Thursday, July 3, 2014

Zoe vs. the Civilized Meal

My father was fond of the old phrase, "Children should be seen and not heard." Around dinnertime, when my sister and I were young, he'd take it out and shake the dust off it if either of us was acting silly.
He was kidding, mostly. He quoted the W. C. Fields version just as often: "Children shouldn't be seen or heard from . . . ever again."
My sister and I would roll our eyes, but we had to be careful he didn't see or he'd then channel Rodney Dangerfield: "No respect, I tell ya. No respect at all."

Next one to move gets it right in the giblets.

My sister and I were hardly wild, or loud. Our obnoxiousness was of the stealthy variety. Zoe can be stealthy as well, but she is also loud and wild. This has made going out to dinner with her quite the adventure. 
In early days, it wasn't a problem. If we timed it right, she slept. But as soon as she could walk, that was all she wanted to do. We'd try belting her into a high chair, but she'd soon escape her bonds like a young, non-Hungarian Harry Houdini.
The thrill of walking was the thrill of exploring. She tottered from table to table asking everything from "Who's that? " to "What are they eating?" to "Why are they eating?" Usually wrapping up with, "Hold the phone, are those stairs? Why wasn't I notified!?"

When I get loose I'm gonna
annihilate that buffet.

If there was a window, she wanted to go outside. And so for a while I spent more time just outside of restaurants rather than inside. At my table. Enjoying dinner.
As for Zoe's dinner, her preferences were limited. Chicken fingers and fries, or pasta. If I ordered pasta for myself, not wanting to squander a full meal on her, she wouldn't share. If I ordered something else, she wanted what was on my plate. Until she had it. And then she'd make a puke face and lunge forward as fast as an Amish kid on Rumspringa, barely waiting for me to proffer my hand---something that when I was childless I'd never envisioned doing so automatically.
Not just air guitar, electric air guitar.
By the time we left, her part of the table and the floor beneath looked like a crime scene after a tsunami had hit.
Depositing a pack of wild Amish.
So Zoe strenuously objected to high chairs, but regular chairs didn't work either because she couldn't reach the table without climbing on top of everyone. The Husband and I would pass her back and forth, alternating bites.
Of our meals, not of her. She didn't learn that behavior from us and I'll pinch anyone who says different.
After she turned three she explored the restaurant's environs less because toys could now provide distraction. For a bit. Then she wanted to leave, usually before the entrees had even arrived. On one occasion we bribed her by saying when we were all done eating, she'd get ice cream. The rest of that meal was set to the music of her little voice piping, "Is it time for ice cream yet?" Eventually she got up and stood by the kitchen door, accosting the waitstaff who emerged by inquiring about the ETA on that ice cream. (Large tips were dispersed.)
The next couple of times we went out we were saved by two items generously donated by family: a portable DVD player and Frozen. The only contentious point with having her watch a movie at the table was how high the volume should be, but overall it was a success. In fact, mesmerized by Elsa and friends, she once fell asleep with her head on the table, inches from her untouched plate. 
I was positive we would soon have a socially acceptable little person when dining out. And I may never have written this post if not for our experience at brunch this weekend where she was seen and heard by all. 
Our first mistake, maybe, was neglecting to bring Frozen. And by "maybe" I mean definitely.
I had brought toys but lately the way she plays is very loud and very dramatic. Whenever she has two toys in her hand, they are bitter enemies and yell at each other, trash-talking gibberish and stamping around.

Take a good look. It's not gonna happen.

There were muffins on the table, so she ate one and then, naturally, wouldn't eat her chicken fingers when they came. Fine. We'd take it home. But that "kid's meal" she didn't eat also came with, you guessed it, ice cream, as the waitress perkily informed all of us. Zoe paused in her toy-slamming to properly absorb that piece of intel.
We could've said no, but it's better if she's ignorant altogether. Once those words are out in the world, you can't take them back. Just ask Pandora.
So one bowl of chocolate ice cream later, she was keyed up. Like the Energizer Bunny except wired.* By that point we were leaving and I decided to take her to the park to get the sillies out.
I didn't even bother cleaning the ice cream off her face, and later I noticed she had a little dark mustache on her lip. The effect was Hitleresque. If Hitler ever wore a pink helmet and rode a pink tricycle.
Eventually she crashed. Sugar-wise, not tricycle-wise, though there were a couple of close calls. And she actually went to bed early for once. At which point it was time for my ice cream. No sillies involved. Eating ice cream is serious business for this Mommy.
Zoe: 51; Universe: 0
*mixed metaphors intentional


  1. Bwahahahahahaha. Oh, man! There were whole years we avoided restaurants because I just couldn't cope with my children there! Now I have the opposite problem with my teen. ALL he wants to do is look at his phone (Instagram/Texting/etc/etc) during meals. I can hardly get him to look up. I can't believe this is the same kid that used to crawl all over me and demand attention! Who knew there would ever be a time I was begging him to talk at a restaurant!! --Lisa

  2. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 4, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    Why can't we have it both ways?! Haha.