Three Small Children Walk Into A Restaurant

This post was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, December 2014

Teenage delinquents, 1930

We’ve got this saying in our family that we call ‘Pulling a Mamma Mia’. It dates from the year my mum thought that the flamboyant ABBA themed chick flick by the same name would be fun for the extended family to watch after Christmas lunch. The male side of the family gang included (with all respect) a rev-head, a scientist, a footy tragic and a grumpy septuagenarian. It did not go well. One by one, the men left in disgust, and ever since, a ‘Mamma Mia’ is the name we call any situation where your hopes and dreams are unlikely to be borne out in reality.

Road trips with small children, for instance? Mamma Mia. Fancy all-white outfit on a two- year-old?  Mamma Mia. Any event that keeps the kids up after bedtime? Mamma Mia. Classically, a Mamma Mia ends in tears (definitely the children’s, and likely the parents too.)

Sadly, taking my three kids under eight to a restaurant is a total Mama Mia for me. I love the idea of this so much. Unfortunately, there is a large gulf between how I imagine a family restaurant outing, and the noisy, weepy, shameful reality of the thing.

Recently we stopped at a little Japanese joint for dinner on the way home from a party in the city. It had already been a long day, we had an hour’s drive ahead, and the best idea would have been some sort of takeaway in the car.

But I don’t get out much, and when I spied this little Japanese restaurant, it seemed perfect. My husband Keith was skeptical, but when he saw the Mamma Mia fervour burning in my eyes, he conceded. In we trotted, the five of us; kids aged seven, five and three, hopped up on party sugar and skating on the emotional edge of impending bedtime and big-city excitement.

It went downhill fast. The kids lolled and dangled over their chairs like chimpanzees. They moaned and whinged. They insisted on using the chopsticks but wailed when every mouthful fell off en route to their faces. Sadly, nobody was giving our table admiring glances.  In fact, other customers seemed to avoiding eye contact altogether.

The three year old, who is obsessed with new toilets, insisted we visit the loo and kept me in there, standing by her throne, insisting ‘I not finiched,’ for ten minutes, as she sang ‘Everything is Awesome’ to herself and swung her legs. Everything was not awesome.

Back at the table, the tired and sensitive seven year old was trying to force green vegetables in her mouth. She could see that Mum and Dad were stressed out, and I could see that she was going to choke. It wasn’t ideal. Five year old T-Bone was creating peak mess, surrounded by a circle of rice and seaweed and trying to drink through three straws threaded together. At least little Pudding looks cute perched up at her chair, I thought, and turned to see her with her hands down her pants. ‘I touching my gina!’ she informed the room, with delight and pride, at the top of her voice.

It cost us fifty bucks and ten minutes down the road the whinging began from the back seat. ‘I’m hungry Mama. What’s for dinner?’ Oh, man. Mamma Mia.

Shirley Temple gif from Buzzfeed.