What’s scarier than dining out with preschoolers?


Now that we’re a family of four, we don’t eat out much anymore.

There’s the expense, of course. But the real reason is that it can be stressful.

Our sons love to eat, so that helps. But making sure they are quietly entertained while we wait for the food to arrive can be challenging.

I carry crayons, a notebook, and small cars in my purse. We make trains out of sugar packets. We draw racetracks on paper placemats and race cars around them. You can do quite a bit with a crayon and a notepad.

I try to remember to ask for extra napkins at the earliest possible opportunity. And I request the check as soon as possible in case we need to make a quiet getaway.

But no matter how prepared we are, there are unpredictable moments. The boys might start blowing bubbles into their soup or eating ketchup with their hands. One of the boys might decide to sing or use the table as a drum—and the other invariably imitates.

How do you explain to a 2-year-old that just because it’s OK for that man wearing a sombrero to sing and play a guitar, that doesn’t mean you should sing along and strum your fork?

Even when they’re beautifully behaved and quiet, we always seem to leave a mess—and a large tip to try to compensate for whatever we are unable to tidy up ourselves.

So we don’t eat out much. The other day, though, we were out and about—with my sister and her fiancé—and we stopped at an Irish restaurant for lunch. The maître d’ sized us up and seated us well away from any other diners.

There were kids’ menus, so Leo happily started working on a maze. And John started pointing out the unusual decorations to Daniel. That should have been a great idea. But when John pointed to the trees painted on the wall, Daniel noticed that one of them had a face.

And he panicked.

Suddenly Daniel had to be in his mother’s arms.

There was no way to ask that our party of six be moved away because our son was scared of the wall, so John and I took turns holding Daniel, walking with him, and trying to convince him that he was safe.

Eventually—maybe an hour later—he calmed down enough to sit on his own chair in between his father and future uncle where he couldn’t see the tree.

By the time we left the restaurant, Daniel had summoned the courage to reach out from his father’s arms and touch the tree’s scary face.

But he still thought it was spooky—“boo-kee,” he said over and over again.

I was sympathetic. But I kept thinking that he’s in for a rough few weeks. Halloween is still a long way away, and we’re going to encounter many more spooky faces before Oct. 31. Last week it was a row of Pez he was afraid of. Tonight it was the face of the religious icon hanging near his bed.

The experience in the restaurant did nothing to calm my fears about eating out. I’m thinking maybe the next time we dine out as a family will be at my sister’s wedding reception in November.

The boys are really excited for the wedding. They know there will be food and cousins and dancing.

I just hope Daniel doesn’t get upset when he sees the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers figures standing on top of the wedding cake.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.