DEFCON Dining isn't always about dealing with the kids' tenuous grip on civility. At least not directly. Sometimes, it's just a matter of parental weariness, or adult surliness, and the need to go somewhere the kids won't mind, and where we won't be required to be on our best behavior.
Take, for example, a recent weekend dinner at one of my least favorite restaurants, Cafe Adobe. It was toward the end of a long day that had seen my wife and I arguing about anything and everything, with no real reason in sight. We were testy, tired, and hungry, and the last thing I wanted to do was debate where to go to dinner. I just wanted to get some food and get home, and not worry too much if we weren't the most cordial group in the place.
Ordinarily, my kids' requests for Cafe Adobe are almost instantly squashed. After several carless years of eating there regularly (its status as the sole Tex-Mex joint within walking distance of our first apartment made it an unfortunately easy decision), we typically find the idea wearying at best. This time, I simply turned in my seat, inquiring as to where they wanted to go, willing to accept pretty much any answer.
As we walked through the parking lot, I casually asked my kids what, exactly, they liked about Cafe Adobe. I had a suspicion it was the fountains, but they both replied that they liked the food. Well, the older one did. The younger was a bit more specific, belting out a charmingly enthusiastic (if misguided) "Queso!" I chuckled, and my wife suggested that they liked it in directly inverse proportion to our dislike. It was theirs, not ours, and a rare treat as a result. Not only did that make perfect sense, it also served as a nice reminder that my wife and I are in this together, after all. Misery loves company just as much as kids love crappy queso, I guess.
The ice beginning to melt, we made our way to a table on the outskirts of the patio and ordered. Commenting, amongst ourselves, on the decline of the once reasonably good green sauce, its creamy, avocado-lush textures and flavors replaced by a sharp and one sided concoction of charred tomatillos. The kids ate their queso and seemed to enjoy it. My wife and I took turns reminding the older one (!) not to eat queso with her fingers.
Dinner arrived, and I teetered on the precipice of my bad mood. My requested dish had been confused with its rubbery-shrimp-laden cousin. The waiter caught his error as he dropped off the food, offering to replace it. I didn't feel like waiting around while the rest of my clan ate, or forcing cold meals on them while mine was re-fired, so I declined. I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about my original order, anyway. The shrimp - cheese and jalapeño stuffed, bacon wrapped, and questionably glazed with teriyaki - were about as bad as I'd expected.
The rest of the family seemed content with their meals, happily chowing down on fajitas, quesadillas, and tortilla soup. Our youngest is a tortilla thief, swiping them from any available source despite their provenance amongst individual orders, and did so freely with my wife's fajita platter. I had turned to address one girl, when the tortilla thief called
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out "Dad, look!" This is frequently the precursor to something I don't particularly want my kids to do, so I wheeled around, half expecting her to be splashing in the nearby fountain or combing her hair with a fork.
Let me tell you, when one of your children chews holes in a tortilla, then plasters it on her face as an edible mask, it's very difficult not to laugh. It's also very difficult to remain in a bad mood. Unfortunately, it's also very, very difficult to get her to stop. That's how we spent the rest of our meal; eating food we didn't really like (at least not the adults), trying to convince our daughter to eat hers instead of wearing it, but happy, once again, to be in each-others' company. The whole thing was a good reminder of why I like food so much in the first place, and it has very little to do with what's on the plate.