It’s summer and writing is hard. The space around me has shrunk to next to nothing with the kids home, dogs barking, and mosquitoes stinging my skin. The kids are loud, and my house is filled with a cacophony of video games, blaring Top 40 “music,” and the doorbell ringing every five minutes. Having big kids is the greatest and also exhausting, much like having small kids. They never sleep. The sun stays high in the sky and my kids want to run around the neighborhood till 10 p.m., and crash in my bed and tell me all about it and fart on each other and I’m equal parts “yay for family time” and “get off me, get off me, get off me right now before I scream.”
Summer days are long and meandering, so we break them up with the occasional trip. I say “trip” because there’s no such thing as a vacation with your kids. On a vacation you pack for yourself. On a trip you pack for yourself, plus all your kids, an emergency bag filled with every possible medication and wipe you could need, with an extra roll of paper towels thrown in for good measure in case someone barfs or spills something. On a vacation you hold hands with your partner as you grab Starbucks before strolling onto the plane. On a trip you roll down the highway in the minivan with the bikes dangling precariously off the bike rack and you hope they don’t go flying off down the road.
As card-carrying members of GenX, Alex and I had two rules: 1) we’d never have a minivan, and 2) we’d never have a DVD player in our car. The analog family station wagon was good enough for us and it’ll be good enough for our kids. They can read books and play the license plate game like we did. Hours of fun. We broke rule one when our first kid was two months old and we broke rule two as soon as he had a sibling to fight with. We know the movie is over when our kids start fighting again and they fight until we can shove another movie in that blessed DVD nanny.
A couple weeks ago we set out in our rolling movie theater for our annual beach trip. Upon our return, someone asked me what the highlight of the trip was, probably expecting something about the ocean or relaxation on the beach, but no. My highlight was better than the ocean and beach bonfire and SPF 110 on my pasty old face. The most incredible highlight of our annual beach trip happened one evening mid week. We took our kids to a restaurant, one of those beachy “fresh catch of the day” fish places, and—stay with me here—everyone ordered for themselves, nobody crawled under the table, and nobody spilled anything. What. What is even happening.
Did I raise kids? Did I raise them? Are we … restaurant material? When did this happen? My husband and I looked at each other like, “Do we go to restaurants now? Is this a thing that we do?” We felt the excitement rising. We love eating out but over the last few years our insanazoids beat us down to the point where a family outing to Chick-fil-A felt like a marathon, an embarrassing marathon where everyone’s watching you with food smeared everywhere and so much yelling.
So this was new. I took my kids out to eat and I … enjoyed myself. It was the highlight of the trip. Our 13-year-old ordered crab claws with the elusive “market price” on the menu and we let it happen. Yay for trying new things. When they arrived she got nervous about the exoskeleton situation and wasn’t sure how to approach them and I was like, “You have to eat every single market price bite on that plate,” and showed her how. She got the hang of it and did. Later, we explained about “market price” and how her plate of claws was equivalent to the rest of our meals combined. We told her she was worth every penny and we can handle it, but also, someday when a boy saves up his lawn mowing money to take her on a date, do not, I repeat do not order the market price anything. Aim for something in the middle and chicken or pasta is usually reasonable. Now that we go to restaurants, now that we do that thing, we have a whole new list of life lessons to impart and my didactic little mom mind is abuzz with the possibilities. We coached our son how to order a refill on his lemonade and our youngest on how to ask about the drink choices. Restaurants are amazing and we’ll start with ones with crayons and kids’ menus because we’re not stupid. Baby steps to being out in public.
Last night we tried again, heading out to a family restaurant right by our house. The stakes were higher, here on home turf, because if they were crazy we couldn’t just drive out of town and never come back. We’d see neighbors. We’d have witnesses.
It was a loud restaurant with screens and a definite sports bar vibe, which helped. And lo and behold, my kids kept their crap together, ordered, ate, and stuck the landing. We even lingered at the end to talk with friends. There was actual lingering. Maybe vacations instead of trips aren’t too far behind. Someday. In any case, I think we’re officially restaurant people.