With a three-year-old and an almost two-year-old, going out to eat is pretty much never a relaxing time for me and my wife. It is more about entertaining than eating. Even if the restaurant is very kid friendly and has crayons and a menu they can color, that buys about 5 minutes until all the crayons are on the floor, the menu is torn, and we start praying the Cheerios last until the food comes. Which it probably won’t, and we’ll start playing Three Card Monte with sugar packets. Find the Splenda kids!
We know this, and yet we go out anyway. Partly because it is good for everybody to get out of the house and the kids need to learn to behave in public, and partly because we really don’t feel like cooking. Breakfast works the best for us. We can be in and out before anybody needs a nap or has had time to do anything so bad they don’t get to go.
Last Sunday we went out to breakfast and had a very normal time. Lucy (my three-year-old) colored, dropped some crayons, stacked and counted the coffee creamers, and tried to stand up to look at the people sitting behind us. Very standard, very acceptable. Evie (my 21-or-so-month-old) wasn’t great, but not terrible either. Despite our assurances that it would not end well for her, she kept putting her feet up on the table. After we told her no and made her stay in her booster seat, she cried. My wife took her to walk around, and when Lucy saw that Evie got to get up from the table, she was suddenly jealous and started to cry too. All par for the eating in public course.
The food came, they stopped crying, we ate pancakes, and a perfectly average time was had by all. When the waitress brought the bill she said, “Just so you know, there is nothing for you to pay. Somebody wanted to pick up your check.”
Naturally, my first thought was “I wish I ordered the full stack of pancakes and not the half.” But I was honestly shocked and very grateful. Who was this? And old friend? A kind stranger picking up random checks? Nope.
The waitress said they wanted to stay anonymous, but they saw us with two little kids and another one on the way and thought we would appreciate the help. Pity? Did I just eat pity pancakes? Does my completely ordinary family breakfast look like such a circus to outsiders that they feel compelled to help my wretched soul put food in the mouths of my snot-faced children? Maybe. And I’m ok with that.
If they perceived me as in over my head like some kind of sitcom dad who is about to be wearing his kid’s pancakes as a hat, that’s cool. Free pancakes for me. Perhaps that should be the new strategy? Sandbag my parenting skills when eating in public. Always appear to be balancing on the edge of a breakdown in front of older couples who never had kids and now the the disposable income to spend on other people’s breakfasts to show for it. Play the oafish sitcom dad card one farmer’s omelette at a time.
The truth is I probably don’t need to do that because I’m probably already there, whether I know it or not. I’ve rushed a crying kid out of the restaurant, I’ve chased them from one table of strangers to the next, I’ve gotten back in the car to head home only to realize somebody only had one shoe. All at the same brunch. But hey, that’s normal.
So thank you kind stranger for buying my family breakfast, it was greatly appreciated. And perhaps you saw something I didn’t, because not two minutes after you picked up our check, in our attempt to get jackets on and out the door we forgot to get our parking validated. After our free breakfast, we paid an extra $8 for parking.