I’m not completely without empathy. I remember what it was like to be childless and see children at a table next to me snorting ketchup while licking the bottoms of their shoes and watching weird Australian cartoons on their parents phones. And I remember judging as hard as humanly possible. These were bad parents, I’d think. Why don’t they get babysitters, I’d ask my date. Kids have entirely too much screen time, I’d say knowingly, quoting from some New York Times piece I hadn’t read, but saw mentioned by a journalist on social media. But now, of course, the pendulum has swung in the other direction, and it has swung hard.
There is a certain level of human need as a parent to leave the nest, to get out of the house, to do something, anything, that makes you feel even a little bit like someone whose existence is not based around the unpredictable whims of toddlers. And babysitters, while amazing and necessary and vital, are also expensive, hard to pin down and pretty much guaranteed to be going through all of your passwords in a good-natured attempt to blackmail you later on, so you have to pick and choose your babysitter-sponsored reprieves. At this point, we are lucky to have two a month. So naturally, there is a stir crazy element that often rears its head around 4:30pm on a Sunday when my wife might posit the question, “Should… we try and go to dinner?”
The word “try” is always included. Because going to dinner with children is not just a thing you decide you will complete. You are attempting it. It might not actually work. You might have to leave when they shit themselves or throw a baseball manager-style tantrum, or after you find out the restaurant is out of mustard greens. But there is always a chance that it will work. There is an irrational optimistic lottery element, a certain type of magical thinking that takes over each dinner experience where I believe that just maybe if I time everything correctly and put orders in early and run my son around and give my daughter enough coloring books and drink gin quickly and then get some hip ceviche and wood-fired pizza and avocado mashed onto some of those greens, it will be OK, or even a positive experience, and we will drive home listening to the edgy rap version of the song the Rock sings off the Moana soundtrack and I might turn to my wife and say, “You know, that actually went OK.” OK is the goal. Hell, OK is the gold.