Total Surrender at a French Restaurant

I hope I’ve made it clear that I spend a good part of my life — at least half an hour a day — trying not to be a hopeless old fogey.

I force myself to try social media like Twitter and Pinterest. I attempt to wear fashion of roughly the same decade I live in, give or take a few years. (Read about my deeply upsetting experience when a young friend told me he was going to a Dress Like the Nineties costume party; I still have no idea what nineties clothes look like, even though I spent a  good 10 years in that decade and, as far as I recall, wore clothes just about every day.)

I also try to be open to new ideas and new foods that aren’t vegetables of suspicious origin or animal innards.

Finally, I spend a lot of time sticking up for the younger generation, since it includes our two grown children and their equally wonderful friends, and also because it’s so boring and predictable to complain about younger people. I like to think I can come up with fresh and innovative ways to complain — or why else would I have a blog?

Well, that’s the dream. But sometimes, I still find myself careening into fogeydom, and what can I do but embrace it? (Have you noticed — you’re supposed to embrace everything noxious these days? Embrace cancer, sorrow, your own worst flaws, personal disaster, creationism, droughts, heat waves, Republicans. After all that mandatory hugging, you will then probably require a shower, a stiff drink and total isolation, after which you will doubtless be ready to embrace the European debt crisis.)

Anyway, I found both my husband and myself embracing our fogeydom recently at a nice little French restaurant where we were attempting to have a quiet dinner. Fat chance (which is not exactly foie gras in French, but maybe it should be). The table next to us was composed of a couple about our age, a younger couple and a mildly obnoxious child who sat on the floor playing with a doll.

Just as my husband and I were toasting each other, the brouhaha began. Birthday cake! Birthday song! Pandemonium at the next table! Camera flashes!

“It’s the kid’s birthday,” my husband grumbled.

The kid looked up from the floor, then she went back to playing with her doll. She was about three, we figured.

Three! Too young for a birthday gathering at a nice French restaurant, my husband and I agreed. By then, we were going blind from all the blazing camera flashes, deaf from all the loud exhortations. Hayley! Look at Nana! Hayley!

He and I started recalling all the cut-rate birthday parties we’d given our own children. The Darwinian skating rinks, the hellish pizza emporiums, the brutal backyard water ballon fights. And look how well our kids had turned out! They hadn’t committed any major felonies, as far as we knew, or joined any neo-Nazi groups.

“Remember when we discovered the kids-eat-free clause at Souper Salad?” I asked my husband.

He nodded nostalgically. We’d taken our kids there all the time. We’d even joked about gathering up a passel of kids for a birthday party there. Two adults, a drooling mob of hungry children — but hey, kids eat free!

Little Hayley sat on the floor, playing with her doll while we reminisced and the bulbs flashed and the birthday party adults continued to plead with the birthday girl to please please please look up and smile. And cake, Hayley! Don’t you want some of your own birthday cake?

Hayley ignored them. She stayed on the floor, getting grubbier by the minute, narrowly avoiding collisions with passing waiters.

I found some solace in that, in her silent resistance. Some continuity in the world of child-rearing. You think you’re molding your children? It’s a sweet notion and all that. But let’s be honest: They’re molding you, too. And you, the parent, don’t have as much power as you think you have. Sometimes, you just have to give in and enjoy the ride.

Hayley’s parents and grandparents would have indigestion, a billion unfocused photos and a triple-digit bill to remember Little Hayley’s third birthday. And the birthday girl herself? A grimy doll, some bread crumbs on the floor, and almost getting stepped on by somebody named Jean-Pierre. Oh, but quel fun! La vie est belle!

I would have happily explained that to Hayley’s eager family. But nobody likes an Old Fogey.

(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)

You might check out other posts on shamelessly slacker parenthood here and here


19 comments… add one
  • WHY in the world would a family take a 3-year old (or thereabouts) to a French restaurant for her birthday party!? I swear, I do not know what is wrong with people. I am an old fogey when it comes to this subject and have been for a long time. When my parents took me to a restaurant, I was expected to stay in my seat until my parents had finished their seemingly never ending chatter, coffee and cigarettes. If that kid had been trampled by Jean-Peirre and he fell and broke his neck, I guarantee you it would have been the parents/grandparents screaming law suit.

  • Sounds like Hayley is embracing the idea of being three years old. And after much thought, I’ve decided to embrace the idea of not embracing anything. Life will be easier that way.

  • Aw, I think plenty of younins might have issues with this scenario, too. I used to take our daughter to really nice restaurants, but she was exceptionally well behaved in them. I don’t think I would ever think of having her bday at one, though. And I’m not a fan of taking pix of dumb moments like that. The pix of the kid when she painted her face blue instead of the paper she was supposed to paint? Priceless. One of her in a French restaurant? Not so much.

  • Paula Link

    Poor Haley. Birthday FAIL. Mom and Dad should have left her at home with her grandparents and had date night out to celebrate that they–and Haley–had survived three years of parenting.

    Although I will say that a birthday crowd for an adult birthday can be just as loud and annoying–and people can still wind up on the floor.

  • Um, wow! I’m a scritch older than 3, and I almost NEVER have even wedding anniversary fetes that cost that much — like maybe 5 times in my while life. Certainly never a birthday … for myself or a child … like that. And, I’ve got to say that I’d be LIVID if I finally got out to a nice dinner and it was ruined as such.

    Don’t even get me started on b-days as a kid in general. My sister and I were born 2 years, 2 days apart. That meant shared parties all the time. Same gift in different colors. When I turned 16, I had my own party. When I turned 21, I had my own party. Otherwise? It was and is a group affair because now her daughter’s b-day is right near ours. So, the 3 of us have birthday outings. For 2012, that mean dinner at the @#$#@ Olive Garden (my niece is 11) and tickets to see Wicked.

  • We had the same kind of birthday parties for our kids. Once my daughter was a teen though, all she wanted was for Nana to take her to the expensive French restaurant. Save it for then I say.

  • Love this post! It’s in a similar vein as one of my pet peeves…screaming children when one is trying to enjoy a nice meal in a nice restaurant. Parents: If you can’t afford a babysitter, stay home! No one wants their meal (and tranquility) ruined by a screaming child. And yes, we CAN hear your child! All of us old fogeys are just too polite to say anything to you about the screaming. Because we were brought up with manners.

  • Sheryl Link

    I’m a fogey right along with you. A 3-year old at a French restaurant? Surely not. I suspect the choice was more for the adults than for her. I’d also find it annoying to be stuck next to their table for sure.

  • Oh ladies, you are all so wonderfully honest (opinionated). Haven’t we earned this right? You betcha! The parents in this case are fooling themselves and I just wonder who they were trying to impress? Couldn’t be the grandparents. I bet they wanted to hide under the table, and if grandpa was stuck with the bill, well…I doubt that they’ll be leaving their sweet little Florida bungelow to visit there 3 year old spoiled granddaughter and the son-in-law they begged their daughter not to marry… it goes on. Truth is, if they’re first time parents, we have to give them some slack. I was a nut with my first born. After that, the rest ate off the floor! Bon appetit!

  • As always ,you made me smile. I brought my kids up in France where birthdays meant inviting half a dozen children of neighbors in for birthday cake, period.

  • Great post. There is a season in our lives for everything. A season for young moms to make foolish mistakes and “mature” ones to watch on, remembering their own.

    In this particular case, I think the restaurant should have been more attentive to the seating arrangements and other diners.

    Best, Irene

  • merr Link

    Because this “party” wasn’t about the kid. And maybe the parents said, “We need to introduce culture early in her life!” But it wasn’t about that either. That couple (and nana?) wanted to eat what they wanted to eat when they wanted to eat it! IT’s just like parents who bring their little kids to the supermarket for a massive grocery shopping tour–at dinnertime–then scream at them for whining and fussing…because they are hungry and tired!

  • Cindy A Link

    I’m not proud. Count me in for the old fogeyness. My attitude: on birthdays, the preferences of the person having the birthday should be of some importance.

    My teen daughter asked me the other day if La Madeleines was “a real French restaurant.” Guess it’s time for a trip to one.

  • I am definitely a scrooge. When I dump a ton of money on dinner, I don’t want it spoiled by screaming kids of any age. I always find it amazing that parents think their kids are well behaved. No matter that they are flinging rolls across the table!

  • Cindy D. Link

    Some friends of mine just took their granddaughter to Paris, France as a reward for being valedictorian of her high school class and getting accepted into Rice University. The grand folks in the restaurant should save their money until they have something worthwhile to reward.

  • Oh, all so true. We celebrated a 50+ anniversary at a perfectly good restaurant with delicious food, but the owners have created such a social-bar-meeting-place vibe that to us old fogies, it was all just too Damned Loud. Love the food, but I don’t think we’ll be back. (And I’m still trying to figure out what 90s clothes would look like–weren’t they mostly retro 70’s–which I also can’t pin down?)

  • Um, we took our kid for his first real restaurant birthday dinner at 13 — not 3 — but maybe that was because he was a wild one as a wee one and there’s no way I would have subjected discerning diners (or myself) to such behavior in public. Now? He’s a totally delightful dining companion, fun and full of conversation.

    Then? The park did just fine, thanks very much, for birthday soirees.

  • My problem with French restaurants is they don’t give you enough to eat. Maybe Hayley figured she’d do better on the floor scooping up the crumbs.

  • Sometimes I feel like I’m entering old fogeydom when I find a pair of pants I like so I buy it in two colors…or three. That’s just sad. And yes, my kids get invited to 90s parties too. Sigh

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