Sunday, February 15, 2015

Shining Happy People

I woke up on Valentine's morning thinking it would be nice if the family went out to breakfast together, and Dan agreed.

We don't spend a ton of money these days on "leisure-type activities," and Dan's free time is limited, and with our kids at wildly varying ages and stages, few things work as well for us to do as a family as going out to eat. But sometimes just getting there is an adventure in itself.

As expected, when I told Ethan we were going out for breakfast, he met the news with a less than enthusiastic response.

"But WHY?" he asked. "We don't usually do that."

Anna was still sleepy and grumbly about being woken up. Chloe fussed about having her coat shoved on.

Outside the temperature was about 5 degrees with a wind chill below zero. Lovely.

We decided on either IHOP, Friendly's or Denny's. Of course, everyone had different ideas about where we should go. To stop Ethan from nagging me, I told him it was "daddy's decision." Dan chose Denny's.

"Ugh, why there?" Anna sighed. "That place is awful."

I had to concur on that; at least based on our last experience. We'd waited to be seated for 20 minutes. Half of that time we spent listening to a man complain to the hostess about how terrible his meatballs had been. I was thinking, Why come to Denny's and order meatballs? but I digress. They sat us directly under a vent blasting cold air and we then waited an exorbitant amount of time to be served meals that were sub-par at best. Except Ethan's pizza. Ethan LOVED his pizza, which his why he had spent a good deal of time afterward waxing poetic about the joys of Denny's and how it was his favorite restaurant.

We pulled into the Denny's parking lot, which seemed unnaturally crowded. All of these people really want to eat HERE? I wondered.

Dan went inside to check out the crowd situation and came back shaking his head. "It's a madhouse in there."

We attempted to pull out of the parking lot and turn left, only we weren't allowed to, and ended up having to drive the wrong direction until we could find a place to turn around.

"Noooo! I wanted to go to Dennys!" Ethan started sobbing. "They are my favorite restaurant!!"

"I'm huuuungry!" Anna wailed.

"Shush, you're not two years old," I admonished.

"We could go to Taco Bell. They have breakfast now," Dan said jokingly. Only Taco Bell is Ethan's second favorite restaurant -- and it was just down the road.

"Yes!" Ethan cried. "Let's go to Taco Bell."

"We are NOT going to Taco Bell. I wanted a nice, sit down, relaxing place for breakfast." I'd already had to concede this last time we went out as a family and the only place not crazy busy was a Chipotle's wannabe that way overcharged us. I'd spent half the time continuously getting up to get more napkins, straws, salsa, spoons, and the like while Chloe threw her food all over the floor.

We finally found a place to turn around and then spotted a Friendly's. It was right near the Taco Bell.

"Let's go to Friendly's," I said. "Unless it's too busy."

"Noooo!" Ethan wailed. "Taco Bell is right there. It's daddy's decision."

"Ethan, we're going to Friendly's!" Anna exclaimed.

"Unless it's too busy," I chimed in.

Friendly's was not too busy. We found a spot and I had to wake a sleeping Chloe to get her out of the car seat. She cried, disoriented, as the huge hood on her coat completely covered her eyes. Ethan was crying in the parking lot, too. "I don't want Friendly's! I wanted to try Taco Bell. I love Taco Bell."

Another family walked by us. They too had two older kids and a littler one, close in age to Chloe. They seemed so peaceful.

Why couldn't we be like that? I wondered for a moment. Shining happy people holding hands?

We'd reached the doors now and Ethan was leaning over a snowbank, attempting to stifle his sobs, still muttering about Denny's and Taco Bell. Through clenched teeth I handed out some threats about no screen time and being thankful that he even got to go out to eat. I realize he doesn't like his routines changed and it's hard for him to deal with disappointment, but this was getting ridiculous.

Then inside Friendly's we were seated and everything changed. We sat Chloe in her highchair and she started grinning winning smiles. Anna happily took out her Pokémon cards and spread them out on the table. Dan and Ethan began talking about the football stuff on the kid's activity mat.

A little old lady walked in right about then, and looked at us with one of those Awww, aren't they so sweet? smiles. I gave her a small grin back. If only you knew, though, I wanted to reply. If only you knew.

And that's when I knew that there were no shining-happy-people-holding-hands families. Or there were, but they weren't without the same types of moments. Who knew what had been going on with that other family in the car, or that morning at home? We all have our stories. And some of them are pretty ugly.

One of the worst things we can ever do is believe that we're alone; that we're exceptionally dysfunctional. We're just human.

And now we were ready to eat food that would take too long to come. Chloe would turn heads with her red-faced pushing sounds as she was filling a diaper (sorry, TMI). They'd forget Ethan's jelly and my hot water for tea. The pancakes would be dry and Ethan would eye his hot chocolate with a huge dollop of whipped cream like a kid in a candy store. Chloe would create a swath of food destruction under her highchair. I would try but not completely succeed in picking it up.

And we would have a gloriously imperfect time of it.

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