The thing with making a parenting decision is that you never really know how it will turn out in the end. You’ve just got to pick what you think is the right thing and go with it.
Our first dining out experience with the Brat was when he was about 45 days old and my mom and I travelled back to Madras to join the OA. He took us out to a little joint called Bayleaf that night and the Brat brought the house down. The evening was spent holding a bald and not-so-beautiful Brat in the arms, showing him cars and stars out near the gate, in rotation. Six days later my mother left and the OA decided to cheer me up by taking me out to Cornucopia, a favourite from my preggie days. Of course the Brat who had a reputation to uphold, brought the house down again. This time the waiters who recognised me from my pregnant cow days (I was down to merely resembling a sow, post delivery) clucked sympathetically as the OA and I each gobbled down our solitary meals while the other angrily held a deceptively peaceful Brat out in the garden.
Thereafter we stuck to takeout. It’s funny because the child behaved perfectly well in other places. I began to freelance when he was two months old and he would silently sit in the baby sling across my chest while I interviewed people, staring at them with big googoo eyes and blowing spit bubbles. South Indian heroines pinched his cheeks while he lay in the carry cot at my feet because I had nowhere to leave him when I came to interview them. Their dogs sniffed suspiciously at him. He would quietly go from lap to lap at Westside while I browsed the store for hours. He would peacefully lie under the stole I threw over my shoulder and feed as I sat on the floor of Spencer Plaza. But the moment we stepped into a restaurant to eat, he’d yowl his head off. We figured it was the AC because a lovely long lunch on the beach at Temple Bay Mahabalipuram (yummy prawns!) was uneventful and he smiled like a benign Buddha as we ate.
Anyhow, we avoided taking him out and that severely curtailed our own eating out although we still managed to shop and do everything else we wanted to. Since I am hugely against TV for adults as well as kids he didn’t get to watch TV and we didn’t go to watch movies in the theatre because we had no one to leave him with. I wish I could say we were deprived, but I’d be lying. We’d barely been married two years and despite having a little infant on our hands the OA and I had a lovely time just spending time with each other and enjoying each other’s company (hah! seven years down…. ). Some hot summer evenings we’d just lie on the cool floor and chat, letting him roll around between us.
Soon we shifted to Delhi, I was expecting the Bean a little later and we finally managed to get full-time help. Which made it possible to go out for dinner again. Because we just didn’t think it was fair to either drag a maid along to sit with us and hold our baby, or to let him disturb a meal that others had paid good money for. I’m trying to look back on the years before we got help and I can’t remember any deprivation. A DVD and a big bowl of microwave popcorn. Takeaway food spread out on the carpet and a couple of candles kept high up and we had a lovely time. Plenty of friends restructured their lives to accomodate us and our son and little spots would be cleared up in bachelor pads to put down a baby mattress and let him join the party.
Over the years we socialised with more people who had kids and those who dragged maids along to dinners and lunches didn’t face my ire, but I did mutter to myself. It bothered me at many levels.
One – even if the maid has been fed, it’s rude to make her sit at the table and watch us eat. To say nothing of how it restricts conversation to have a stranger sitting on our conversation and making it difficult to crack rude jokes and abuse each other freely (as if to say the baby isn’t restrictive enough!)
Two – If you HAVE a maid then why not leave the child home with her?
Three – we’d often have to finish our meal and then sit there waiting for the maid to eat hers – and call me stingy, but I am not coming to a fine dining restaurant that I can ill-afford, only to split the bill for three maids who have only come to hold babies who aren’t joining the meal anyway. What is the point of this? To show the world you have a maid and a baby?
Four – even if you bring a maid, the baby usually cries to be with his parents which pretty much defeats the purpose of the maid tagging along. Why not then just go to a cheap and cheerful McDonalds and not to a fine dining joint where we’re ruining the ambience with a crying baby.
I’m sorry, but I am embarrassed on your behalf because our table is creating a disturbance for the rest of the diners. So why not just order takeaway at one of our homes where the babies can roam free and not bother others? A baby in an airplane is a necessity. In a cinema hall or a fine dining joint – I’m sorry, but are we redefining the word necessary? Some of my most horrifying moments have been watching a young maid struggling with a crying baby in the lounge of the Taj, while the parents party it up at Ricks and come out periodically, suggest another bottle of milk and head back in. What is that about?! Why not leave the kid and maid at home if you have one? Why disturb the lobby of a five star hotel? Yes, I miss dancing too – here’s my suggestion – line up the songs on your iPod, and if you don’t have one, dance to the radio. We’ve all been there and done that without driving others nuts.
All this is null and void of course if your baby is as good as gold and not chucking your mobile phone into the neighbouring table’s mutton biryani.
There have been times we’ve had no maids or a new maid who the kids aren’t totally comfortable with and the OA and I have turned down dinner invitations if they were at restaurants because we didn’t want to drag the kids along. A lot of people said the kids would never learn to behave in a restaurant if we didn’t take them along. And to be honest it seemed like a valid point. But they were going to art galleries and museums and parties and picnics and learning to behave. I was sure there’d come a time when we’d manage to take them to a fine dining joint without any fears. In the meantime we were doing lots of kid friendly, cheap and cheerful joints where high chairs were available, crayons and mats were given and the music was loud enough to drown out wails.
Finally a month or so ago we took them out for dinner to a decent place – with only adult furniture and certainly no crayons! With no other company, simply because we wanted to be able to pick up our skirts and run if they troubled. They sat there good as gold and ate what they were told. The Bean might have wandered around a little if it weren’t for the example of her elder brother, sitting there, not touching the cutlery, not fidgeting and not raising his voice. In an attempt to copy him she sat still and we had an uneventful dinner. Of course I was so thrilled I wanted to come back home and blog about it! Milestone and all that! But I wanted to check if it was a regular feature or just a flash in the pan.
And sure enough, they behaved then. And again. And again! I feel so relieved. It’s another milestone for me. Just like the potty training. And whats more, we’ve got here without inconveniencing anyone else. The strange part is that other than the exhilaration, there is the anticipation. I am dying to take them to our favourite grown up joints and introduce them to new cuisines. I know I said I think am a better mom to new borns than bigger babies, but at times like these I am quite happy to be mom to a 2.5 year old and a 4.5 year old !!