Monday, February 17, 2014

The Chicken or the Egg?

It’s a classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario: Do we never want to take our children to public places because they act like animals, or do our children act like animals because we try to never take them out in public? It’s so hard to distinguish which came first.

Over the years, I have been startled at how closely children and animals are related. Kids and animals have their own distinctive, and frequently offensive, scents. Kids and animals are unpredictable…even the domesticated kinds (of both species).  Both have been known to fling their own feces. Both are frequently guilty of inappropriate, and inappropriately loud, noises. Both exhibit pack behavior and can be dangerous, especially if you stumble upon them when you are alone and vulnerable.  They have similar manners (or lack thereof), and neither belong in public places.

Take tonight, for example. Twelve days late, Mike and I worked up the courage to take the kids out to an actual restaurant to celebrate Grace’s birthday. Although we used to eat in restaurants pretty regularly – even when we had just two or three kids, we rarely do so now that we have four kids. Man-to-man defense was a much easier game to play, and we closely resemble a traveling circus pretty much every time we leave the house. We still do quite a bit for having such a large posse o’ children, but eating – even at home – is generally the least fun experience of the day. And dinner, as I suspect it is in most homes, is the most “adventuresome” meal. It’s not for the weak of heart or spirit.

We went to Bella’s, an Italian restaurant that is about as upscale as our small town has to offer (they have tables with chairs, in addition to booths!). Our first mistake was taking a table in the middle of the restaurant. For a family like ours, a dark corner, far away from other diners, is the ideal location. We are a loud, sometimes unruly, group, and a centrally located, brightly lit table is merely a stage for the drama to unfold, forcing other diners to serve as our unwitting audience.

Shortly after having ordered, which, for our family, takes about as long as eating the entire meal, Liam belted out a rousing rendition of Old McDonald. The entirety of it went just like this (in an off-key, sing-song tune): “Mick and Donald had a farm, and on him farm he had a cow,” (end sing-song voice and adjust volume to a shout), “I JUST FARTED!” I couldn’t judge the reaction of the other diners because I promptly buried my head in my hands and did not look up for an appropriately long time. I am confident I heard a belly laugh from the table next to us but I couldn’t make myself make eye contact with that table for the rest of their meal.

After some time coaching Liam on farting etiquette in restaurants, our mortification slowly subsided and small talk resumed. Then Nadia asked, out of the blue, “Do crabs have eyes on their shells, or on tentacles?” She has such a random mind, but frequently asks questions that remind me how little I know. 

The food arrived, which is always a hopeful event for parents, as food frequently helps occupy mouths so that fewer words come out of them. The downside of food is that it requires some basic etiquette, like using utensils, which is often lost on children, even those as old as seven. But the meal was progressing, dirty looks were dished out as necessary, and the end was in sight. Then Liam had a eureka! moment and announced, loudly, “When I get home, I need to poop!”

There was more face burying and head shaking. My eyes met Mike’s and the look on his face, with jaw clenched and a hint of madness in his eyes, said all there was to say. I wondered aloud why we continue to leave the house. Grace and Nadia snickered and giggled, and Liam offered another sentence or two about what a great pooper he’s become. And I realized that my family has become that family – the family that I might’ve sat next to 15 years ago and said, under my breath, “If those were my kids, I’d never leave the house!” 

How much I’ve learned about so many things – most of all, patience – in the years spent in the company of children. We keep leaving the house, even when common sense says we shouldn’t, sharing our little slice of craziness with those whose paths we cross. Though Grace and Nadia frequently say, “Mom is crazy!” I look forward to that day, well in the future when they are out with their own kids (who are misbehaving in all kinds of ways), that they have their own which-came-first epiphany, wondering whether I was out of my tree before I had kids, or if, just maybe, I had kids and then fell off the deep end.

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