When one lives with a Baby Genius, one is always learning, especially now that said Baby Genius is getting older and more vocal and developing a personality. Take today, for example. I have been doing this crazy scoring marathon for the state university where eight hours a day, I am sequestered to the office reading essay after essay after essay. It is mind-numbing. Some of these days I do this for eight hours straight, but some days I have a split shift, where I work four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, freeing up time to be with my family in between. Today was one of those days, so J and I decided we would go out for lunch after the lunch hour to this great little pizza place near our home.
The thing is, we’re both a bit fried from this week already. She has BG all day long except for nursing times, and my mind is on bad student writing. Therefore, it wasn’t until we had nearly arrived at the restaurant that we realized we had forgotten any food for Baby Genius. No problem, J reassured, as we got into the restaurant. We’d order up some avocado to keep Baby Genius occupied while we ate.
So we entered the restaurant, got BG a high chair, and proceeded to settle in. And then the yelling began. Baby Genius had discovered how lovely his voice sounds in a restaurant echoing through the room at its highest decibels. He got louder and louder. He was having a blast. Meanwhile, J and I were looking at each other and at BG wondering who this kid–yes, kid–was. Where was that quiet little baby who just looked around the restaurant from his car seat?
Our waitress, a visibly pregnant woman, took our order as we played BG’s favorite restaurant game: Throw a Toy on the Filthy Floor (usually followed by Try to Suck on the Disgusting High Chair). We had forgotten to bring any toys (strike two against us), but in his diaper bag, we found a grand total of two toys: a set of plastic keys and this fabric rattle thing that he loves. We took a ring off of the keys to make it seem as though there were really three toys. He would throw them on the floor (ew), and I would pick them up, clean them off, and hand them back. In the meantime, he would yell at the top of his lungs and grin, but we were rolling with it because it was nice to be out of the house as a family. An old man came by and ogled the baby. He couldn’t believe how cute he was. He was smitten, and we were appropriately proud. Things were going okay except for the shouting. To ease any tension that may have been arising about this, I finally picked BG up out of his high chair to see if this would quell the yelling for a bit, and it did.
Then our food began to come. J prepped some avocado while I got the baby situated in his (giant) high chair again. We both breathed a little easier knowing that soon our blood sugar would rise again as we nibbled on some spinach salad and appetizers, all the while feeding BG some tasty avocado. But Baby Genius has decided he’s no longer a fan of avocado. He is a fan of manipulating spoons covered in avocado and of slouching in his way-too-big high chair, and, as we learned today, he’s a big fan of yelling in restaurants, but actually eating avocado? Not so much.
J and I, despite our best efforts to roll with it all, were both starting to tense up. We could feel eyes on us from every direction. Suddenly we were those people with that baby. There were no children in this place–only couples, most of whom were likely touring wine country (oh, how I hate living in this tourist town), so even though this was typically a very casual, family-friendly pizza place, at this moment, it was not.
Soon our pizza came, and this threw us over the edge. There were too many plates on the table. There was a hot pizza in BG’s reach. He was yelling even louder. The dirty looks from the tables-for-two were getting angrier. I picked the baby up out of his chair and held him against me while he blew raspberries against my chest and shouted into my cleavage. J asked the waitress, who smiled sympathetically at us, for some take-out boxes. We quickly packed up our stuff, paid our tab, left the waitress a nice, big tip, and headed out to eat at home. As we stood up to leave, I saw it: the ole stink-eye emanating from at least four sets of eyes. I could feel the collective sigh of relief as we walked out the door. Because we were both already so fried, and because we were flustered, I don’t know how much of that was perception and how much of it was real. I only know that it felt bad.
J and I debriefed in the car, as we tend to do. We both admitted that for the first time ever, we had felt embarrassed of our son. We just wanted him to stop shouting and let us have lunch without calling attention to us. Admitting this made us both feel terrible. We love our boy and how boisterous he’s becoming. He is curious, and when he finds something that amuses him, he does it over and over. This is one of my favorite traits of his; it’s something we celebrate and encourage, so long as it’s not harmful. The more I processed this, the more ashamed I was that we let any of this get to us at all.
But the truth of it all really came down to this: we used to occasionally be annoyed with loud children in eating establishments. We would try to be understanding, but because the child was never our own, it would be jarring to hear a child yelling or crying or otherwise carrying on like, say, a child. We vowed at some point before we had Baby Genius that if our child started getting loud or throwing a tantrum that we would get our food to go and then leave, which wasn’t such a bad plan. It’s just that we had never had to implement it, and once we were in that moment, it was a bummer. Who knows–maybe there was a little karma at play.
I never wanted to turn into a person who felt like she needed to apologize for her baby’s babyish behavior, but I also don’t want to be oblivious to other people’s public experiences. This is a hard line to walk, and I imagine I’ll eventually toughen up and ignore the stink-eye and the disapproving grumbles.
But until that toughening up transpires, we’ve decided that dining al fresco is the way to go. At least that way, the shouting won’t echo.
So tell me, those of you with older babies and toddlers, how do you handle dining out, if you do it at all? And those of you who don’t yet have kids, how would you handle it? We’re definitely interested in others’ thoughts/experiences here!