Some of my most terrifying DEFCON Dining moments have been brought about by other people's children. They're like guerrilla warriors. You never know when one of them is going to pop out from the underbrush, tantrums flying like RPGs as you futilely try to take cover and reduce civilian casualties.
I'm not talking about someone else's kids at the next table, I'm talking about someone else's kids at mine. My kids, I know how to deal with. I can generally predict how they're going to handle most situations, and know which wire to cut if they need defusing. Other people's kids, however, are a bit of a mystery to me. I particularly hate it when we're dining out with a child we don't know well (second in terror-inducing potential only to a child we know all too well), as it becomes almost impossible to predict where and when a potential meltdown will occur.
Now that I've built you up for the expectation that I had some sort of banned-for-life-by-Denny's experience at the hands of some unholy brood not my own, let me assure you that everything was fine, this time. We were spending the evening taking care of my wife's sister's baby, and my wife had it fixed in her head that we should all go out to dinner. I will admit to a bit of trepidation upon this announcement.
After all, she's a baby. It's been a while since mine were that age, but you never forget. The potential for embarrassment, or worse, having to leave my food to cool and crust on the table while I take the baby outside so that other diners might have some chance of continued enjoyment, is huge. In an attempt to prevent some of that, we chose a rather kid friendly restaurant where we're very comfortable, and which was likely to be slow at such an early hour.
The Black Labrador has been a consistent go-to for years for those reasons. Any restaurant that has a giant chess set, with bishops the exact height of toddlers, is advertising to parents, whether or not it intends to. Combine that with the relaxed atmosphere of a pub, especially if you go early, before the place fills up, and you've got a pretty good place to take kids.
It doesn't hurt that the Black Lab specializes in comfort food, and makes solid if not amazing versions of things like shepherd's pie and fried fish. They also bring my kids a Shirley Temple each when they bring my pint, a rare treat that tends to keep my kids quietly enthralled while we wait for our meals.
This time, we had the added element of the baby. She did great. She even thoroughly enjoyed her share of my wife's shepherd's pie. She only got the vegetables. Her misguided parents are raising her vegetarian. I'm honestly not sure how they'd feel about their daughter eating meat-infused vegetables, but I get to hang that one on my wife. She did make constant grabs for my fish (the baby, not my wife), the success of which I felt obliged to prevent.
At the end of the meal, I crawled underneath the table and cleaned up every last bite of dropped carrot and mushed mashed potato. Our server noticed, and I have no doubt she appreciated it. In DEFCON Dining, it's important to remember that your child-laden impact on dinner doesn't end when you're done. If your kids have made a mess, don't just leave it there for the staff to deal with. Take care of it. Well-behaved kids go a long way to changing the minds of anti-child-dining advocates. Don't screw up all that progress by making the restaurant scrape food off of every surface within a four foot radius of your child once you've left.
My wife knew I'd been wary of taking the baby along, and it had gone remarkably well. After dinner, she asked, smilingly, if I was ready for another one. I don't think I want to tempt fate.
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