We went out to lunch with the family today. This is not something we do very often, because with two children with SPD, it’s not something we can usually do successfully. And, being the control freak I am, I just don’t want to partake in something that I am not fairly positive we can be successful at. What’s the fun in that?!?
Most of the time when we eat out, I judge the success of the meal on a few criteria: Did everyone make it through the entire meal without having to be carried out of the restaurant screaming and kicking? Were my children calm and “normal” enough for the other diners to at least wait until we are gone to talk about us? Did my little guy hide under OUR table, not the neighbor’s? Did my daughter whisper her comments about the various sights and smells of our fellow diners’ meals, instead of blurting them out at full volume? And did everyone eat something, or do we need to go home and feed the children their usual PB & J sandwiches after paying for meals that they didn’t like? If I can answer “yes” to all these questions, I chalk it up to a positive experience and score one for the team.
Of course, a lot goes into planning for this eating out. We have to consider the time of day, the amount of sleep everyone had the night before, the atmosphere of the restaurant in mind, the menu choices. We don’t just decide to go out without a lot of preparation!
Today was a special day for my daughter, and she wanted to celebrate by eating out with the extended family. We gave her some options, and she chose a restaurant called Northwoods. It’s a nice family restaurant, with a game room where the kids can waste quarters and exert energy while waiting for the food to arrive. It has an outdoorsy-woodsy theme going on, with lots of things hanging on the walls to look at and talk about–great for a game of “I Spy” while the kids wait for desert. And they serve awesome macaroni and cheese that both kids love, with ice cream for desert. Win on all accounts. Plus, we ate there quite successfully a few months ago, so I was fairly confident we could do it again.
Except that, as you know, what delights a child one day can trigger a completely different reaction the next!
Being the outdoorsy place it is, Northwoods has stuffed animals hanging on all the walls. You know–deer heads and foxes and raccoons and such, all posed throughout the restaurant to make you feel like you are eating in the woods of Wisconsin. (No, really. That’s what their website says!) Now, remember, we’ve been here before, and at that time, these animals delighted my son. He thought it was so cool that the “dead animals that used to be alive” were watching him eat. He was so intrigued with them the last time we were here, that our really great waiter walked around the dining area with him and let him “pet” all the animals.
This time, we sat down at our table and he promptly screeched and buried his head in my lap–not an easy feat, since I was seated in my chair, pushed in under the table (like any person would be when dining out). After awhile he popped back up, but every few minutes he would screech again and grab me. Thank goodness the restaurant was not very busy, and since we had about 20 people in our party, we were taking up several tables in one corner of the restaurant. In other words, no one was bothered by this screeching. Well, no one but me, since my ear and arm were bearing the brunt of it. And I am so used to the screeches, and was so distracted by visiting with my family, that I failed to notice that the screeches actually had a meaning this time. Until my son said, “AAAHHH! Why did that reindeer crash through the wall?!”
I never paid much attention to how a deer head on a wall looks. Of course, I know that it’s just the deer’s head. The rest of the deer was abandoned somewhere in the stuffing process, and is no longer attached to the deer’s body. But my very literal little boy could not understand why the “reindeer” was inside the wall, and, furthermore, why he didn’t just climb back out and go off into the woods again. And all those family members assuring him that it wasn’t real did nothing to appease his anxiety about the poor deer stuck in the wall. So we did what any good parents would do. We gave him more quarters and told him to go play another game.
Which worked wonderfully, as the quarters ran out about the same time the mac and cheese arrived. But a few bites into the food, the screeches started up again. Followed by comments that had the other dining room patrons and our waitress snickering and even laughing out loud.
“AAAHHH! That squirrel is staring at me! Why won’t he quit looking at me?!”
“AAAHHH! That fox looks like he’s trying to eat me! Why is his mouth open like that?!”
“AAAHHH! The reindeer is still stuck inside the wall! Why won’t he get out?!”
“That fish looks like he’s mad at us!” “Did you hear that noise? I think it was the deer!” “That squirrel is still staring at me!” And so on, until he was done eating and retreated to his usual restaurant spot of under our table.
The good news is, we made it through lunch. My daughter felt celebrated and loved. The mac and cheese was a hit. No one commented about anyone else’s food. No one hid under someone else’s table. Our son did have to be carried out kicking and screaming, but not until we were ready to leave anyway. And…well, I may have to amend my criteria for a successful dining-out experience. I guess if people are laughing with us, and not at us, then that’s a win, too!