How to Order a Helping of Sanity

My family had a banner moment. Get that trophy ready.

shutterstock_27729742To kick off the long weekend, I made the decision to go out to eat. I skipped lunch on Friday to get my hair cut, and so I walked in the door that evening starving.  Taking the time to prepare a meal felt like food deprivation times ten.  And yet despite my hunger pangs, I was actually annoyed by my decision. The girls were really wound up, and I confess, I cringe at the thought of disruptive children in restaurants. And my cringe turns into a downright scowl when those children just happen to be mine.

But to my surprise – my girls hopped in the car, and I only had to ask once. Then they fastened their own seat belts. We arrived at the restaurant, and they waited quietly before we were seated. Then they sat down. My girls ordered, my oldest remembered to look the waitress in the eye, and all three girls threw in a couple of “pleases” and “thank yous” throughout the course of the meal.

It hit me. We had arrived. We were now a family capable of eating out together, without highchairs and coloring books and diaper bags full of “entertain me” tricks. I looked at a few of the families around me struggling to stave off children’s tears and tantrums while grown ups took one last bite of their entrees, and I remembered how hard it was, and I marveled at how easy it had become. And then, as most mothers do, I couldn’t help but think I would love one more hug post-tantrum, one more set of scribbles on paper that represent a plane or a princess or a portrait of me. For a brief moment, I wanted that time in my life, including those painful trips out to eat, back.

For those of you who are still there, here’s a list of tips for eating out with toddlers, courtesy of

Leave your fears at home. Most people don’t mind children in restaurants as long as they aren’t disruptive. We’re not talking four-star, staid establishments here. There are probably plenty of informal and excellent restaurants at your disposal. Moderately priced ethnic restaurants, trendy university hangouts, casual but elegant dining – these are all good choices. It’s okay to check them out!

Set reasonable expectations. Your child won’t be perfect, quiet, neat, and adventurous at first. Eating out is a skill and as usual, practice makes perfect.

Take the edge off. Feed your child a little something in the car on the way. Alternately, ask the wait staff for bread the moment you arrive.

Bring a little kit of supplies (toys, food, coloring books). Stock your wallet with emergency stickers and bandages for entertainment.

Don’t try to sneak your baby in. Introduce your baby to the host/hostess and say, “Zoe is really looking forward to your wonderful food!”

Sit near the door. If your child cries, take him or her outside immediately. Be firm with your child that he or she cannot reenter the restaurant until calm and quiet.

Take a walk immediately after you order your food. This could be around the restaurant or outside.

Set limits about where your antsy toddler can toddle. Around your table is fine, but the aisle is off-limits, as are other people’s tables.

Drape and cover. You might want to carry a small plastic drop cloth for under baby’s chair, especially if you know your chosen dining destination has nice rugs. Wait to shake until well outside.

When ordering food, don’t forget your child. A side order or two will make your toddler feel special and may actually land her something she likes. Little kids tend to enjoy food that comes in tiny bits (noodles, beans, peas, blueberries, cut-up fruit) and many don’t like their foods to touch each other.

Give your child tastes of your food. If you treat food and eating as an adventure, your child eventually will too.

Offer to clean up under the high chair when you’re done. The restaurant staff will refuse, but they’ll appreciate your offer.

Don’t ever change a baby or toddler at the table.

Leave a big tip.

Try to enjoy and appreciate. It doesn’t last long!

Ode to Mary Jane

My girls wear uniforms to school.  All four of us agree this is a good thing.  Well…one of us (guess who?) worships anything that eliminates potential pitfalls in the “out the door and into the dropoff line” routine, and oh by the way – how cute are the little jumpers and the bright red cardigans?  And the remaining three are still too young to feel compelled to lead a rebel yell against all things plaid.

But in addition to how much easier my mornings are and how adorable I think the little jumpers are, I’m also a sucker for the Mary Jane shoes.  And yes, this is true of grown ups too.  Case in point: Mary Janes ala Manolo Blahnik.  Sigh…

Okay, I digress.  Back to little girl shoes.  Something about my little ones’ little piggies encased in a Mary Jane shoe channels visions of Madeline (red hair!) and the VonTrapp children (matching curtain playsuits!) and Shirley Temple (dimples!).  It’s heartwarming, even if we don’t march in line, burst into spontaneous song and tap dance while wearing them (well, actually….we kinda’ do)!   So I was more than pleased today to discover the nice selection of kids’ shoes available at Zappos.   I don’t know why I’ve only used it as a go-to site for myself up until now.  They have enough Mary Jane-esque and school uniform-approved shoes to fill The Good Ship Lollipop!  Nice!

And though I have no coupons to spare for either the Mary Janes or the penny loafer eye candy, (another weakness) I can’t help but encourage us all to go ahead and indulge our inner prep anyway.  Come on, you know you want to!

“That’s all there is; there isn’t anymore.” (Madeline)

Pong, Pac-Man and PlayStation

I am not a video game person.  I never have been.   Even when I was young (very young!) and Atari and Intellivision arrived on the scene, I lacked interest.  Maybe I was too busy with swim team practices and dance lessons, or maybe on some level I knew my hand-eye coordination was a little on the pathetic side.  Regardless, Frogger, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man’s female counterpart, Ms., never did it for me.

So imagine how perplexed I am by my daughter’s obsession with all things media.  DS, Wii, iTouch – if left to her own devices, she could spend hours, maybe days, with these little machines and their carefully choreographed digital adventures.  Sometimes I look at her and wonder, “If I never set a time limit…if I never pushed or prodded…Would she eat?  Would she sleep?  Would I find her locked in a room channeling Howard Hughes?”  But I do set time limits, and I do push and prod, and time spent playing DS, Wii and iTouch is “earned” in my house, only to be used on the weekends and only in set increments (usually a half hour).  It may not be the perfect parenting strategy, but it works for me most of the time.

With the “obsession” kept somewhat in check, what I then find challenging is the cost of digital entertainment.  Wii, DS, and PlayStation games are not cheap, and I feel as though there’s always some new gadget we “have to have:” a steering wheel for Mario Kart, a special mat for a dance game, headgear and 3D eyeglasses…Wait a second, headgear?  Eyeglasses?  Do my vision and dental benefits cover those?

But a good buddy recently introduced me to GameStop, where so many games and accessories and even headgear (Again, headgear?  Note to self: Review the Summary Plan Description for orthodontia and verify coverage ASAP!) are either offered at a discount or can be purchased used.

So go check out the savings and treat your mini Marios and Luigis to a new adventure at a discount.  Just be sure to pick up a cute kitchen timer from Jo!e so you can remember to shout “Time’s up!” before they think WuHu Town is an acceptable answer to any question on their next geography test.

Happy gaming!

Airing Dirty Laundry

Dear Moms, the laundry!  It is the bane of my existence.  It never goes away.  Two loads in, and there are two more waiting.  It multiplies as if under some sort of Harry Potter spell.  Geminio!  If I so much as dare to think, “A-ha!  I am caught up.  Laundry is done for the day,” my next trip up the stairs is sure to reveal yet another basket full of leggings, jeans, school uniforms, assorted tights and tees, PJs….oh the humanity!  I have tried everything.  The girls are under strict instructions: one outfit change when you get home from school, no more.  Only clothes that are truly dirty need to be washed.  Towels do not go in every night.  And nothing seems to work.  Nothing!  Deep down inside, I am truly convinced the only real solution to my laundry affliction lies somewhere in a nudist colony.

The silver lining to this tale of woe, however, is that I have now put my girls in charge of putting their own laundry away.  It has been added to the list of daily chores which I expect them to complete, and our dear nanny makes sure they comply.  No, you cannot open their drawers because the clean laundry is stuffed in them Thanksgiving turkey-style, but I’m all about baby steps.  Next rung on the ladder?  “Neatness counts.”

Have a great week, and beware the red sock!