First thing on the mornings Roy goes to daycare, I lay him out on the changing table to get him out of his PJs and into his clothes. We usually chat about the day’s plan or where Daddy is (sleepin’? work? hammer?), but the other morning, Roy began enthusiastically droppin’ knowledge.
Roy: A, B, C!
Me: Wow, that’s great, hon! You know the first three letters of the alphabet! A, B and C. Good job! Do you know numbers, too?
One of the many pieces of advice we received as new parents was: “Eat out when he’s new, while you still can.” We didn’t quite understand what this meant, but we enjoy eating out, so we obeyed. I’d slide Roy’s car seat into the booth before me, or prop it up on a chair tableside, and he’d sleep, or stare at the ceiling fan overhead while soaking in the foreign ambiance. Once, we even snuck him out of his crib in the dark of night to accompany us for enchiladas and mariachi music on the patio of a Mexican restaurant. Our bellies full, we carefully slipped him back into his crib. He slept through the entire adventure.
I’m so incredibly glad we did this, because at around 7 months, this window of opportunity slammed shut. Suddenly, dining out with Roy meant going to a restaurant in order to take turns hastily shoving food in to our mouths and comforting, distracting, and, eventually, chasing Roy. It was the opposite of fun. Totally not an experience worth paying for, so we rarely did.
Last month, about a year after this restaurant-unfriendly phase began, we thought we’d give family dining another shot. We selected a casual, kid-tolerant restaurant, talked up the experience and brought plenty of props. It worked. Woo-hoo! The world of eating out, together, in a relatively leisurely fashion has opened once again! We’re so excited we’ve been making it a regular thing.
We consider it our responsibility to not intrude upon others’ dining experiences as well as to teach Roy how to be a good diner outer. A few things we’re doing to those compatible ends:
1) Instilling reverence for restaurant employees. If Roy starts to get screechy, or insists on getting out of his high chair, we tell him in a low, serious voice that that guy who keeps coming to our table? He does not like kids running around the restaurant at all. We need to be nice for him. And to tell him please and thank you. When he’s a little older, we’ll dig into tipping appropriately and not calling the server “sweetie.”
2) Bringing small, interactive toys. Not books that we have to read to him, or stuffed animals, which only function as good company. Toys that can be fiddled with. Crayons and small trucks with trailers big enough to haul a Cheerio or two are our big hits, as evidenced below at our awesome local Turkish restaurant.
3) Signifying eating time. When the food arrives, the toys go away and our portable plastic place mat takes their place. No Crayons in the mashed potatoes or trucks rolling through the baked beans. Same as home.
So those are a few things working for us, anyway. Feel free to add to the list.
We are a thrifty family. We clip coupons, buy in bulk, embrace hand-me-downs and shop at garage sales. It’s sport for me. My heart beats a little faster when I save double-digits at the grocery store or spot a mint-condition ’70s sweater in my size at the thrift store. It’s just my way.
Usually, we are good at knowing when to splurge. Local meat. Organic veggies. A really comfortable couch. The occasional bunch of fresh-cut flowers. Shoes. A person needs a decent pair of shoes. Or, in my case, a person needs many, many pairs of decent, adorable, cool and/or sexy shoes. (It’s a weakness.)
Last spring, Clint was super busy at work, yet squeezed in a side job for one of our awesome neighbors. They insisted on giving him a bit of cash. In an uncharacteristic twist, Clint declared it was “his” money and tucked it away, waiting for the right thing to spend it on. One morning last weekend, I had to work, and before Roy and Clint headed off together, Clint grabbed the money out of its hiding spot. Hours later, my two guys came back with a tractor. A gleaming, grass-colored, battery-operated toddler-sized tractor plus trailer—something I wouldn’t have considered buying, for no particular reason whatsoever, in a million years. What an awesome splurge.
Roy can barely reach the gas pedal, so Clint built it up with a wooden block. Little guy’s still developing the skills to put together large-piece puzzles, so the concept of pushing the pedal while steering is still a ways out. But he’s having a fun time trying, and getting better at it every day. And believe me, we do practice every day. It’s hard to get him into the car to daycare in the morning, because he stands next to his beloved tractor repeating, “Drive? Drive? Drive?” I have a feeling that next spring, he’ll be but a green blur circling the yard.
Then on Monday, I had a terrible run-in with one of our next-door neighbors; a run-in that I do not wish to re-live in full here. Suffice it to say that after it became apparent that there was just one item on her afternoon to-do list—screaming at me like a nut job from my own front stoop—I resorted to firmly ordering her to, “Get the hell off my property.” As if I were a curmudgeonly 80-year-old recluse. I did not shake my fist in the air while yelling, if only out of genuine fear that she would slug me.
National Night Out arrived, as if on cue, to remind me of all that is good in our neighborhood. Our first gathering was hosted by Roy’s neighborhood grandma, Jackie, and her husband John. We arrived as soon as the fire truck did. Roy’s reaction to the presence of a fire truck is what I imagine mine would be to the presence of, say, James Franco or Brad Pitt: Mute paralysis and pants wetting. (Though I may be projecting on poor Roy with that last one.)
After the firemen hooked up the hose and let the kids run through the spray, Roy loosened up a bit. Even “drove” the truck, big boy. Jackie and John made hot dogs, and everyone brought a dish to pass, so we hung out and ate (or, rather, tag-teamed eating and chasing Roy through the garden), chatting with the kind and relatively sane folk there. We end up meeting a few new people every year.
We left in time to head to another party up the block at John and Craig’s place. It was in their back yard, with a whole different group of neighbors. More chatting, more meeting, and then Roy tackled his first ice cream cone. Instinct led him to chomp away at the cone, not realizing that it’s actually a container for the ice cream, but what are summers for if not sticky vanilla-flavored limbs?
The whole evening was lovely. No calls to the police. No screaming freak-shows. Just a bunch of folks who live near one another sharing a nice summer night in the ‘hood.
Today, for example, we have a lot of eating, boating, shop-browsing, reading, game-playing, biking, lounging, napping and visiting with family to do. Such is life at the lake in northern Minnesota.
Roy absolutely loves hanging out. So many people to offer cookies and help steer pontoons and chase around the cabin! How valuable, this leisurely face time that cements already strong bonds.
With a schedule like this, however, I can’t guarantee I’ll be posting much this week. The cabin is gorgeous—comfortable, with lots of space for everyone, and stocked with enough snacks to fuel a teenaged slumber party. One thing it doesn’t have, though, is wi-fi. I am OK with this.