There’s no exercise in being scrutinized quite like taking 4+ kids to a public place alone. If you feel invisible in this world, contact me, and I will lend you my children so you, too, can know what it’s like to have every. person. in. the. building. watch you.
I am never a better parent than in-a-restaurant-alone scenario. Mary Poppins voice enters the scene, “Oh sweetie, next time your pizza is too hot, please don’t throw it on the ground and call it a ‘stupid dummy jerk’ (the worst of all the insults). Next time you can say, ‘Mommy, my pizza is hot. Can you help me?’” The little old ladies nod their heads in approval (“what a good mom”) while I clench my teeth (“it’s a good thing those little old ladies are watching”). In-a-restaurant-alone scenario works just fine if everything goes according to plan. One missing menu item, and we’ve got tears. One empty ketchup bottle, and everyone refuses to eat a bite. One child’s partially full bladder and your nice-hot-meal-you-didn’t-have-to-cook turns into a “holding one baby in each arm while you wipe your toddlers butt and yell at your otherchildtoNOTTOUCHANYTHINGinthedirtypublicbathroom” type of situation.
For my first four-kids-alone outing I decided to take my crew to Barnes and Noble, which is equal parts kid-friendly (“We have story time and rainbow cookies!”) and quite the opposite (“I’m studying for my LSATs, and I will stare daggers at you until you silence that small human.”). I thought it out and got the three “big” kids (“big” is relative when you’re talking about four kids under six) sitting at the table while I jumped in line with the baby to order. I was in line for approximately eight seconds when I looked over and saw my three year old. on all fours. on top of the table. yelling in his sister’s face, “Look what you did you little jerk.” (Recognize that movie quote? I’ll give you a hint. It’s Home Alone.) I bought two cookies less. He lost his cookie privilege, and I lost my appetite.
Moms of many littles, you have your own list of in-public-alone experiences, you’ve felt the watching eyes, you know the cast of characters you meet. Each “people group” has its own ways, and 95% of the time the behavior of members of each group falls predictably within their demographic’s conditioned response.
- There’s the grandfatherly type. He’s the chattiest of the bunch. Be prepared for him to make a joke to your children that soars over their heads, while they shoot him an awkward smile and you the “save me” eyes. With a grandfatherly type, you have a 9 in 10 chance of getting an “I just don’t know how you do it” and a 10 in 10 chance of getting a “they’re beautiful.” There was that one time a grandfatherly type told me “the Germans would’ve loved” my blonde-haired, blue-eyed crew, but we’ll just discreetly vomit in our mouths and forget that one incident. 99% of the time this guy is for you. If you’re having a desperate day, find him and bathe in all the kindness and admiration.
- There’s the mom-alone-with-kids. Solidarity is the word here. You don’t waste time with the useless pleasantries. There’s a smile, a nod, an “I see you,” then back to your hands and knees to clean the bowl of applesauce your kid dropped (threw) onto the ground.
- There’s the dad-alone-with kids. No one will give you more respect than the dad alone. This is not a cut on dads (my kids have the best of all the dads), but let’s just be real, 90% of any potentially stressful situation will be a numerically-proven 50% more difficult for any dad. The dad-alone-with-kids looks at you desperately, “You could just tag on three more for a couple of hours, right?” He will dish out utter veneration.
- There’s the young business woman. She is the most dreaded of all the watching eyes. Depending on how our restaurant sesh is going, I have one of two responses: avoid eye contact at all costs and pretend I’m the nanny or stare her down kindly (defiantly). Yes, your business suit trumps my ripped jeans and flannel shirt, but I promise to remember that you’re not just a suit, if you promise to overlook the spit up on my shoulder. Both of our days are busy and important, can’t you just give me a smile?
- There’s the grandmotherly type. She remembers what it’s like, and she will tell you (in detail) everything she remembers. Hearing about her little baby’s cheeks is sweet, until you realize these baby’s cheeks are now 54 years old. Listen to her stories and absorb whatever you can, because she’s got wisdom you don’t even know you’re missing.
- There’s the pregnant girl without kids. She looks at you, and she trembles. You have made her reconsider her place in the universe. Well done.
The reality is that I don’t really care about these people’s watching eyes. The real-er reality is that, almost all of the time, almost all of them do smile and encourage and celebrate. The real-est reality is that the in-public-alone scenario is just another opportunity for me to enjoy my kids, to make memories, to smile and laugh and show them I love them, and I’ll go through all of the above for a chance at that.