One of the most treasured moments of parenting is taking your children out to eat and having a stranger comment on how well behaved they are.
We know because it happened to us. Twice. OK, maybe it was only once.
As a realist, I am always sympathetic to the embarrassed mother with the wailing infant in her arms or screaming toddler plastered to her legs. Having been there and done that, I often smile and offer support by whispering, “Hang in there. Tomorrow will be better. Or worse. You never know.”
Naturally, as grandparents, we wish for our grandchildren to be well behaved in public places and not create the sort of spectacles that wind up in YouTube videos. When we took four of the grands to Steak ’n Shake, we went over the expectations for behavior. They all listened attentively, and the 1-year-old responded, “Baa, baa, ack!”
Our server showed us to a somewhat isolated table at the back, near the restrooms. Every time she passed by, she left another stack of napkins.
The kids were coloring, folding cardboard cutouts, patiently waiting for their food. When the server brought water (with lids) they all placed them near the center of the table to avoid spills. Milkshakes arrived, and they carefully put those, too, near the center of the table.
I nearly expected a stranger to stop by and compliment the children on their behavior.
A few moments later, the child to my right pointed out she had dribbled milkshake on her shirt. Reaching for a couple of napkins, I elbowed her milkshake and knocked it flat. Milkshake instantly flooded our side of the table, rolled over the edge and began cascading in waves into my lap.
I was catching milkshake by the handful, throwing it back into the glass and onto my plate. The children were stunned and wide-eyed, probably because they’d never seen Grandma throwing milkshake overhand. The husband hurled napkins across the table. We frantically smeared milkshake from east to west. My clothes were sticking to my body, and my shoes were suctioned to puddles of milkshake on the floor.
Wordlessly, our server dropped off another round of napkins.
We hastened the eating along; and the husband, being of the waste-not, want-not mindset, offered a glass of milk still half-full to the little one in the high chair. Never hesitant to express her disinterest, she batted the glass out of his hand, sending milk arcing like the beautiful St. Louis Gateway Arch, all of it showering the husband.
The server stopped by with more napkins. The kids were cowering under the table, and the baby was inconsolable.
As we stood to leave, the husband noticed that our pants were so soaked that we both looked woefully incontinent. I considered that we might be stopped at the door and asked if we were responsible enough to manage small children.
We delivered the children back to their parents. Our own kids looked us up and down with our splattered shirts and wet pants and chorused, “What happened to you two?”
“All you really need to know is that we tipped 50 percent of the bill,” I said. “Oh, and don’t be surprised if next time the kids want to go without us.”