My daytime team of three (me, three year-old, and one year-old) have passed our sweet spot of restauranting when the baby could sit happily in the carrier watching the three year-old color or stir sugar packets into my coffee. (Our oldest fireball was never mellow enough to sit happily in a carrier.) This week I was up one teammate (GRANDMA!!!), so after a free two-man play at the public library, we strolled across the street to an outdoor cafe, and decided to have lunch.
At the table next to us was a mother with her pre-school aged twin daughters.
We briefly exchanged pleasantries – wasn’t it a cute play? It’s so nice that they put that on! Then we got to the serious business of dining out with children. I was in a testy mood for some reason. Possibilities include: lack of sleep, incessant whining, close quarters with my mom. But the mother next to us was grace and patience personified. She sweetly read from their stack of library books, engaging in all their pre-school curiosities.
They ordered, we ordered. Waited. Her girls started getting antsy, losing interest in the books, fidgeting, tipping back and forth in their chairs, bumping things. Their mother’s patience started wearing thin. “Please sit nicely in your seat” gave way to, “Quit touching everything!” One of them gave their mother a real scare when she nearly tipped head-first onto the concrete.
Food came. She got a supermom second wind when a truly magnificent rooster came over to scope out our food. “Oh, he’s such a gentle giant!” she said, and began feeding him crumbs from her hand. From her hand! With her blonde hair and cut-off shorts, she looked like some weird barnyard-inspired Disney princess.
But her girls were still pre-schoolers on the brink of naptime. They kept squirming and grabbing, and eventually the whole table got tipped, sending a set of glass food containers crashing down and shattering on the concrete. At that point, Mama stopped playing nice. “What did I say? This is what happens when you don’t listen!” She busied herself picking up the glass shards, so over it at that point. The waitress hurried to help, and it was taken care of quickly. Eating my own lunch standing up, wearing a baby and simultaneously shoving food at my toddler, I gave her a sympathetic “story of my life.” In response she gave a humorless half-laugh without making eye contact. I know the feeling. If they’re not going to switch places with you, they should just shut the eff up.
They left shortly after. It’s unfortunate. She missed seeing me trying to block my own three year-old from sticking his face in my ass, accidentally knocking him down and sending a chair crashing into a table leg, causing the waitress to freak out, thinking the loud sound was his head. And most likely that I abuse my child. We left shortly after that.
Once, when we were still in our braving-restaurants-alone window, I was seated next to two parents and their toddler boy. He was climbing all over everything, under everything, and they were exhausted. Meanwhile, somehow miraculously, I was that angel twin mom the WHOLE time. Don’t get me wrong, it was work. But I was rocking that shit. “Why don’t YOU open that sugar packet, love? Ooops, a spill! Time to clean up!!! See how Mama dabs just a little water on the napkin? Now it’s YOUR turn. You do that while I find Baby’s pacifier. I think it’s on the floor.” That shit takes energy. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the toddler nearby throw a cup on the ground. I resisted the urge to feel smug. I’ve been there too. And I’m sure those parents have rocked their shit plenty of times.
Here’s the point. You should not judge a parent (or a child) based on a few minute snapshot. You can and you probably do, just like I do, but you will not be right. There are so many factors at play in every little episode. How sleep-deprived/hangry is everyone? How long have they already been rocking it (because no one has unlimited stamina)? Are there some underlying family dynamics at play, like a freewheeling grandma carrying cookies? Among a million other things.
I recognized myself in that twin mom. She’s working. She’s trying. She’s often rocking it. And sometimes she’s not. She loves and lives for those moments when she’s reading to her daughters. (Or showing them how to feed roosters from her hand!) She hates and actively resists the urge to cry or scream or bail when she’s picking glass shards after the ten-millionth nag. She’s doing her best, which is all we can expect.