Who Ordered the Toddler Meltdown?
Last week, for the first time since becoming a parent, I had to take my child and leave a restaurant halfway through dinner. It was not a new restaurant, or a particularly fancy restaurant. It was a neighbourhood sushi joint that we had been to, as a family, several times before. They serve really good sushi. I mean, it looked good. I didn’t get to eat much.
I was too busy trying to convince my insane toddler to stop running/screaming/climbing/throwing food.
And if there’s a faster way to feel ineffectual as a parent than trying to gain control of your 18-month old during a dinner that is quickly turning gong-show, than I’m not sure what it is.
We live in Toronto, in a very family-friendly neighbourhood, with quick and easy access to many good restaurants. We don’t eat out a tremendous amount, but it’s certainly with enough frequency that my children are used to it. They generally behave well in public, but I don’t rely on a good track record to get us through the next outing. No – I bring small toys, books, things the kids haven’t played with for a while to keep them occupied (and quiet) before and after we eat, and I try not to tempt boredom. I have pretty realistic expectations of my kids, and think it’s fine if they want to stand at the table before the food comes, or go look out a window, as long as they are not disturbing or disrupting anything. I nurse the baby at the table if that’s what she needs. This has always been the deal, and it’s always been cool.
Cassidy is a whirlwind. I’m not used to a whirlwind. I’m used to her mellow older sister, who tears it up at the park or in the playroom, but for a small child, is pretty orderly. Even in restaurants. I just assumed the same would be true for her little sister. Silly mama.
Back to our restaurant meltdown. It was totally embarrassing. Cassidy would not sit in the high chair, or even on my or her father’s lap. Oh, she wanted to eat, but she wanted to eat while strolling around the table, getting in the way of the waiters and frequently depositing edamame in the nearby potted plant. Physically getting her and bringing her back to the table resulted in screams. Trying to put her in the highchair resulted in screams and thrashing around. Refusing to give her the food until she sat down resulted in a total collapse on the floor, complete with loud, dramatic, ‘Nooooooooooooo!’
Did I mention that it was embarrassing?
I had no idea what to do at the moment to (peacefully) change the behaviour. Standing my ground and trying to enforce basic rules of etiquette (and quite frankly, food hygiene) netted exactly what I would expect from any one-and-a-half year old – a stubborn, loud meltdown. Which is fine at home. At a restaurant?
Epic parenting fail. At least, it certainly felt that way.
So, I did something I had never done before. I picked up my kid, and left. Left her father and sister sitting there, eating the dynamite roll I had been jonesing for all week. Left the table of the first restaurant we’d been to in months. Left tempura sweet potato and rice all over the floor. Left my dignity and confidence, drowning in a puddle of cold miso soup.
Frustrated, I put my screaming child down as soon as we were out the door. Go, I told her. Run. Try to stay out of traffic.
Eventually, Chris and Mischa finished eating and came to meet us. Cassidy was happily chasing pigeons while I sat on a bench nearby, thinking it was a good thing that she was so cute.
‘How was dinner?’ I asked Chris. He put his arm around me and held up the leftovers he had boxed for me. ‘Aw, thanks,’ I said. He handed me something else.
It was a take-out menu.