Taking a toddler into a cafe or restaurant can be super-stressful. Asking for trouble really.
While doing the ‘walk of shame’ out of a café recently, carrying a screaming, purple-faced, scissor-kicking toddler under my arm (my sandwich abandoned on the table, my husband abandoned under the table, scrabbling around retrieving coloured pencils), I found myself asking this: Why do we persist with these “fun” family lunches?
In my experience, going out for lunch with a toddler is like playing a game of Russian roulette – and instils similar levels of anxiety.
It’s either your lucky day or it’s all going to blow up in your face – and you have absolutely no idea which way it’s going to swing until one of the staff has already gone to the trouble of dragging a high chair across the room and presenting you with a kids’ menu and a tub of pencil crayons, by which point you feel too awkward to back out.
And even a ‘lucky’ day is only really lucky in retrospect. Because even if your child is perfectly well-behaved for the duration of the meal, you don’t know you’re safe until you’ve paid that bill and cleared the building – so you still have to sit through the whole event on high alert.
That’s the point when you say, “Oh well, that wasn’t too bad after all, was it? We actually had quite a nice time then, didn’t we?” as you unclench your buttocks, breathe out for the first time in 40 minutes then look down to see your child is holding a salt cellar in one hand and the tip in the other.
Then there are the occasions when you dare to let your guard down – when you think, “Do you know what? Sod it! I’m going to stop stressing and enjoy myself today”.
Those occasions – otherwise known as pub lunches with friends – are when the rules about who is ‘on duty’ can get a little blurred and you may find your toddler has slipped under the table and is drinking a sachet of vinegar. Like operating heavy machinery, childcare doesn’t mix well with alcohol consumption.
But even when you’re as sober as a judge and on your guard, a public meltdown can come suddenly and with a such a Richter scale-force that nothing can stop it – not even a fully charged iPad.
Things start off well - they turn up in bright spirits with the best of intentions, looking forward to another opportunity to eat chips with a huge amount of ketchup.
Then you do something unthinkably cruel - like not allowing them to play with a steak knife or float their rubber duck in the man-at-the-next-table’s soup – and before you know it all hell has broken loose.
This is what happened to us last time. Or at least that’s what we told ourselves. But on closer examination of the evidence, we had made a number of glaring errors.