By Shawnee Barton
1. While I’m ordering, both my children disappear. I leave my card and instructions to “Just add some stuff” with a perplexed cashier. Then I fetch them out of men’s room.
2. Dylan (my two-year-old son) runs laps around the restaurant.
3. I stop him by enticing them both to try the ketchup pump. Charlie (my four-year-old daughter) is licking ketchup off every finger, lollipop style, within 3 pumps. So much for creative parenting.
4. Back to the bathroom (women’s this time) to wash hands.
5. I wrangle the kids into a booth. Charlie pretends she is drinking ketchup. It’s funny. We laugh until she accidentally spills the entire cupful down her shirt and pants.
6. Dylan thinks Charlie’s idea of playing with food is a great new discovery. I see it in his eyes. While I am distracted with cleaning Charlie, he dumps another paper-cupful of ketchup onto the table and starts finger painting.
7. A table of teenaged girls is looking and snickering. I think, “May you all have little devils and feel similarly defeated someday.” A sweet lady who looks like she’s had a hard life (or a bunch of kids) brings me a stack of napkins. It feels like one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.
8. Everyone is momentarily calm and eating. I get in two bites between helping and refereeing (Dylan is in a phase where he wants all the food on the table. He doesn’t necessarily eat it. He just wants to own it). Charlie asks for a milkshake. I feel bad that her brother stole most of her dinner, so I give her my credit card. She gets in line to order. Dylan doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to play store with his sister, so he wriggles his way around my legs and out of the booth. Calm time is over, as is my dinner.
9. Dylan grabs my card from Charlie and bolts across the restaurant, screaming this time. Before I can catch him, he tackles a “Wet Floor” sign and splats on the ground in front of two young guys who correctly guess his age. “Two, I knew it!” they say laughing. I smile, as in, “Yeah, isn’t this just hilarious!!!!”
10. Dylan likes the spot on the floor he’s found, and he’s causing no destruction, so I let him be. Judge me if you will, but I needed a break. He begins entertaining the crowd with a series of down dogs—my own little Iyengar. A lady in line starts laughing out loud at Dylan. She apologizes. I can’t blame her. The whole thing is ridiculous. I feel ridiculous. I am judging me. The tally of crowd involvement is at 9 now.
11. Charlie orders. The cashier looks and talks to me, even though I am 5 feet away and Charlie is standing right in front of him. It’s as if she doesn’t exist. I hate this for her and wonder if anyone has ever told him that kids are human and that most of them living in this country understand English.
12. Plenty of milkshake drama.
13. Dylan creates a new hobby of hiding salt packets in fake plants. When he’s bored with that, he begins a different game that I’ll call “Scale Mt. Booth.” This invites still another table into our drama since reaching the “peak” and throwing something—a spoon, a French fry, anything really—down onto that occupied table next to us is definitely the goal of the game. This, apparently, is my limit. I say, “I’m sorry,” to the saintly group, who hands me back a cold French fry instead of cursing me, and then, “Let’s go,” to my kids.
14. Dylan takes off again while I’m trying to get our dirty-napkin-tower into the trash bin. Once the table is at a reasonable level of messy, I look up and see him releasing a parting shot—he chucks his little green Croc over the counter and into the kitchen. I run into the galley, grab it, apologize profusely (once again) to a stunned crowd, and carry him—one shoe on, one shoe off—underarm, as one would tote a squirming piglet, through the rain to the minivan.
15. Somehow, amidst the chaos, Dylan managed to also drink Charlie’s milkshake. She understandably cries halfway home about this.
Shawnee Barton is an artist, writer, poker player and mom living in Austin, Texas. She is currently working on a book about embryos created through infertility treatment. Visit her online at ShawneeBarton.com.
Illustration by Christine Juneau