I recently had the joy of dealing with a nuclear-level toddler melt down in the middle of a fairly nice restaurant. And by nice restaurant I mean they had cloth napkins and a hipster bartender.
In defense of the Little Dude, we sort of set him up for the perfect storm. We had been on a long car ride home after nearly two weeks away. We were all hungry and all tired and it was dinner time. While Little Dude hung in there as long as he could, he just couldn’t take much more.
After eating a lot of fast food, we decided to stop in a restaurant with printed menus and an actual wait staff. That, too, was probably too much to expect, but we had high (and naive) hopes. We ordered our food and then I took Little Dude to the bathroom for a diaper change. Then it happened – there was an automatic soap dispenser, and he couldn’t get enough of it. Such wizardry!
There was only one bathroom and we couldn’t be in there all day, so I pulled him away from the bathroom as he started to scream. I saw our waitress (who mentioned she was a mother of five herself) go into high-speed food delivery mode, employing two bus boys to get our plates to us. But it was too late. Little Dude was tired, hungry, and wanted liquid soap dispensed via the magic motion-detecting soap dispenser. I felt my lips purse to the point that I thought I was going to suck my lips and cheeks clear off my face. As he arched his back and screamed, I felt my face flush red and I looked across the dining room to see four or five heads pop up – some with looks of understanding, some worried, some wondering if I was about to beat my child because I clearly looked like I was about to go insane. They were the mothers. And I could tell they all got it. They all had been there. (The hipster bartender scowled at us, by the way.)
I made my way to the door with him, hissing at The Sarge, “We’re going outside, I’m not going to let this happen in here”.
We went out the front door in a screaming, shushing flurry, and I put Little Dude on a bench. His tantrum immediately ended. He saw a mailbox and went to play hide and seek behind it. To the casual onlooker, I held a conversation with a giant blue mailbox for about 15 minutes.
Finally, I asked, “Are you hungry? Because I’m hungry. But we have to sit and be good in the restaurant, okay?” And he nodded, and we went back inside. He gobbled at his spaghetti and declared he was done, so The Sarge took him back outside. The waitress re-appeared, touched my shoulder and asked, “Are you okay?” It was the kindest thing anyone could have done for me in that moment. One mom just checking in on another in the most gentle way possible. I said yes, asked for the bill, and left a big tip.
I learned a valuable lesson in how not to set us all up for failure and unavoidable hunger-related tantrums. I’m also glad that in a moment of what felt like a parenting fail I experienced a moment of kindness from a stranger. Note to self: Return the favor…again and again.