I miss going out to eat.
Don’t get me wrong – the DragonMonkey isn’t necessarily ill-behaved in a restaurant. He doesn’t throw food or scream “NO!” in a whiny pitch at the top of his lungs. He’s just loud. And HYPER.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. I see other toddlers his age sitting in their stained, sticky high-chairs, quietly coloring on the kid’s menu. “Blue?” They hold up their crayon and smile placidly at their parents for a moment, then resume their scribbling while quietly chewing on a bite of chicken.
I hate those kids. I hate those parents. They make it look so easy.
Usually, going out to eat with the DragonMonkey ends up looking like one of those calf-dressing competitions a the rodeo.
I walk in with him twisting at the end of my arm like a kite in the wind.
“GLOBO!” He screams the instant we hit the doorway, pointing frantically at the half-deflated, sad-looking balloon tied to the wall.
“GLOBO! ! GOBO! GOBO! BOBO! BOBO! BOBOBOBOBOBOBOBOBO! BOBOBOBOBO! BOBOBOBO!!!!!”
“SSHHHHHHH!!!!” The Bean and I both hiss, faces reddening as the entire restaurant turns to stare at the commotion.
“GLOBO!” He shrieks again.
“YES, I see it. Balloon. Globo. I see the globo. Right there.” I point at the balloon, acknowledging it.
The DragonMonkey quiets, slightly mollified. Crisis averted. His parents are now aware that there is a GLOBO!!!! in the room. After all, what if he hadn’t alerted them to its presence? They could have walked by a GLOBO!!!!! completely unaware of its existence. That could have been a catastrophe.
“GOBO? MINE? GOBO?” He asks hopefully.
I pretend to not understand. “Yes, I see the globo. What a pretty ballon. Bye-bye, balloon! Adios, globo! Adios!” I wave at it enthusiastically as I bolt past.
The DragonMonkey waves listlessly. “Aye-dye, Bobo,” he says sadly as we leave it behind. Goodbye, my balloon lover. Goodbye, my sweet, sweet Bobo.
The Bean and I settle into a booth with the DragonMonkey on our laps, ignoring the high chair. The DragonMonkey only has about a 20 minute window of sitting in a high chair. If we waste it before the food comes, then we won’t get any chance to eat.
I hand him a crayon.
He takes it with a quiet “Ta-ta” (thank you) and colors for a brief moment before flinging it to the ground.
“Uh-OH,” he says, eyes huge and innocent. “UH-OH!” The crayon is on the GROUND. How did it get there? No worries, he’ll go get it!
He starts to twist off the seat, but I’m ready for him and grab him under his armpits. “No. Sit. Mama will get it.” I’m not going to be fooled by that game again.
I hand him the crayon, and he squats on his haunches, coloring again for a brief moment.
Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, he flings the crayon with a shriek of laughter. The Bean and I watch it go sailing halfway across the restaurant with an air of resignation.
“Uh-OH!” The DragonMonkey looks up at me again with wide, innocent eyes. Mother, my crayon appears to have magically translocated itself across the restaurant without my permission! Whatever shall we do?
“We do NOT throw things in the restaurant. NO! You know better.” I shake my finger in front of his nose. “The next time you throw something, you will get one flick, do you understand?”
The DragonMonkey stares up at me, eyes huge. Wounded. He didn’t throw anything. The crayon magically FLEW across the restaurant. Why was he getting in trouble? “UH-OH!” he repeats again helpfully. Didn’t I hear him say that?
I shake my head. “No, it was NOT an ‘Uh-Oh’. You threw it on purpose. That was bad. No. If you throw it again, you get one flick. Do you understand?” I start to pantomime, making sure I’m getting the point across. “Throw”, and I mimic throwing, “and you get one flick.” I flick the back of my hand much harder than I would ever flick his and make an exaggerated show of wincing. “Throw equals flick. Do you understand?”
“Dah,” he nods sadly.
“You understand?” I repeat one more time.
“Yeah. Dah.” He nods, hands still in his lap, completely crushed at my unfair accusation. He would never throw a crayon. Only bad boys throw crayons.
“Okay,” I say, giving him a kiss on the forehead.
Immediately, his hand whips forward, grabbing the crayon with astonishing speed and precision before launching it an impressive distance away. I turn to him and he bursts into horrified tears, hiding his hands behind his back. He didn’t mean to! He didn’t mean to!
Feeling like an ogre, I pry his hand out from behind his back and flick the back of it lightly. He howls like I’m dipping his hand in flesh-eating acid. “You threw the crayon, you earn one flick. This was your choice.” The second it’s over, the tears shut off like someone threw a switch and he eyeballs the direction the crayon disappeared.
“Uh-oh?” He asks hopefully. Would I believe that this crayon also accidentally flew halfway across the restaurant? And if I’m willing to believe that, since it was such an obvious accident, can we escape the prison that is our table and go get it?
The Bean and I smother a laugh. “Nope. Not buying it, kid. You’re out of crayons now, and it’s your fault. Deal with it.”
The waiter returns with our water.
“AGUA!” screams the DragonMonkey in rabid excitement, completely forgetting about the crayons. “AGUA! AGUA! AGUA! AGUA! AGUA! AGUA!” At full volume, the sound of his joyous excitement echoes in the tiny restaurant. If there’s anything that makes his day more than balloons, it’s water. He lunges forward at the glass, and I catch him just in the nick of time.
And so on, and so forth. By the time the meal arrives I’m exhausted. The Bean and I bolt down our food like a couple of starving wolves, barely chewing in an attempt to finish before the DragonMonkey grows bored. We’re frustrated, our nerves are frayed, and the two of us resolve for the millionth time to leave the kid at home until he’s twenty.
Hopefully some of you out there will relate to this scenario.
Hopefully, some of you out there will relate to this scenario so well that you won’t judge me too harshly for what I’m about to share with you.
Last Saturday, The Bean and I sat down to a meal together…. AND ACTUALLY FINISHED IT! The Bean sipped a beer, I chewed my food in quiet relaxation… and the DragonMonkey NEVER MADE A SOUND!
This modern-day miracle was made possible by a wonderful little restaurant called The Rainforest Café. I love you, Rainforest Café.
For those of you who have never had the chance to go there, the Rainforest Café claims to be “Part Adventure, Part Restaurant, and wholly entertaining for the whole family!” Apparently, it “recreates a tropical rain forest with waterfalls, lush vegetation, and indigenous creatures.”
The reality is that the Rainforest Café is an obnoxiously loud themed restaurant with extremely high prices, mediocre food, and lousy service. Half of the restaurant is dedicated to selling overpriced paraphernalia and pushing“Save the Rainforest” propaganda through skewed facts, cheap slogans, and an animated talking tree that gives me the willies. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about saving the rainforest. I just prefer to have information offered to me rather than crammed down my throat with fanatical passion. I kept expecting to see a sign that read “For every stuffed animal you don’t buy, an evil lumberjack stabs a baby squirrel in the eyeball.”
The other half of the restaurant is filled with creepy animatronic animals that scream, howl and growl in a continuous barrage of “rainforest noises”. There’s a fountain with a giant, plastic alligator that lunges forward and snaps at the air occasionally, an entire wall filled with gigantic, mangy-looking gorillas that beat their chests and show their teeth, stuffed leopards twitching their tails from their plastic tree-perches, and a gigantic snake that looms overhead and hisses menacingly.
The animals are disturbingly poor in their craftsmanship. I mean, it’s 2010. You’d think we would have made a few more advances in the moving stuffed-animal department.
Apparently we haven’t. The animals still move with that eerie, sickly jerking movement that used to terrify me at Chuck E. Cheese, and the jaws still click whenever they open and shut.
The DragonMonkey is TERRIFIED of the stuffed animals.
The Bean and I would never have thought of eating there on our own, but as we walked by the restaurant the DragonMonkey became very, very still in our arms. He turned and buried his face against my neck, peeping out over my shoulder as his arms tightened in a stranglehold.
“Hey, Bean. Check it out. He doesn’t like the gorillas.”
The Bean looked at our quiet, oddly subdued son and laughed. “Yeah, he’s pretty still. I bet if we went in there, he wouldn’t move the entire time.”
We both gave a quick laugh, which faded at exactly the same time.
We stared at each other, eyes widening.
No, it wasn’t right.
The poor little guy was obviously terrified. His arms were so tight it was making it difficult to breathe, and anyone who knows our son knows that for him to be still for any length of time means that something is wrong. If we were nice parents we would walk by the restaurant quickly, patting his back and crooning to him in a soothing manner.
Nobody but a heartless, cruel, evil parent would consider tormenting their son by going into the restaurant….
“You hungry?” I asked lightly, my voice nonchalant.
“I could stand a bite to eat,” The Bean answered back in a voice just as indifferent.
We approached the hostess standing behind the giant elephant podium casually. “Two, please.”
The DragonMonkey hunched lower in my arms, eyes huge as he stared at the twitching, fake animals lining the walls.
We followed the hostess and sat down at a table, the DragonMonkey completely motionless on our laps.
We ordered our food.
The DragonMonkey continued to be silent and still, occasionally leaning forward to glance around my shoulder to make certain that the flesh-eating gorillas weren’t coming any closer. He chewed his fingers in a nervous habit leftover from his infancy.
The Bean and I chatted casually, enjoying the luxury of being able to finish complete sentences.
The food arrived and we set the DragonMonkey in his highchair, giving him a plate of fries.
He sat quietly, chewing the fries, neck craning as he stared in horror at the menagerie of fake rainforest predators.
At one point he began to get fussy, twisting to get out of his high chair.
“Would you like to go see the gorillas?” I asked in a bright voice. “Do you want down so we can go visit the gorillas?”
He shook his head in silent horror. NO. NO GORILLAS. He liked his high-chair. See? He sat very still and continued to quietly eat his fries, back ramrod straight.
This threat worked for the entire dining experience. Any time he began to be fussy or misbehave, the Bean and I countered with a cheerful offer to go visit the assortment of creepy animals that lined the walls. To our credit, we didn’t torture him. We really did try to make it seem like fun. “Look at the fishies!” we exclaimed in happy voices, pointing at the gigantic saltwater aquarium. “The gorilla is saying hi! Look, it’s waving at you!”
The DragonMonkey stared at these things in apprehensive silence, not fooled in the least by our cheerful prattling. He behaved like a dream for well over an hour.
It was the best dinner of my life.
It’s obvious that Bean and I are going to Hell, but at least we got one good meal together before our trip.