The other night while out to dinner, I became “that” mom to our friendly waiter. We were with our children, celebrating Connor’s kindergarten graduation. He chose Godfather’s, our new favorite burger joint.
We were quickly seated a booth, and I let the kids get situated for a minute. Luckily we had a booth near the large windows, where every 15 minutes, a Caltrain would whizz by, prompting a few seconds of excitement and wonderment, but then it was back to the action at our table.
I reached into my enormous purse, which I have grown to realize is actually the size of two diaper bags put together, gave each child a stack of cut-up scratch paper and a couple of washable markers and chalky crayons. They drew at random for a while, but then my husband and I gave them drawing assignments. They loved it, and so did we, as it kept them occupied and not squirming in their seats and impatiently whining about when dinner was to come.
When the waiter came by for our drink order, I asked about caffeine in the Root beer and then fired off a few questions about how many sliders in a kids meal, do the chicken nuggets come with Ranch, and then I rattled off the order for the kids, hoping to get it started quickly. I was polite, just hoping to ride the smooth wave we were on.
Kevin and I each ordered a delicious Devil’s Canyon beer and took a deep breath, as we were in a restaurant with our three kids and they were all occupied. The focus lasted about three sips.
When the kids got fidgety, we had a brief discussion about goals—things you want to complete in a certain amount of time. They liked this idea. So we brought it into a choices discussion where the kids each chose three new things they’d like to do over the summer, our kid-like interpretation of a goal.
But after this four-minute distraction, it was game time. The kids all wanted the blue pen, Ashley’s paper was bigger than Connor’s and Carson was determined to once again release every little peppercorn out of the pepper grinder – a task Houdini Jr. accomplished within the first two seconds of being seated.
When the chaos erupted, I looked around and saw a few other tables with mom and dad enjoying a quiet dinner, their children completely still. I began to sweat when the tug-of-war began over the blue pen, but in my lowest scary voice was able to fire off a warning that got them to control their behavior.
I took a sip of my delightful blond ale and took a glance around the restaurant. I gazed at the tables with quiet kids, many of which were the same ages as mine. One single dad actually had four kids with him, and although their ages were probably about 6 to 14, they were bit more manageable.
But when I looked closely in admiration at one table of another mom and dad having a quiet dinner with their well-mannered children, something caught my eye. All three children were looking down. I thought, why they aren’t struggling over their blue pen?
A closer examination revealed that one reason these kids were so well behaved was because the older child, around 7, had an iTouch under the table and the two younger ones were watching a show on a swanky, new iPad 2. It’s no wonder they were so in control. They were completely checked out of what was happening at their dinner table.
I thought further, is this the new tech way to keep your children quiet at a restaurant? I guess the pens and paper, Highlights magazines and discussions of summer goals are about as old school a comparison as the Atari versus the Wii.
Kevin and I reflected on this for a while. I was relieved on the one hand that the interaction that was necessary to keep our children acting appropriately through dinner also provided our children with ground rules on how we expect them to act in a restaurant. Whether it’s Speederia or LaTosca, we expect our children to behave appropriately in a restaurant. If we don’t hold them to this standard, how will they ever learn the appropriate way to act? And not with the aid of a high-tech gadget, but because they understand that they have to behave a certain way in order to be offered that privilege again.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been known to use my own iPhone as means of distraction, especially when attempting a large grocery shop or a Costco blitz. But I feel I have to draw the line in a restaurant. It simply defeats the purpose to haul the family out for dinner if there is no human communication.
But as dinner drew on, we were definitely the louder table when compared with the high-tech family of five to our left. Our booth was full of spills, one runaway slider and a couple of French fries that made it into that delicious beer I referred to earlier. And just when the tough got going, the sundaes were delivered and once again, all was quiet at our booth.
We paid the bill and graciously thanked our kind waiter for putting up with us. Surprisingly, he commented on how polite and well behaved our children were. Kevin and I were a bit tired, partly from the large burgers we inhaled, but also from the constant maintenance necessary to teach our children how we expect them to act at our table.
Sure, it would have been easier to hand over our phones for entertainment. But we would have missed out on an animated teachable experience of our own.