On Christmas Eve eve the girls and I hit up the local mall with my mom and brother to do some last minute shopping and along the way, we decided to stop and have lunch. My brother wanted to continue shopping and said he'd meet us for dessert so my mom and I headed into the restaurant with Bunny and Wallie and promised to save him a spot.
Naturally, the narrow restaurant was crowded with shoppers and the many outside tables—normally packed—were empty due to inclement weather. When I asked for a table for five, the grandmotherly hostess (aka Strega Nona, who I think was also the owner) tutted and asked where the fifth member of our party was. I could tell this wasn't going to go well.
"He's shopping," I explained. "But he'll meet us later for dessert."
I was prepared for one of those "we can't seat you until your party is all here" spiels, but instead she huffed and said something even more frustrating, "You are going to order food...right?"
It was the "dot-dot-dot, right" that killed me.
Why would she ask that question? Sometimes I think (and this is something that is probably common with mixed race folk though we don't readily admit it), "Is it because I'm not white? Is that why you think I won't order something?" I don't want to go there, but I've been learned to be disappointed by presumptuous people. And she looked presumptuous. It wouldn't be the first time someone assumed something incorrect about me based on my appearance.
I wanted to scream, "I'm half-Italian! Aren't you Italian, too?" But instead I said."Yes, we're here for lunch." We were standing in the crowded entry and people were pushing past us bumping their shopping bags into ours and all I could think was, "I'm getting out of here." But at that moment she sighed and said, "Hold on, let me prepare a table." And so we waited.
As we approached the table I noticed two things:
1) It was a table for four. The only way my brother could have joined us was by either sitting at the next table or on one of our laps.
2) Two of the chairs held booster seats, one for my 6-year-old who hasn't sat in a booster in oh, about four years, and one for my 4-year-old who tried a booster for about 10 minutes. Once. About two years ago.
"Can you please take away the booster seats?" I asked the man who seated us. I think he was husband of Strega Nona (aka Babbo himself, or as like to call him, The Grinch). To my shock and horror he said, "Are you sure? This is a very nice restaurant. Your kids have to sit in their chairs. They have to behave?"
Then, to make matters worse, The Grinch waggled a wrinkled finger at my girls and said, "You have to sit nicely in your chairs."
So many things came to my mind at that moment. Things like, "Fuck off, old man." and "Don't tell my kids what to do, asshole." And no, it's not a fancy restaurant. Nice, yeah, okay. But not fancy by any stretch. You're in a mall, for crying out loud.
Instead I said, "Trust me. My kids know how to act in a restaurant." He gave me a skeptical, dismissive look.
Can you say, "Bummed out?" I sure can. That fucking Grinch was trying his damndest to dampen my holiday spirit.
Let me pause here to say that we eat out quite a bit. Sometimes, if we're with my mom, we go to fancy restaurants with white table cloths, and sparkly wine glasses and separate plates with little knives for bread and butter are on the table. Most of the time however, we're at a casual restaurant where we can enjoy good eats (like pho or tamales or kebabs or dimsum or oyako donburi for under $20.) Either way, my girls are experienced at dining out. And either way, my girls know how to behave in a restaurants.
My mom with girls in a much better restaurant than where this story took place.
I remember eating out a lot as a kid. Mostly we went to Chinese, Japanese or Korean restaurants with friends where the kids sat at one table and the adults sat at another. Eating out is a fantastic way to teach kids about table manners and to teach lessons about politeness and patience. I remember everything my mom taught me about manners and the restaurants where those lessons were taught. If we acted up as kids, we got the stink eye from my mom or any number of aunties and so no, we did not act like fools. Why? It's fun to eat out. It's a treat. And if we wanted to continue tagging along on their outings, we learned to behave accordingly.
The same things goes with my kids. Sure there were brief periods in their lives (oh, 9-15 months?) where we didn't eat out as often because expecting top-notch behavior from wiggly little ones just isn't fair. We got take-out and went to the park instead. But once my kids understood what the expectations for behavior were (and could be occupied with coloring books or small toys) we went out to eat with confidence.
My advice to you if you are afraid your kids' behavior will ruin your meal is to stick with family-friendly restaurants (and by this I mean ethnic restaurants where they often dote on kids), set expectations, and then just keep trying. And for heaven's sakes, don't be the jerks who leave a mess under the kid's highchair for someone else to deal with. Bend down and clean up whatever mess you can and leave a nice tip.
So back to the scene.
The waiter came by to take our order: salad and pizza margherita for my mom, a grilled salmon sandwich for me, a goat cheese and olive pizza for Bunny, and a plate of smoked salmon for Wallie.
"Smoked salmon?" confirmed the waiter.
"Yes, it's her favorite." I replied.
"You mean the appetizer?" said the waiter again, his tone full of disbelief.
"Yes," I said. "She always orders it here. She loves it."
The girls passed the time drawing and talking with us. We chatted with the table next to us since we were so close together we practically were one table. There was no running around the restaurant or misbehaving. They are good girls.
Soon, the food arrived. As the waiter put down Wallie's dish of smoked salmon, The Grich passed by our table and did a double take. I admit a moment of pride as I saw Wallie's eyes light up as the waiter slide the plate of salty, pink goodness towards her.
While we were eating my brother texted to say he was still shopping and I had a moment of dread as I prepared for one of the owners to make a snide comment about our non-existent fifth party.
We finished up our meal and got up to leave and on our way out the door, Strega Nona (Mrs. Grinch) stopped me.
"Your daughters were so well-behaved," she gushed. Then she looked at them and said, "You were perfect. You can come back anytime."
Normally, I would have encouraged them to look at the woman and say, "Thank you, we enjoyed it." But instead, this day, I let manners take a back seat. Both girls were already cowering behind me as they are wont to do when a stranger addresses them, and instead of forcing them to be polite, I simply ushered them right out the door.
And, no. We won't be going back.
Even though Wallie really does love that fricking smoked salmon.