Through a series of 5 stages of grief developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, people undergo a torturous journey, ultimately coming to acknowledge our powerlessness against the inevitable, and our strength and tenacity in the face of adversity. One of the events often left of that list is eating out with kids.
If anything can catapult you through 5 stages of grief, it’s the journey we take when we decide it’s a good idea to eat at a restaurant with our children. The event laughs in the face of all the “our lives aren’t going to change at all,” and “oh, we’ll be different than those parents,” declarations we shared in the months and years before children. And, we most definitely experience these 5 stages of grief through the whole ordeal.
Before things get out of hand, you’ll think that they won’t. At this stage, a parent is unwilling (or unable) to recall past attempts at eating out that ended in tears and food-wearing and humiliation. You may find yourself saying, “hey, this might be nice!”, and could even be disillusioned enough to want to invite other children: cousins, friends, neighbors…you are expecting this to be “a pleasant experience.”
This is also the stage where, as you are brought to a table sandwiched between very nice looking, quiet, civilized adults, and the kids are racing into the booths to see who can jump the highest, you start to mutter, “no, no, no, no, NO!”
Anger begins to set in right about when reality does. “Why me?” you ask rhetorically, and wonder what kind of crazy you had for breakfast that could have inspired you to come up with this idea in the first place. You might begin to squint your eyes and glare at the host who put you here, or bark at your server that you will need things “on the fly,” and give her a look that says, “because obviously!”
You’ll silently curse yourself for teaching your toddler that straw trick, because he’s getting water all over everything while the 5-year-old is dropping balls of bread on the floor and whining, “This is so boring! I just want to be full!!!”
At this stage, you have discovered that anger is futile, and you are ready to offer sacrifices in exchange for some peace. First, you may try to negotiate with the little ones. You may hear yourself saying things like, “Look, I’ll let you open all the sugar packets if you stop putting french fries up your nose,” or “How ‘bout you stop flinging peas and you can skip tubby time tonight.”
For some, this stage also involves talking with a higher power, and making desperate promises to stop drinking/smoking/laughing/eating (if you happen to already do any of those things) for just a few moments of calm. You are willing to do anything.
Parents quickly learn that such pleas are in vain, and begin to slide into the next stage: depression. This is characterized by an exhausted, blank stare, accompanied by the realization that the situation is hopeless. “Can I…” “Yes,” you say before she can finish. “Really??!! I can blow bubbles in my milk until it goes over the top! Yay yay yay!!!” You’ll watch as the toddler dumps an entire shaker of salt on your Chicken Picatta. You may even take a few bites`.
This stage holds the inspiration for such thoughts as “we’ll never be able to go anywhere ever,” and “why didn’t anyone tell me that parenthood is like prison without the laundry service?” and “what’s the point of any of this anyway?.” Fear not, this stage shall pass.
Once you’ve reached that bottom, you do start to feel a general sense of calm. You’re no longer miming apologies and stage-whispering reminders about “how we sit nicely.” You’ve stopped wrestling the little one into his seat, and are letting him stand next you grunting and growling like a feral cat, face smeared with marinara and applesauce. You’re not impatiently awaiting the check, because you know it’s going to take 25 minutes to get everything (and everyone) rounded up to go anyway. You see the circus around you, and it’s kind of ok. And this, this little sliver of time, this fraction of a moment, here is where you find peace. It’s the shrug-of-the-shoulders stage. The “it is what it is” of public child rearing.
Then you climb under the table to try to rub the food stains out of the commercial carpet, and find all of the stray utensils, and prove that you do not have to leave an indelible mark of disaster everywhere you go. You bang your head on the way back up, and the kids laugh at the way the glasses on the table jump. You drop a pile of cash on a puddle of dressing, grab everything and everyone and head for the door. You half expect to hear a round of applause as it closes behind you.
Later that night, when the kids are finally asleep (for real, this time) you will be on the phone with your friend who has 2-year-old twins. You’ll be chatting and giggling, and you’ll hear yourself say, “Oh! We went to that new restaurant for dinner tonight. Yeah, it’s great. Your kids would love it. We should all go!”
Laura Cullen is a floral designer and freelance writer living in southeastern Pennsylvania. She has a master’s degree in clinical/counseling psychology, as well as an Mrs. and an M.o.m. With lots of hard work, she’s learned to love life, and it’s learned to love her right back. You can follower her on facebook