Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Treatise on Eating (with) Children

 Today was one of those glorious days where we were triumphant in all our endeavors.

 I showered and had some new funky fall colors on my eyelids and lips, my jeans were just the right sort of relaxed but sassy and my toenails were painted a turquoise that makes my eyes hurt a little but Pursy loves. At one point during the night both Pursy and Knox were in bed with me due to some trauma during the day that left me unwilling to listen to them cry (lots of blood yesterday, but all is well) and I was able to return them sleeping to their own beds and go back to sleep myself until 7a. We were all dressed by 8, so decided to get out. I had a Groupon for a place in Regent Square called the Square Café and since all three of us were happy and well rested and feelin' good, we went out to breakfast.

The Square Café is one of those rare unicorns that allow parents to eat fabulous, inventive food in a cool atmosphere without wishing they didn't have children with them. Grant and I have joked on many occasions that Wendys is where foodie parents go to die without an audience. You will eat crappy food but no one stares at you if your child decides dinner is the perfect time to recite the alphabet in their best T-Rex voice. Children do not care if you are eating at Zagot's "New Best Place for Ramen". If they want to lose their tiny minds, they will do it regardless of how long it took you to get a reservation or how often you have dreamed about the first forkful of brisket.

The first time I realized why so many people told us to eat out as often as possible before Pursy was born was on a trip to Boston. I was still on maternity leave, so Pursy was less then 3 months old and Grant was presenting a paper at a conference in the city. I spent the days while he was working walking around with Pursy in the Moby, sipping coffee at cafes, lingering over mushroom risotto while she took her epic 3-4 hour naps. I had eaten meat while I was pregnant because my body craved it, but I was very happily back to my vegetarian ways. The last evening we were there, we were heading towards a restaurant we had gotten several first hand recommendations for and I remember being so excited to try their avant garde approach to food.

Purslane woke up as we entered the restaurant and began screaming. She screamed as I tried to nurse her, screamed as Grant tried to walk around with her, screamed as we looked at each other over the rims of our untouched glasses of wine, at a complete loss of what to do. I felt eyes on me as I covered myself with a blanket and pulled my shirt up to nurse her. Grant grabbed an entire stack of diapers in his hurry to get her to the bathroom to see if an issue in her pants was the cause of her distress. The waiter kept coming over to our table to see what he could do, not sure how to help us as we scrambled to order food that would take the shortest amount of time to prepare and consume in case our daughter could not be consoled. I remember ordering a hamburger well done and snapping at the waiter that I was a vegetarian when he cooly suggested that I would enjoy the meat more if it were medium rare. We ended up taking our meal to go and grabbing a bottle of wine at a convenience store across from our hotel.

As we ate our chilly meal with plastic forks across the pack n' play from each other, we realized that, for a while, dining out was going to be quite different. But we love food and love introducing our children to good food. What is a family who wants to enjoy a meal AND their small babes to do??

We have been parents for 3.5 years now, and have not given up. When we travel, we eat where we want to eat regardless of whether they have high chairs or not (usually the sign that an establishment is "kid friendly" or at least kid tolerant). When new places open in Pittsburgh, we go as a family. Pursy and Knox aren't intimidated by much and don't require ketchup or syrup with every meal. Now, there are rules and we do respect them, understanding that deviating from these rules will cause chaos just about every single time.

1. Taking a family of four out to a restaurant means a reservation no later then 530. We eat early when we eat out. By 6p there is either a wait list or the only open table is in the middle of the room, both scenarios spelling disaster for the one newly potty trained kid and the one who licks surfaces when bored.

2. Distractions. I used to be staunchly against handing a child a cell phone when waiting for their food but my unrealistic expectations of how long a 2 year old can be entertained with a pink packet of Sweet N' Low are out the window. My research has shown that the time between being seated and having food arrive at the table is about the length of one episode of Yo Gabba Gabba. 23 minutes is a long time without distractions. Be a good parent, charge your electronic device.

3. When the meal is over, it is time to go. Dinner with the fam is not the time for a lingering second beer or even dessert. When babes are little there is only so long they can developmentally handle sitting in one place without needing to move their bodies. You will find the stress level rising if you try to prolong the inevitable by staying longer then you should. Date nights are for ordering the chef's tasting menu.

Back to Square Café. I arrived at 830 with two hungry babes, was told to pick "whatever table will be the most comfortable for you!" and a fabulous stoneware mug of coffee was in front of me by the time Knox was strapped in his high chair. The waiter had crayons and coloring pages in hand, along with the children's menu. I ordered for the babes before she left the table and their food was out within minutes. The children's menu only had two items on it, along with a list of sides which you could mix and match however you wanted. Easy like Sunday morning.

I ordered white bean hash which had wild mushrooms, pancetta and chives, covered with two over easy eggs and served alongside a pile of lightly dressed spring greens. Heavenly. The babes meals were served on plastic Disney character plates, which they loved "digging" (eating) their food off of to see who was at the bottom. Brilliant. I even had a second cup of coffee.

Before we left, I braced myself for the inevitable weak link of most restaurants- the bathroom. Trying to keep Knox (my surface licker) occupied while Pursy (my newly potty trained) are in one tiny space is usually disastrous. I keep Purell in my purse. But this bathroom was amazing. Even a wall mounted changing table and a turquoise step stool for the sink. I asked for the manager on my way out the door to tell her how much I appreciated restaurants like the Square Café. Ones that make me simultaneously love food and my children.



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