Usually, when I write about life with a “big” family,* I’m complaining. Not because I don’t like my “big” family, but because of the way my “big” family and I get treated when we’re out in public. This weekend, however, we had an absolutely wonderful experience, so I thought I’d switch things up a bit and tell you about that.
Friday night, we decided to take the kids out to dinner. We went to Joe’s Crab Shack, which, if you’ve never been, is very family friendly. It’s a bright, loud place with trash buckets and paper towels on the tables (intended for the crab eaters, but super useful for spills and other kid messes) and a playground outside. The kids were pretty tired from coop and a full day of other activities, so I figured Joe’s was a safe bet. If they decided to misbehave, I figured it would be less noticeable in a place like that.
As we approached the hostess stand, the manager walked over from nearby and asked, “Oh wow. Are they all yours?”
Josh: “Sure are!”
Him: “I just don’t know how you do it…”
Me: “With lots of craziness and fun.”
Him: “I have a 2 year old and that’s more than I can take.”
(I never know where to go from here. I can totally relate. 1 kid is super hard. 2-years-old is super hard. But how do I briefly articulate that with sincerity and compassion without being incredibly awkward? I find that when I try people do another headcount of my kids and react like I must be patronizing them. I’m not. I really feel for them. Simcha Fisher once wrote a piece that describes what I mean. But it seems like a bit too much to say as I’m walking away from the hostess stand…)
As we walked to the table we got the looks we normally get. Internally, I shook my head. Externally, I smiled, held my head high, and hoped I could get everyone seated and settled without making a scene. (You mothers know what I’m talking about: But, mom, I want to sit over there! He took my crayons! Why didn’t I get a blue one?? Where’s my silverware?? I want to keep my knife!)
Amazingly, there was no scene. We did play a small round of musical chairs with Ben, but it was mostly calm and quiet. The big boys sat exactly where we put them and didn’t complain. They unfolded their menus and began talking about what to order.
Incredibly, the rest of the meal went off without a hitch. All the boys ordered for themselves, used their manners, spoke clearly and respectfully to the server, etc. We had a lovely time! Even Leila sat in her high chair the entire time, which is somewhat unlike her when we are in public. She’s a bit clingy and likes to be held when she’s in an unfamiliar environment.**
Somewhere about midway through dinner, I realized all the servers kept walking by our table and looking at us. But not with a look that I was used to receiving. I wasn’t sure what was going on. After it happened a few more times, I was starting to feel a bit like we were in a fish bowl. Towards the end of our meal, the bartender came over. He said, “While you’re here, do you want to give a few lessons to some of the other parents sitting around you?” I just laughed awkwardly. Then, he looked at my boys, told them how awesome they were, and went back to work.
On the way out, the manager made an effort to get over to us again before we passed the hostess stand. He thanked us for coming and told us they looked forward to serving us again. I know this is the kind of thing managers say. But there was something about his tone and body language. He really seemed grateful to have met us that night.
I walked out feeling simply overjoyed. Not just because my kids were well behaved. Not just because we were complimented. Not just because no one said or did anything negative to us. I felt like, somehow, we made a difference that night. I felt like, somehow, the staff that encountered us saw the beauty and the joy of family life. Somehow, for that short hour or two that we were there, children and parenting didn’t seem like such a burden to those people. Somehow, we were able to convey that message.
I don’t know how we did it. We didn’t do anything differently than we usually do when we are in public. I guess we were just in the right place at the right time. But I really believe that our little family made the world a better place for that short window of time. And, maybe, just maybe, had a big enough impact that someone who saw us was willing to change their view of children and/or family life. I realize this may all sound like a stretch, but that’s truly how I felt leaving the restaurant that evening. It was almost magical. Unfortunately, I just don’t know how to better explain it. It was simply the most positive, uplifting experience I have ever had with a bunch of random strangers that I will likely never see again. They gave me such a gift in affirming the dignity of my family, and I really believe that we, somehow, gave them a gift too.
* I still don’t think I have a big family. I’ve admitted before that I am aware that we are larger than average, but we just don’t feel big to me. In fact, when we’re missing even just one of the kids, we feel so incredibly small. Maybe my perception just adjusts with each child? I don’t know. All I know is I don’t feel like I have a big family.
**Behaving in the restaurant in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal. The majority of the time, they do. We have high expectations for behavior in public, which we clearly communicate to the children, along with the consequences that will follow misbehavior. Moreover, we make them behave appropriately every night at dinner, which helps tremendously. They are already used to behaving at the table. I was concerned about behavior on this particular night because they had a long day and tired kids doesn’t usually equal well behaved and/or “rational” kids.