toddler talk Society

Dining out and other disasters

Choose restaurants which offer enough space for exploring. If there’s a play area, even better. Photo: K. Ananthan.   | Photo Credit: K_Ananthan

My daughter loves dining out. By this, I mean she loves to dress up, go to a restaurant and do everything but eat. Once you have a toddler in your life, you really get to know your favourite restaurants in and out. No health officer does a closer or more in-depth inspection of a dining space than a curious two-year-old. Every nook and cranny must be explored. Paintings, wall hangings, statuettes, and various other doodads that you earlier vaguely observed and appreciated as part of the decor are now subjected to deep scrutiny. Staircases are climbed (repeatedly) and the steps counted. Swinging doors duly swung a multitude of times.

All of this before the starters arrive.

Then comes the really difficult part of the meal, the part where you actually attempt to eat. It begins with a detailed toddler examination of the table and the chairs. My daughter is a bit of a connoisseur of restaurant high-chairs. Wherever we go, she’ll ask for one, try it out, and comment on its colour, comfort levels and similarity to her own “big blue chair” at home. Then, of course, she’ll refuse to sit in the chair (which the waiter has just lugged halfway across the restaurant for her), and insist on being lifted down. Once that little ritual is done and she’s seated on a regular chair (of her choice) next to me, she’s set for stage two of her inspection: cutlery and tableware. This is the point at which I do that desperate lunge (which every experienced parent is familiar with) and try and get everything breakable/sharp/spill-able out of reach. I’m getting better at it. Unfortunately, she’s getting quicker as well. When the dust settles, there’s usually some collateral damage in terms of dropped spoons and tipped over glasses, but both table and child are in one piece, and I’m happy to settle for that small victory.

There’s a brief reprieve then, while she does some pretend eating or even (gasp) real eating using the surviving plates and spoons. But by the time our main course arrives, eating (pretend or otherwise) has lost its charm, and it’s time to pull out the Big Guns. By this, I mean, in rapid succession, her favourite books (discarded in five minutes), crayons and paper (ditto) and finally, the iPad (thank you Steve Jobs). For a few minutes, peace reigns, as Dora or the Wheels on the Bus do their trick, and I get to eat. And perhaps even converse.

When dining out with a large group, this is the point when I discover how completely cut off from adult conversation I’ve become during the course of the meal. Somewhere, far away, at the other end of the table, grown-ups are having grown-up conversations, discussing current affairs and laughing at clever jokes. I try to join in, but it’s kind of hard with Dora yelling ‘C’mon vamanos!’ into one ear, and my daughter interrupting every ten seconds because she’s tapped something on the screen and “Amma, Dora’s gone!” or because she and the other kids are disagreeing on how the iPad should be positioned so they can ‘share’ it (“THIS is the middle” “No, THIS is the middle”). After my third or fourth attempt at conversation, and my tenth or fifteenth “What? What? Sorry, what were you saying?” I give up.

On the plus side, I manage to finish eating. This is the point at which I put the iPad away, and head out with my daughter for our post-meal round of exploring. After all, there’s a Buddha statue at the entrance which needs our attention, a slope outside which we have not climbed or descended, and at least two families whose privacy we have not invaded during the course of their meal. So much to do, so little time…

Tips

I have the rest of my life for adult dinner conversation, right?

1. Choose restaurants which offer enough space for exploring. If there’s a play area, even better

2. Sometimes taking turns at eating and child-minding with your spouse is the only way to get through the meal

3. When all else fails, order in and stay home on the couch


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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 7:26:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/dining-out-and-other-disasters/article6257928.ece

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