Our oldest daughter was turning 10 and this seemed like cause for a celebration. As parents, we had managed to keep her alive and well for an entire decade. I haven’t been able to keep a houseplant alive that long, and they require much less than a child, so as my husband and I exchanged high-fives, we were likely feeling a little smug which would explain the momentary lapse of judgement we experienced when we suggested going out to a “fancy” restaurant for her birthday dinner.
Our children eat at restaurants frequently enough. At ten and six, they possess a modicum of self-control and basic table manners. Sure, they fart and burp during dinner at home, but we’d remind them enough times to act like princesses. And this was a special occasion, after all.
In my mind, we were all going to dress up nice, have a delicious meal, and make a wonderful memory. But over the course of our parenting, there have been a lot of those Expectation vs. Reality moments, and this was no exception.
Red flag number one appeared when I was leaving work and mentioned to a co-worker that we were taking our daughter to the steakhouse for her birthday dinner. He commented that she must have a sophisticated palate, and I chuckled.
No. She’s quite picky, actually, I answered in my head, but it was too late to second-guess our decision. Our reservation was in a few hours and I wasn’t even home from work yet.
I guess the next red flag should have been that my youngest daughter didn’t even have an appropriate coat to wear. I might have remembered the last time she dressed up for the daddy-daughter dance and we made her wear her velvet cape from her Little Red Riding Hood Halloween costume. I might have remembered that her winter jacket was a puffy neon-pink hand-me-down from her sister that was two sizes too big and that most days she ran around the house naked. As we were all scrambling to get out the door, I didn’t notice her choice in outerwear till we were already in the car.
“You can’t wear that jean jacket to the restaurant.”
“Daddy said I could.”
“Well, you can’t. The sleeves are filthy. And what’s that green stuff?”
She looked down and answered matter-of-factly, “Avocado.”
“You’re just going to not wear a coat, I guess.”
“But I’m cold.” She whined.
“You won’t be cold in the restaurant. Daddy will drop us off out front.”
As it turned out, she was cold in the restaurant, and she didn’t fail to remind us of it. All… Night… Long.
After arriving at the steakhouse, we were led to a round table in a candlelit corner of the restaurant. It had booth-style seating that circled around half of the table, and the bouncy cushion pleased the birthday girl to no end. She promptly plopped herself down on it again and again. I had a flashback to my old roommate’s waterbed before I gave her my best mom-glare to get her to stop.
In fact, I spent most of the evening telling my children what to do and, more importantly, what not to do. Don’t grab the parmesan cheese with your fingers. Put your napkin in you lap. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Use your knife. Be careful. Don’t spill that drink.
I was tense and it wasn’t relaxing. Then the waiter came over to greet us.
“Would anyone care for a cocktail?”
Me! Me! Me! I was going to need
one a few.
As is their custom, because we were celebrating a special event, a photographer snapped our picture.
After which, the birthday girl leaned toward me and whispered, “This isn’t what I was expecting.”
“What were you expecting?” I asked.
“I thought it was going to be like that place we went before the basketball game where I got that burger.”
“The sports bar?”
“Yeah, that place. Do they have any burgers here?”
They did, in fact, have a burger on their menu. The Wagyu beef burger topped with a short rib served with bone marrow butter, truffle brie, and bacon onion jam. It was 24 dollars and that’s what she ordered, minus the bacon onion jam, which I asked them to put on the side and ate with a spoon. It was seriously the best condiment I have ever tasted in my life.
“Try it,” I begged her.
Her father and I were fighting over it now.
“It’s bacon. You love bacon. Try it.” He put a small schmear of it on her plate.
She pursed her lips and shook her head.
“How’s your burger?” I asked.
“Meh. I prefer In and Out.”
I looked towards my youngest who had stopped eating her special order of pasta, since ya know, there wasn’t a children’s menu.
“There’s too much sauce. I don’t like it.”
I rolled my eyes and downed the rest of my wine.
For dessert, we were served Bananas Foster. We watched the rum catch fire and the orange flames leap higher as they prepared it tableside.
Our daughter doesn’t like bananas.
My husband and I devoured it while the birthday girl picked at her complimentary cheesecake. (She doesn’t like cheesecake either.)
Throughout the meal, I kept wondering why we hadn’t hired a babysitter for the night. Then I’d remember that this wasn’t our date night. It was her birthday and we’d done this to ourselves. We could have been at Red Robin with balloons and crayons and a kids’ menu that includes Kraft mac and cheese, but we were foolish and naïve.
Still, it wasn’t a total fail. During the evening, an elderly woman came over to our table and complimented us on our well-behaved children. She even paid the photographer to take another photo of us.
I whispered to the birthday girl to make a funny face, and aside from palate cleansing sorbet and the hot hand towels, this is what they’ll have to remember.
In the wake of that compliment (and my second glass of wine), I looked at my children and realized that they are pretty amazing little humans—but they’re still just kids. Filet mignon and lobster tails aren’t their thing just yet, and that’s okay.
Of course, the next time we’re in the mood for fine dining, we’re leaving the kids at home.