We went to someplace we hardly ever go over the weekend: Applebee’s.
It was a little bit of a command performance, because J and her school volleyball teammates had a pancake breakfast fundraiser there. J was very good about going out and selling tickets, but I think all of her buyers’ enthusiasm was pretty low. One of my friends said something like (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Oh, honey, I’m happy to support you, but we’re not going to eat that $*!+.”
However, since Cute W and I had not only bought tickets but also had to pick her up at the end of the event, anyway, we duly showed up and claimed our short stack and two exceedingly paltry pieces of bacon. They weren’t bad. But I refused to compromise on the syrup. I want 100% pure maple or nothing at all, and so I toted a small container of the genuine article, which I had warmed to perfection, with me in the car. I took one tiny taste of the high fructose corn syrup and cellulose swill that they offered and thanked my lucky stars for my exceptional foresight. Little J and her teammates were hustling about with great efficiency, which was sweet to watch, and Cute W and I were chatting away, so it wasn’t the worst breakfast ever.
During my visit I remembered that I’d had a couple of formative parenting experiences at that very Applebee’s.
Many, many years ago, when Cute W’s parents were in town visiting, we decided to try to have our first real date since M was born. The trouble was that M was an exceptionally fussy baby who was only interested in consuming delicious mama’s milk directly from mama. Now that I’m typing this in, it’s ironic that I was just talking about how I wanted only the genuine article, warmed to perfection. I guess we can see where she got her high culinary standards!
Anyway, we had been struggling to get M to take a bottle, and she was Not. Having. It. Not from me, not from Cute W. So we ditched her with Grandma and Grandpa, knowing she was hungry and hoping that she’d be desperately hungry enough to just give in and take the damn bottle. I was just sure that she would. I mean, it was nice, yummy pumped milk. Grandma and Grandpa were optimistic. The books said that this was our best strategy.
But we had underestimated our daughter’s iron will. Cute W and I went out to dinner at Applebee’s–“Applebee’s!” I said to Cute W as we reminisced over breakfast. “Why on earth would we have gone for a date to Applebee’s?!”
“It was more than 16 years ago,” he reminded me. “We’d just moved here, so we didn’t know where to go, and there weren’t nearly as many options.” Okay, I guess. Still, I’m sure we could have done better.
Luckily, my expectations were so low that night that I was thrilled with our dinner out of the house, delighted to enjoy dessert, and so happy to be unburdened by my querulous infant that I suggested that we might want to walk around the nearby Home Depot just for the sake of extending our grown-up time. I hadn’t noticed that Cute W had been surreptitiously checking his phone throughout the meal, probably because my powers of perception and cognition were hindered by exhaustion. So when I suggested we peruse perennials, Cute W had to break it to me: our baby had been screaming almost nonstop throughout our lovely, peaceful meal. Cute W’s parents had been pacing up and down the staircase because it seemed to be the most calming activity, but even pacing up and down the stairs wasn’t entirely stopping the screaming. We rushed home, Cute W driving slightly too fast, me probably unbuttoning my blouse on the way.
I was sad when I realized that the other story I’ll always remember from Applebee’s is one I’ve already told. But, what the heck? I will just shamelessly paste it here again with a few updates.
One day, when M was 3 and J was 1, things were going terribly. I can’t remember the specifics of what they were doing, but they were both so awful that 1) I felt quite sorry for myself and 2) I was afraid that I could snap at any moment and just smack or choke somebody. M in particular could be a really tough customer. I would watch, mystified, those nanny reality shows where the toddler would sit on the “time out” step and then offer up a remorseful hug. M would not stay in “time out” for anything. Ever. I would plop her on a step and she would leave, and I’d plop her back down and she’d get up again, and it would go on so relentlessly that sometimes I’d have to put a door between us, and she’d spend the whole time we were separated shrieking and pounding wildly. It was scary to endure and too humiliating to talk about. Luckily M has become a fairly excellent human, so it’s easier to contemplate those episodes now.
Anyway, on this day, I decided that our best option was to go out to lunch. For some reason the girls both behaved better around other people, and I knew that the thought of public witnesses would bolster my patience and ensure that I wouldn’t wallop anybody. I was nervous about taking them out to lunch by myself, which is why I went to Applebee’s, a place that had crayons and high chairs and, often, some really poorly behaved children. I was willing to compromise on taste for a place that felt secure and was nearby.
As soon as we arrived, they transformed into the two most delightful and well-behaved angels you could ever hope to see. In fact, near the end of the meal, a nice old lady approached our table and told me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Why, those are the most delightful and well-behaved little angels that I’ve ever seen. You are doing a fine job.” Yay, me! I was doing a fine job! Not only had being out in public prevented me from becoming an abuser, I was now a contender for Best Mommy Ever.
I would like to take a moment to thank this nice old lady. Really, I have been blessed with encounters with nice older ladies. There was the time a nice lady told me I was handling a tantrum just fine at the craft store, and it was a nice older lady who put practically all of the stamps on my birth announcement envelopes after M and I had a meltdown at the post office. Nice older ladies: I salute you, and I aspire to be you whenever I can.
Anyway, I was feeling very self-satisfied as I packed the girls up and left our table after lunch. But I am absolutely not kidding when I tell you that as soon as we exited the main restaurant and were in the little foyer between the two sets of doors, M began wailing in a crayon-related tantrum. It was as if she knew that the spotlight had turned off and she could unleash her demonic Little Miss Hyde character. I barely wrestled her into the car. But that nice old lady’s warm fuzzies gave me the patience of a saint for the rest of the day.
Phew, those early years were tough. I’ve had a couple of occasions lately when my teenagers have acted in what I euphemistically call a “developmentally appropriate” way for teenagers. It’s pretty annoying. But it’s a lot easier to handle now that we all get a full night’s sleep and some space away from each other.