It never fails. It’s as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. When it snows like a son-of-a-bitch, restaurants located along highways will be filled with families with young children.
At some point the other night, during the first snowfall of the season, I looked up at the “holding area” and thought, “Yup. Here we go. It’s gonna be ‘Romper Room’ in here in a minute!” And, I wasn’t wrong. The idiotic parents of several toddlers, a few infants, and two (!) newborns had chosen to bundle up the kids and make their way along the snowy highway in CARS. And, for what? A plate of chicken fingers? A change of scenery?
Frankly, I just don’t get it. What makes parents decide to brave the icy roadways, take to the snowy highways, and careen along the slippery byways, to dine out? I don’t believe for a minute that their household cupboards are bare. Nope. What I think is that THEY, the parents, want to do something that THEY consider “F-U-N!” — never mind what the kids want. Or what’s safe.
What happened to making snowmen or snow angels with your children? How about constructing an igloo or throwing a few snowballs? Aren’t those the fun, family-oriented snowy day activities people should be enjoying with their progeny? Did I miss the memo?
When I was a kid, my sisters and I — often joined by our father, my mother’s other child — used to play outside in the snow for hours. Hours! When it was time to come inside, usually owing to the loss of feeling in our extremities and our noses, we would, reluctantly, trudge inside, place our woolens on and our boots under the radiator (so that they’d be dry for when we wanted to go outside AGAIN!). Traditionally, we’d enjoy a nice grilled cheese sandwich, a warm bowl of Campbell’s Tomato soup, and a piping hot cup of cocoa. If we were very, very lucky AND if my mother (or my grandmother) had felt industrious — if either of them had had the wherewithal to drag out the deep fryer AND peeled some potatoes — homemade french fries may have made it to the menu! Yum!
It wouldn’t have occurred to either of my parents, the child-like one or the more responsible one, to bundle us up, pack us into the station wagon, and head on over to the nearest dining establishment. Once the roads were clear and provided my father hadn’t expended all of his energy pelting us with snowballs, we could usually look forward to him taking us across town to do some sledding — but he would never have put us in the car in the middle of a snowstorm and hauled us to a restaurant. Only some of his screws were loose — he was still in possession of most of them.
Of course, back then, families didn’t dine out much — at least my family didn’t. Going out to a restaurant was an EVENT!
If you were lucky enough to be out with my father alone he could sometimes be convinced to buy you a McDonald’s burger or, depending on the hour, an Egg McMuffin sandwich. Like solar eclipses, these opportunities did not present themselves on a regular basis. And, like viewing the solar eclipse through that little pinhole on a piece of cardboard, an indirect approach worked best.
In other words, you had to play your cards right — looking longingly as you passed the golden arches without directly asking for anything was my tried and true method. My father was not one to spend good money on restaurant food. Nor was he the type of guy who gave in to demands for food. You could not, for example, just blurt out “I’m hungry” nor — and here’s something that one of my sisters NEVER learned — which cost the both of us a few fast food meals back in the day — could you WHINE about it, for heaven’s sakes! If you did either of these things, it was highly likely that he’d just tell you that there was cereal at home. And that, my friend, was that. Game over. (WAHT-WA-WAH!)
What worked in our favor was that my father actually LIKED fast food. So, IF you had done a good job helping him out at the hardware store or had hauled quadruple your weight in newspapers down at the recycling center, IF he had enough money, and IF you were actually going to pass the fast food joint on the way home — you might just be in luck. Crossing your fingers sometimes helped, too.
It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway — this was a clandestine affair. If you managed to wrangle a cheeseburger and some of those gloriously salty fries out of my father, you had to be very careful to cover your tracks. The others, the ones who had been left behind, having been in your position in the past, were often waiting on the driveway for your return. They’d be lined up, looking for the telltale signs that you had gotten something that they hadn’t. Being found out would, inevitably, result in crying. To avoid the aggravation associated with three crying daughters, my father would do a face and finger check — for remnants of salt, ketchup, and errant pickle juice. On at least one occasion I can remember being sprayed with car freshener. My father was not one to allow a “T” to go uncrossed or an “I” to remain undotted.
In my family, eating out in a restaurant staffed by waitresses was, as you can imagine, a rare treat and one that occurred only on special occasions. A snowstorm or even some mild rain could halt the entire proceedings! Maybe I’m just old and curmudgeonly, but I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around bundling up the kids and playing fast and loose with their safety in wintry driving conditions to fill my face with food.
I’d like to suggest to these folks that they warm up a can of soup, grill up a sandwich, and make some real hot cocoa — with whole milk, none of that 2% bullshit, and real chocolate melted in a pan, on the stove, as God intended cocoa to be made! If dangerous living is what you’re after, add some extra sugar to it!
Or, how about just heading out to the backyard — on foot — make some angels, some snowmen, some memories. Seriously, though, STOP risking their lives for a plate of onion rings. I guarantee you that they won’t remember the stupid onion rings, but the snow fort? They’ll never forget a lovingly crafted snow fort, especially if they can hide behind it and gleefully nail a sister (or a parent who foolishly lets his guard down!) with a snowball or two. Never.
kid eating in restaurant