironic isn’t it? I spent a good part of two years avoiding public bathrooms with loud hand drying machines (which felt impossible) and the one time I wanted one to dry her clothes, it was nowhere to be found.
The first twenty minutes were spent crying until I turned her romper backward in the bathroom so she didn’t feel the dampness of her shorts as lucidly.
We distracted her with coloring and my husband and her brother rubbed her face, pet her like a little cat. It soothed her enough not to annoy people around us.
For the most part, we usually preview the menu to any restaurant before we go out to eat. We usually walk in knowing exactly what we are going to order. More than half of the time, we order our drinks, appetizer, and meals at the same time within the first few minutes. We do this knowing that we have, on average, about an hour before Ally becomes unbearable or behavioral. So in order for our entire family to enjoy our time out to eat, we have to plan to be there for under an hour.
I always bring an activity packet or coloring book and crayons. We usually save our cell phones until she has grown tired of coloring and talking. Sometimes she eats and sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she ate before we go or only wants to eat French fries.
As I sat there sipping my frozen mango margarita this weekend and she cried, I wanted to give her a sip to calm her down. Of course, I didn’t. But I fantasized about it. Sometimes I wonder if that is all that our kids need—a sip of our stiff drink to chill them the F out. But since we can’t do that, I plan ahead. I keep us on schedule and we take her moods as they come.