Monday, January 29, 2007

Social Graces. Or lack thereof...

Last night, we decided to eat dinner out. This was a rare event for us, because although we may do take-out once a week, we very seldom venture in to the restaurant world.

But last night, the house was relatively clean, I still needed to pack for my business trip and was feeling particularly lazy wanted to appease Charlie's craving for Mexican food. The last time we ate dinner at this particular establishment, which happens to be one of our favorites, was approximately six months ago. Everything had been going fine - until, our waiter appeared. The waiter was ... I'm looking for the politically correct term, here .... vertically challenged. He was approximately 4'4" tall. With shoes. And really thick socks. And spiked hair.

Our children had never seen such a small adult and they were mesmerized. While they gaped at our waiter, whilst drinking milk, the lid fell off Elizabeth's cup and she splashed her beverage all over the table. The waiter, a very nice man who Charlie and I had met before, dashed off to grab some napkins. When he returned and made sudden moves to clean up the spilled milk - the kids started screaming like they had just seen a ghost. Or, been jabbed with a cattle prod. While seeing a ghost. And sitting on Santa's lap.

I mean, they were SCREAMING.

People in the restaurant stopped talking. They stopped eating. They stopped drinking their margaritas and turned to stare at us and our pack of screaming toddlers. They wondered, aloud, what in the world had happened to cause all three of the formerly adorable children, to freak out, uncontrollably? Had somebody slipped a jalapeno in their lemonade?!

Although Charlie and I had never experienced anything like this before, we both knew what had happened. The kids weren't merely crying over spilled milk. No, they were completely traumatized by our pint-sized waiter.

It took a good five minutes to calm the kids down. But then, the waiter reappeared, and the kids started all over again. What made the situation much worse was when our waiter, unknowingly asked "What is wrong baby, why are you crying??" And he started making funny faces and waving his arms around, in an attempt to cheer them up.

Eventually, when after turning their highchairs around and holding menus up in front of their faces every time he walked out of the kitchen didn't work ... I told our kind-hearted waiter that sometimes the children are frightened by new people and maybe a woman waitress would help alleviate their stress. And, the stress of every other person in the restaurant. It was a horribly embarrassing situation - but I felt like it was the only option available until we could choke down our food and make a hasty exit.

Last night, when we walked in to the dimly lit restaurant, I noticed that the place was packed. There was a mariachi band playing in one corner, people standing around the bar drinking margaritas and imported beer, and every table was full. While Charlie and I - and our three happy cherubs - waited for a booth ... out of nowhere, our waiter - from before - appeared.

William saw him first ... even before I did. Once he started screaming, I figured that either someone had inadvertently stepped on him - OR - he was scared out of his wits by something he had seen. When I saw the waiter ... I immediately knew that the screaming trigger was caused by the latter situation. When I looked at Charlie with a horrified expression, I was even more horrified to see that Charlie could barely contain his laughter. He actually thought that the small waiter sending our kids in to a tizzy of hysterical crying was funny.

I was really surprised that six months after his first encounter, William was still traumatized by the small waiter. Even more surprising was that both of his sisters were equally traumatized. Similar to before, our three screaming toddlers were enough to cause every person in the restaurant to stop talking, stop eating, stop drinking ... the mariachi band to take pause in their song ... and people wondered, aloud, why were three small children disrupting the festive atmosphere to such an enormous degree??

And more importantly - why aren't their parents LEAVING?

We thought about leaving. Really, we did.

But rather than exiting the restaurant - which is what we would have done if we weren't so darn hungry and had our minds fixated on the tasty concoctions that are served up in molcajetes - Charlie and I picked the kids up, tried to distract them with colorful pictures on the wall, and stayed the course. Darn it. We were eating out. Our kitchen was remaining clean at all costs.

Much to the relief of everyone in the restaurant, our kids stopped screaming. Except for when the small waiter came within 20 feet of our table. The poor guy. Eventually, he realized that he was the reason our kids erupted in to sobbing hysterics - and would avoid walking past our table. Seeing how our kids affected this kindly, small man, made me feel lower than dirt.

Charlie and I had a nice dinner. It was a wonderful meal - even better than we remembered. The kids, when they weren't screaming - had a good time, too. But after having this exact situation repeat itself, we're faced with the decision to:

1) Not eat at this restaurant until the children are old enough to know it is not polite to scream at a waiter ... (not sure when that will be);

2) Hope that eventually the kids will get over their fear of vertically challenged waiters;

or ...

3) Call up the restaurant before hand, find out when this guy is scheduled to be off, and plan our nights out, accordingly.

I'm not sure what to do, which is why I have sent this very question to Emily Post.

Because I don't know how long it will take for Emily Post to respond ... and I don't want to deny ourselves the joy of an oven hot molcajetes (not available for take-out), what would YOU do?


  1. I actually hesitate to offer parenting advice but since you asked...
    First, I am wondering if the girls would have cried at the sight of him if William hadn't been crying first. Does one child's crying prompt his/her siblings to cry? Maybe they were afraid of their brother's fear, and not necessarily of the waiter, which seems very reasonable at this age. Just an observation and of course you know your children and I don't.
    Anyway, perhaps you could stop in at a slow time and not plan to actually stay. Prepare them, that they will meet this special person, and let them GRADUALLY see that he is not harmful. I know it sounds silly, but I would say being pro-active on this might be the way to go, simply because you do not want them to be afraid of people who are different. Also perhaps you could find a book at the library with pictures of "little people". This all could turn into a great first lesson on embracing others who are not just like us.
    Now's when you need that famous Parenting Handbook that never gets issued to us...

  2. We eat out a lot and there is not usually the screaming so I don't know... we threaten that they'll have to go sit in the car with one of us I guess.

    p.s. Congrats on Mom of the Week at CHBMs!!

  3. Wow, I got nothing for you. Maybe D)go more often and show the kids there's nothing to worry about. Although I know that's not really practical. But I'd hate to give up a good restaurant (especially Mexican) just because the kids are screaming. But you can always take it to go. What a bummer.

    And congrats to you on winning. It's about time they picked you. I feel like I've been voting for you forever. I was afraid you were going to be the Susan Lucci of MOTW.

  4. Jenna-
    I have to agree with Charlie.... sorry but that is too funny! I know that you told me this story over the phone... it is really funny in writing, too!!

  5. OH

    That was seriously funny. I mean, we all say "Lol" a lot, but I was cracking up, tears coming out of my eyes, praying that I hadn't woken up Nathan from his nap!!!

    I'm sorry that it is at your expense.

    Maybe rent "The Wizard of Oz" so they can have a view of little people as fun! In an ideal world, you'd bring them to meet this waiter in person sometime when it is quiet. He better have sundaes or something to offer them, tho!

  6. i would find a different mexican restaurant. Aren't there like 10 hundred thousand of them in the San Diego area??
    Then when they are bigger try the favorite again.

    Of get a sitter and leave them behind. My favorite option.

  7. I vote for the babysitting option first and the Wizard of Oz option second. But most of all to always, always keep this post, because it is classic toddlerhood and a great tale for the prom dates / fiances. And before you know it, they will have moved on to screaming about less charming things than very small people. :)But I wouldn't give up the molcajetes too soon or for too long. :)

  8. Hi - just came in through Crazy Hip Blog Mamas... I love your writing AND parenting style! Congrats on baby #4! I am the youngest of 4 kids and I love it (and I see you're the youngest of 7)! Just wanted to say hello - and it's nice to have a fellow Patriots and Red Sox fan to read about!

  9. Sorry Jen, I have no ideas. I have a mental block after laughing so hard.....
    I keep hearing "ompah lommpa"( Charlie and the chocolate factory) with a Mexican accent!

  10. I shouldn't find your life as hysterical as I do, but I love coming here for a good laugh!

    Kids have irrational fears. They'll get over it eventually. Just don't show them The Wizard of Oz anytime soon and you'll be fine.

    Right now our oldest won't walk past mirrors. We even had to cover the ones in her room up. I am hoping this will help with her vanity issues.

  11. Well I can tell you from experience that if you had just had the girls, they probably wouldn't have even noticed the puny dude. But mine are the same way. If one is afraid of something, it freaks them all out!

    I have no advice. Unless you can put blinders on them like horses? Can you do that?

  12. Hey Jenna-
    I saw that you are Mom of the Week at CHBMs!! Congrats!!!!

  13. I think instead of finding a way out of it, the children need to learn that some people are different. That doesn't mean they are monsters. Of course, that may be hard to explain to 3- 2 year olds, but with "practice", they will begin to learn that no matter how short or tall, skinny or wide, girl or boy, whatever--we are all people with feelings and just because someone is small does not mean they are "bad guys" and they won't hurt you. Start teaching them now, the best time to start is when they're young.

    That, or find a different restaurant!

    Happy 18 weeks, by the way.

  14. My twin girls used to do that with their Uncle Gerry. I remember a visit he made when they were about two. He could NOT enter the room without them screaming their heads off! Problem was he was staying with us for a week! I chalked it up to the fact that he looks so much like their dad but wasn't..

    A visit a year later was the opposite, Uncle Gerry was FUN!