Saturday, 9 February 2008

A quiet dinner

There is a part of my brain, now that I am a fully fledged adult with two, count em' two real life children, that occasionally simply blocks out the fact of these offspring completely. I seem to still fall occasionally into the 'nothing will change once I have children - they'll just come along with me' fantasy that you hold so confidently before you actually have children. Sadly I usually wake from this stupor when I'm in the very middle of what ever rash action I've taken and it too late to go back.

Let me give you an example. My partner was recently away overseas for a week. We were, of course all very keen for him to return. Now my sensible self knows that for Jamie at 3 yrs old the anticipation of knowing we will be driving to London, to the airport to get Daddy on Sunday evening will be too much to cope with any time before Sunday actually arrives. So of course I tell him on Tuesday. I plan the route, the stops, the timings and just can't seem to stop pulling him into my fervor of excitement as if he is another adult.
It’s that isolation you feel as a lone parent I suppose that makes you forget that your eldest is still only a little person, with a little person’s mind.

And so, predictability by Sunday morning Jamie is drunk and dizzy with pure, manic joy at the prospects for the day. Here, of course comes the inevitable fall. The plane is delayed; Marti misses all his connections and is stuck in Miami for an extra 24 hours. Crap.

I am livid. And, although it manifests as anger at the airline, at fate, and inexplicably him, my frustration is really the crashing realization of the huge fall I've set Jamie up for. I vainly hope he won’t mind too much. But, again thanks to me he is predictably devastated and cries and cries for Daddy, and the promised adventure of the day now lost. And here's a stellar parenting moment for therapy in a few years...Even in this time of Jamie's great child need I find my self getting strangely frustrated that after a few minutes he can't just pull it together and cope. I mean, like, god, I'm disappointed too you know. No kidding.

It is here that my guilt and, I guess disappointment of plans disrupted gets in the way of my better judgment. I decide that we will go to the airport anyway and stay overnight in a hotel, with a pool, a clean comfy bed, and a nice restaurant, and meet Marti from the plane tomorrow morning. Doesn't that sound like a great treat? - It does to me, as I imagine it would to any adult who's spent the week buried in laundry, dishes, cleaning and young children. But wait....I'm pre-kids again and forgetting the children do actually have to come along too.

So there we are, in the swanky hotel I got such a great deal on from the internet, hanging out in the pristine room when I make the second error of the day. There is of course nothing to actually do in the pristine room. I am uncomfortable with lots of the TV that is actually aimed at children, and don't like to randomly channel hop in case Jamie sees something for adults with his keen eyes and sharp brain that is too hard to him to process, so my paranoia makes it impossible for us to relax and watch anything, even though for Jamie that would have been a real treat as we don't have TV at home. So I glibly ask 'do you want to eat in our room, or down in the restaurant?'
Have you ever asked a question of your child, but framed in such a way as to get the answer you really want, but so you can make out it was all their choice and you're actually doing them a favour? No? Ah. Jamie chose restaurant, so off we three go (you're not forgetting the 5 month old Noah just started on solids here are you? I apparently am.)

First the no-name bank machine refuses to recognize my card, so my 'lets splurge on a nice meal' idea hits its first snag. I have £13, and no other options for food, so we plow ahead.
The waitress seats us, and never taking her eyes and tight grimace off the children purposefully moves all the extra glass wear, china and cutlery from our table, leaving only one place setting.
I order the starter size dish for me, a children's hot dog for J and water to drink...'no, just tap water'. Her smile gets tighter, mine wider, as if grinning like a crazy person is going to insure all will go smoothly. We devour the free bread like we haven't eaten in days and await our meal.
Scenes from the dinner are a little hazy still and come back to me sporadically like repressed memories. I am an educated, refined woman who is deranged enough by parenthood to think that we should be able to pull it all off. After all, children can sit quietly, patiently, and make charming conversation with eating their dinners without mess and spillages. Is that really too much to expect?? yeesh.
Of course reality checks in.

At one point Noah has thrown pureed carrot over not only our white table cloth but the one next to us (carrot??? why, why??), the expensive carpet has more hot dog bun on it than the table, Jamie is eating ketchup with his fingers whilst calling across the restaurant to the waitress 'excuse me, but what is that funny smell? a flying baby arm has connected with my rice sending it across the table, the babe is crying, I'm two wrestling wiggling, sliding bodies, one 'out of the high chair, now!' and the other 'bend your legs, no, just sit for one moment, not the soother on the floor again' as I surreptitiously try to cover the pool of spit-up on the floor with my foot.

The two business men ushered to the table next to us quietly ask to be moved and I am defeated. Still grinning like an idiot I ask for the check, count out the exact change, leave no tip, and in a final raised finger to pre-child dignity stuff the two remaining pieces of complimentary bread into my bag for a snack tomorrow.

We stagger toward our room and as we ride up the elevator Jamie says 'that cafe was very quite, and the people all had grumpy, sad faces. Lets go in the big, funny bath tub'. So we do, and we have fun, and we don't sleep so well because we still miss Daddy, and it’s a strange bed, and I think how perfect and smart my children are.


Anonymous said...

Oh Kate. How wonderfully written. I can imagine the faces of the up-tight business men, entirely unsympathetic in their understanding of what it takes to look after children on one's own, imagine the food being anywhere but where it should be and the up-tight waitress's thoughts about that, and imagine your dismay at how the whole thing went.

What I love, though, is how you really don't sound defeated or down on yourself for it all. These things happen, and it sounds like you truly did handle yourself (and your adorable boys!!) admirably.

I'm glad that your adventure had the happy conclusion of fun in the "big funny bathtub," and of M's return! :)



Louise said...

You have a flair for writing! This is what I hoped my blog sounds like :)

Oh, and I have SOOOO been there with the kids. I completely mis-judge what my darlings are capable of, and have had some very fraught moments!