Eating out with Children
By Sadia Hanif

We go out for Chinese at least once a month. It is relatively
inexpensive, the kids actually eat the food, and I am a big fan of
the Orange Chicken. The place we frequent is rather informal.
Kind of a fast food take on Chinese, but really good. You place
your order at the counter and they will deliver the food to your
table within a matter of minutes. That is good timing because
young children have the attention span of gnats, and they operate
under the belief that if they sit still for more than three minutes
straight, their butts will spontaneously combust.

Last week we found ourselves, once again, at the familiar counter.
While the girls busied themselves by yanking each other’s pony
tails and playing hide and seek in their father’s and my "zipper
region", I placed our order. "Here is your number. We’ll bring
your food out when it is ready." Number 13. I stared down at the
small plastic triangle, hesitant to touch such an omen. Call me
superstitious. Call me dramatic, but I should have taken the hint
and asked for take-out instead.

Eating out with the kids is such a vicious circle for parents. They
need to learn proper manners for eating in public, yet they can
only acquire them by eating in public, which only serves to
highlight their lack of proper manners when eating in public. As
adults, we need to get out every now and then, yet getting out is
sometimes only possible by bringing them. Dining out is
considered a treat for parents, yet depending on the destination,
children view it as a punishment. I could go on and on, or rather
round and round, but I am getting dizzy and I trust you get the

Now, I firmly believe that children are just that . . . children. They
can only be expected to rise to a certain level of sophistication
when they are 2. However, when they stick broccoli in their nose
and fling soy sauce into my hair, even I draw the line. Leaning
across the table, I take one of her hands and growl in my best
Exorcist voice, "Do that one more time, and you will never see
food again." "Szechwan Susie" just smiles and with her free hand,
pats my head, leaving it full of sticky rice.

The five and six year old decide that toasting each other is a good
idea. With two well-timed "clinks", the lids fly off their cups,
spilling cola everywhere. I have ice cubes in my lap and my
Orange Chicken now swims in a sea of brown fizz. I am in hell.

Now, unless you are dining directly adjacent to the play area of
the local fast food restaurant, you are intensely aware of everyone
without children watching your table. They look at you as if to
say, "You poor stupid woman. Why can’t you make your
children sit still, speak quieter, and eat their food? And, did
you know you have rice in your hair?" I want only to stand on
our table and scream, "NO! Children cannot sit still! They know
only how to speak at HIGH volume! Food is a game to be
played on the way to their mouths! These are laws of the universe
that cannot be reversed! And YES, I do have rice in my hair!
Would you like to see what we had for lunch? It is still on my shirt!
And look! I have breakfast on my shoe!"