If you have young children—and particularly if you and your partner are both working full-time—you know that evenings during the work week are the worst. The kids are cranky; you're cranky. You rush home to pick them up from daycare, deposit them in the hallway and instantly, they're clamouring for dinner.
My husband and I do an okay job of organizing meals for most of the week, but by the time Friday rolls around, we're often out of ideas and energy. So we often make the decision: let's go out to eat!
This seemingly simple solution to the dinner dilemma is, in fact, much harder than it looks. Dinner out, in our family, usually goes something like this:
5:30 p.m. - Throw the kids in the car and rush to a nearby family-friendly restaurant in a vain attempt to feed them before they get hungry and irritable. Upon arriving at said restaurant, realize that we have left behind critical items, such as the toddler's sippy cup and the preschooler's teddy bear. Too late. Ward off a temper tantrum from the preschooler with the promise of the iPad.
5:45 p.m. - Sit down at the table indicated by the hostess. She smiles kindly at the kids who, in turn, do their best impression of angelic cherubs. Knowing that time is of the essence, we order immediately.
5:46 p.m. - The toddler decides that she no longer wants to sit in the high chair. Refusing to be diverted by colouring or playing peekaboo with a table napkin, she attempts to climb out herself. Rather than risk injury, one parent decides to walk around with her for a bit—whereupon the preschooler decides that she, too, wants to walk around.
5:46 p.m. - 6 p.m. - While one parent waits for dinner to arrive, the other parent walks around the restaurant with both kids, trying to amuse them with such clever tactics as, "Look! It's a mirror! Who do you see in there?" and occasionally swigging from a glass of wine when passing by the table.
6 p.m. - The toddler decides that it has been WAY TOO LONG since food was forthcoming and starts to wail. Return to the table and attempt to force the toddler back into the high chair, which is much like trying to squish an octopus into a paper towel roll. Dinner has not yet arrived, so we break out the snacks to tide the toddler over. The preschooler, of course, wants a snack too. And milk. And a fork. And a napkin.
6:05 p.m. - Now that the kids are full of granola bars and goldfish bars, the food arrives. They pick at their food while focusing on dropping all available cutlery and attempting to play with the people at the next table. The toddler, bored, takes off her shoes and socks, and then chucks the rest of her food on the floor. The preschooler whines for the iPad. We negotiate with the preschooler while picking up things off the floor and, in between meeting various kids' demands, attempt to scarf down our own dinner.
6:10 p.m. - Both kids want dessert, but the toddler will only sit still if she's on someone's lap. One parent spoons ice cream into the toddler's mouth and helps the preschooler figure out the iPad while the other pays the bill.
6:15 p.m. - Pack up the leftover food and attempt to clean some of the detritus off the floor so that we're not totally embarrassed by the mess we're leaving behind. Chase after the toddler, who's sprinting for the exit, with her coat.
6:20 p.m. - Buckle everyone into their car seats and realize that the toddler is missing a mitten. One parent stays with the kids while the other goes to look for it. After five minutes of searching, realize that the toddler is, in fact, sitting on it.
Go home. Put the kids to bed. Collapse on the couch. And think about what we're having for dinner tomorrow.