It was a typical Thursday afternoon in February except that was feeling more stressed than usual, worrying about things that didn’t need to be worried about and I was just feeling low. I had just picked the kids up from school and we were now at Nana’s house to pick up Mr. O. It was really cold and windy outside so I left the big kids in the warm car while I quickly ran in to grab monkey #3. When I returned to the car to fasten Mr. O into his car seat, my big kids commented on how snowy and windy it was outside. It sure was –a clear indicator that winter wasn’t ready to let up anytime soon. Hubby was working late that night and all of us were exhausted after a long day. By the time I had walked around the car and got in the driver’s seat, Miss M and Mr. C had concocted a very convincing story… they told me that since it was so cold and snowy out, I should give myself a break from cooking dinner and we should eat Chinese food instead.
I laughed at first…but then I thought of the salsa chicken I had cooking in our instant pot at home, waiting to be turned into fajitas just in time for Miss M to randomly decide she didn’t like fajitas and Mr. C to decide he doesn’t like chicken and cheese and then I pictured the aftermath…a trashed kitchen, cheese and salsa everywhere, dirty dishes and kids who were still hungry because they barely actually ate anything. They were in that mood where no matter what I did, there was going to be resistance.
It was a “blah” sort of day. Kids definitely feel the “blah” as much as adults do… except they have yet to learn that it’s not worth crying and whining and losing your sh*t over. You know? Like the hysterical crying that young kids do because they are tired? …then go to bed!!! Ah, to be young again.
So I completely threw them off by agreeing to their plan. We were all craving a change of pace and maybe this would be the treat we needed to fight our winter blues! Because I was so quickly agreeable, I didn’t even get to hear the rest of their convincing argument that I’m sure they had prepared. In fact, I blew their minds by telling them that we would eat in at the Chinese restaurant; something they hadn’t even realized was a possibility. Their only real familiarity with Chinese food is in the delicious takeout form with a collage of cardboard boxes and styrofoam bowls strewn across the table.
Not today. If we were really going to shake things up and treat ourselves, I wasn’t going to be cleaning up rice and sweet & sour sauce all over our house for days (or weeks) afterwards. Rice somehow gets everywhere like New Year’s Eve confetti…which I’m also still cleaning up, 5 weeks later.
So, I unloaded my crew and we headed inside the restaurant. There was no denying the fear in the eyes of the sweet and polite hostess when I said that we were there to eat in. Sorry mon amie, no easy takeout order for you, today. “How many people are in your party?” It’s just the four of us. I watched her quickly recount my little ones to confirm that I really was bringing 3 small children into their establishment on my own before telling us we could sit wherever we wanted. Choose your weapon. I like it.
I opted for a booth so it was easy to contain my crew and so they wouldn’t be tempted to fool around on the chairs. I started stripping off their coats, snow pants, hats, mittens and piling them on the bench of the booth. As I unsuited each child, they boarded into the booth until I had 3 little cuties stuffed into one side of the booth. They said they were happy sitting like that so I sat down on the other side and admired the adorable view.
Then, for about the fourth time since agreeing to this dinner plan, I reminded them that they had to speak quietly and be mindful of other people who are hoping to eat their dinners in peace.
We ordered enough food to guarantee leftovers for Daddy. Chicken balls, Cantonese chow mein, beef & broccoli and chicken-fried rice. I didn’t feel the least bit guilty about our neglected dinner sitting in our poor, little instant pot at home. I could freeze it later or we could eat it tomorrow. This was just the change of pace we all needed.
Everyone’s mood quickly improved and we weren’t at all bothered by the miserable, blowing snow outside.
The kids got a kick out of serving themselves from the dishes plunked in the middle of our table. Our kids are baby carnivores. I didn’t have the foresight to make up a dish to put aside for Daddy. Three little meat-eaters serving themselves made for a full order of chicken balls to be demolished, the beef to be picked out of the beef and broccoli and basically all of the meat plucked from the chow mein and chicken-fried rice. Poor Daddy. Hope he likes rice “sans chicken” and lots of broccoli. Oops!
I knew it was bound to happen but was simultaneously hoping it wouldn’t. Just as we were finishing up our dinners, Miss M announced that she had to go pee. Ugh. Toilet time is definitely the hardest part of venturing out solo with 3 kiddos. I asked her if she was sure and she said “yes.” My kids love visiting public washrooms. It’s a bit of a problem… especially when you hurry them over to a disgusting, public washroom only to discover that they didn’t actually have to go. Ugh.
So, I asked again and said that if we got into that washroom and she didn’t have to go that I was going to be disappointed. “I really have to go this time!” she said. Perfect. You would be surprised how often Miss M and Mr. C decide that they don’t have to go after I say that I will be disappointed in a public washroom visit for nothing (other than the view.)
So I pried my boys away from their meals so that I could scurry my crew over to the washroom. I wanted to let our server know what we were doing but didn’t see her. I quickly stopped at the counter with Mr. O on my hip and the other two each holding a hand and let the hostess know that we were just using the washroom and would be right back. She smiled and nodded as if to say “Yeah, Duh!” in an overly polite way.
I found it hilarious afterwards. Here, I was letting them know what we were doing so they wouldn’t think we were “dining and dashing.” Meanwhile, we had left a full bench full of snow gear at the table and even if I was planning on a “dine & dash,” it’s not like I would be escaping quick with this crew! They would catch up to me before I had even wrangled one kid into a car seat! Ha!
We returned to finish our meal. It was so great to have this change of pace with them and just sit, chat and enjoy their company.
I’ve been making an effort to put my phone down and just be present in situations like these ones. To be clear, it’s not that I’ve been ignoring them for social media or to text, I just constantly need a photo or a video of the adorable thing they are doing in that moment. I’m a recovering mamarazzi. It’s been my way of ensuring that I don’t forget anything… but I am quickly (finally) realizing that pausing to grab my phone and having my kids see the back of my phone in place of my happy eyes and smile isn’t the type of memories that I want to create for them. I am making a better effort to live for the moment, and capture the special moments in my mind and my heart rather than in a bunch of photos and video clips.
That’s not to say that I’m not taking pictures. But, when you have 3 kids who are constantly doing photo-worthy things, phone memory fills up quickly. I’m constantly deleting apps, deleting duplicates of previously taken photos in order to make room for MORE photos.
And, when I do clean up my photo inventory, I realize just how “click-happy” I can be at times. I mean, in this particular circumstance, how many photos does one actually need of their kids eating Chinese food? A token photo of the experience is great but an individual shot of each dish, each bite and a video clip of them opening fortune cookies might be a bit of overkill.
So, one of my 2018 resolutions is to be present in the moment and to consciously take photos. One or two photos of this little adventure is sufficient but I don’t want to risk missing out on any part of the conversation, the sweet expressions and interactions while trying to frame a shot. I’ve been much happier since starting this little “reset.” It makes it much more natural to be engaging and lose myself in conversation with my children when I’m not worried about grabbing my phone to take a quick photo of the cuteness of the second. I think that the quality of our time and conversation has benefitted from less camera time.
Isn’t it ironic that by compulsively taking photos in order to capture these moments in time, we are actually lowering the quality of the experiences? Food for thought, people.
As I started to sweep stray rice into my hand with a napkin and make it look like we hadn’t just destroyed this fine establishment in less than an hour, I noticed the gentleman who had been sitting a few tables over from us start to walk towards our table. My stomach did a quick flip-flop. I had noticed him eyeing our table a few times during dinner, particularly just before my kids needed another reminder about being respectful and not squealing and yelling even if they were just excited while inside a restaurant. I hoped we hadn’t ruined his dining experience. While our kids are generally quite well-behaved in restaurants, we are well aware of the look that we get from other diners when our family is seated close by. It’s that look that says “Great! So much for a peaceful dinner out! Is there nowhere else in this restaurant for this family to sit? We would rather not dine next to a traveling circus!” Our kids are usually pretty good at proving that young children can be civil in public situations. But, I have also had my fair share of experiences where I’ve offered a grovelling, tail-between-my-legs apology to those around us.
The gentleman approached our table and I said “Hello.” My kids all froze, also assuming that they were probably in trouble. We do tell them all the time that if they behave poorly in a restaurant, they could be asked to leave. I could tell that they were wondering if today was the day.
To my surprise, the gentleman said “I just wanted to stop on my way out to let you know that you are a really good mom!” My eyes instantly started watering as I forced myself to utter the words “Thank you” without starting to ugly-cry. He continued “I’ve been noticing how well behaved your kids have been and I know that doing anything with small children is no easy task. I admire you for how you handle it and make it look easy-because I know it’s not. Being a mom is the hardest job in the world but you are doing it so well!” I thanked him again through a watery-eyed smile. He winked, waved goodbye to my children and left. Wow. I really needed to hear those words today.
This world needs more people spreading kindness. I have no idea who this stranger was but he holds a special place in my heart. His words were so kind and, he also set a wonderful example for my kids. Even if someone is a complete stranger, you can make their entire day by offering a smile and some kind words.
Our server returned with our much anticipated fortune cookies. My kids each chose their cookie and I laughed while trying to explain in kindergarten terms what each of their fortunes meant.
“You have to open yours, Mom!” Mr. C insisted, handing me the last cookie remaining on the tray. I cracked it open and pulled out a fortune which read:
Enough is as good as a feast.
Well… Isn’t that the truth?