Strange things happen when you look through someone else’s eyes
A couple nights ago we took the kids out to dinner at their favorite fish taco joint. During dinner, the two older kids performed an acrobatic display in, on, and around their chairs while the baby alternated between spewing pureed squash on his shirt and babbling, loudly, what I’m pretty certain was a profanity-laden tirade in Polish.
In a wildly unsuccessful attempt to get them to behave, the wife and I admonished, threatened, ignored, quietly suggested, and tried Jedi mind tricks. Nothing. At one point, I tried bribing the older two kids with cookies, even though I knew full well that the restaurant didn’t serve cookies. When that didn’t work, I threatened to remove the nonexistent cookies from our after-dinner options, but the kids didn’t fall for it. They just continued their hijinks, pausing occasionally to spray cheese quesadilla and black beans around the table in a sardonic nod to our pleading for them to sit down and eat.
When Cirque du Dinner finally wrapped up, we got up, brushed the beans, salsa, and creamed squash from our clothes and started herding our kids toward the door, praying that we didn’t encounter anyone we knew. During the exit parade, my eldest son, Lil’ O, meandered over to another table and stood staring at the couple in a way that would have been incredibly creepy if he wasn’t a cute three-year-old.
As I shuffled him away, the woman at the table said—get this—“Your children are so good!”
“I’m sorry if he bothered you,” I said. “He’s just a curious little boy.”
“No, really, they are very well-behaved.”
“Okay, listen, lady, I’m sorry if my kid interrupted your dinner, but there’s no reason to be a smartass about it.”
She laughed. “I’m being serious,” she insisted. “They’ve been quiet and good, and they seem like really well-behaved kids.”
When she repeated the term “well-behaved,” I glanced at my wife just in time to see her jaw drop ever so slightly as she stared at the woman incredulously, like she’d just stepped off an alien space ship wearing athletic socks with sandals.
“Um, thanks, I guess,” I replied.
And then she kept going. “You’ve three little ones, and you two make it look so easy.”
I could see my wife’s jaw drop a touch more out of the corner of my eye.
“What’s your secret?” asked the woman, who’d clearly been mixing prescription allergy medicine with grain alcohol for several hours.
At this point, my wife’s mouth with totally agape, and she was speechless. So I spoke up.
“Well, it’s not like there’s some magic potion,” I said I as subtly dropped my napkin over my three empty Corona bottles. “We’re just taking it one day at a time, and trying to keep it together.”
“Well, they’re darlings,” said the woman.
“Thank you. I suppose they are,” I said. And then I walked off magnanimously, dragging two preschoolers by their elbows and nudging my still-stunned wife toward the door.
The lesson in all of this? As crazy as our kids make us, as unruly as they seem, maybe they’re not as bad as we think they are. As parents, we say we always want to see the best in our children, but sometimes we’re guilty of seeing the worst. At the fish taco joint, what seemed like a wildly disobedient display to my wife and me was just kids being kids to a stranger.
So maybe our kids aren’t that bad. Maybe they’re not semi-domesticated jungle animals bent on driving us into state-mandated psychiatric care. Maybe they’re just, well, kids being kids.
Or maybe the woman sitting next to us at dinner was a certifiable moron who was fall-down drunk on happy-hour margaritas.
Either way, I left the restaurant with a smile, and when we got home, everyone got a cookie.