There are a handful of things I swore I’d never do with my children while they were young (most of them having to do with sitting quietly or sitting still for more than 30-second increments).
My boys, ages 9 and 6, are The Best Children in the World (sorry you others of millions of moms of children, we’ve got this one in the bag), but they are boys, which means the following: They are rambunctious, often screaming, messy eaters (when they will actually eat) and constantly negotiate with a distinct, whiny cry for dessert.
So I decided to break one of my “I swear I’ll never do this” rules, and willingly took them to Fancy Restaurant that I Can’t Really Afford for lunch.
What was I thinking, you ask? I was thinking this: “I really want to go to the opening of this amazing restaurant and try every single thing on the menu like wagyu tartare with gruyere; sorrel-cured Atlantic fluke with blood orange; and Anjou pear agnolotti. Dammit, I wanted the six-course market menu with optional wine pairing." And, I was willing to go it alone.
Then the holiday guilt trip hit me. Shouldn’t I share this experience with my husband? Fine. But my kids? No way. But then I realized that a fancy lunch was a perfect time for them to work on their manners — failure or success, we had to try, otherwise how will they ever learn to eat like human beings, in places where the family dog won’t clean up their mac 'n cheese on the floor? Isn’t teaching kids to eat with manners a part of our jobs?
The boys dressed in their Sunday Best. They each brushed their own “Clouds,” (you know, the bedhead in the back of their heads that are in a constant state of frenzied fluff?). My oldest son asked to wear his Brook’s Brothers blazer, but we thought that would be too much.
While the food was always outstanding at said Fancy Restaurant, it also had this air about it — an older, kind of stuffy, reserved atmosphere that felt like fine China. If I broke it, I would be shunned and never invited back.
As we entered the restaurant, the room was abuzz, full of happy diners, pouring wine and chatting. The boys and I passed through the bar area, where I set down the ground rules: no running, no crying or fighting and if they were good, they would be rewarded by one of the bald guys in charge with hot chocolate for dessert. The boys’ eyes brightened.
The staff made (the kids) feel like they were the most important guests in the room.
No sooner had napkins been laid on laps did an aforementioned bald guy swing over with two espresso cups full of hot chocolate with whipped cream. The welcoming sentiment by the staff was adorable, and bribery had just been hijacked, but who cares? The boys were thrilled. Goldfish and carrot sticks were set on the table for them, as well as coloring books that also served as their menus. It was such a treat, and a wonderful way to immediately assure us that yes, they really did want all of us there.
Amazingly, the rest of the meal was a huge success. The kids snacked while they waited for their mini sliders, shrimp with steamed broccoli and side salad, which they ate without provocation. My husband was beaming as he dug into the best burger in Colorado (Emma Wagyu beef — off the charts!), and I with a salad of kale and sweet potato gnocchi. A signature cocktail was enjoyed by mom (power lunch!), beers were relished by the husband and dessert — the most decadent make-your-own sundaes for the boys, apple cider donuts for me and a trio of homemade ice creams for my husband — held our collective attention until the very last bite, about one-and-a-half-hours later.
As I sit and write this I can hardly believe the words appearing on the page: Oh my God, it was a success. My family, more importantly, my boys, dined at Fancy Restaurant and not only felt fully welcome, they had what can probably be called the best meal of their lives.
I learned two things: Yes, I can take my children to eat in places that excite me as an adult, because this translates to children as well. My children sensed that this wasn’t only a special dining experience, but also one in which they were truly intended to be a part. They knew they weren’t children eating in an adult restaurant; the staff made them feel like they were the most important guests in the room.
The only down side is that the boys now ask me nightly, as I shovel that evening’s slop which I’ve lovingly prepared onto his plate: “When do we get to go back to Fancy Restaurant?” Happily, I can now say, “very soon.”